Enrique raced down the sideline with the football tucked tightly under his arm and flags flying from his waistband.
A defender dove for one of the flags and missed. Players on the Acacia Academy sideline roared their approval as he tiptoed into the end zone for a touchdown. There was no touchdown dance; it's not allowed.
Friday is reward day for students attending alternative high schools from across the Chicago area. Alternative schools enroll students that have difficulties in a public school classroom due to emotional issues, learning differences, or socialization issues.
In place of a physical education class, these schools participate in the Positive Recreation Opportunities League, co-sponsored by Northeast DuPage Special Recreation Association in Addison and Western DuPage Special Recreation Association in Carol Stream.
NEDSRA and WDSRA designed the program to reward an individual's behavior in the classroom. If a student completes weekly homework, pays attention in class, adheres to the school's dress code, and does not get detention, he is rewarded with an opportunity to play flag football, basketball, volleyball, or softball on Friday.
The PRO League won the Outstanding Program Award from the Illinois Park and Recreation Association in 2004.
As a condition to play in the league, each player signs an "I Will" contract. The contract lists 14 behaviors they agree to exhibit, such as treating officials and teammates with respect, exercising self-control, and abstaining from profanity.
The pledge is given to the teacher at the start of each season and is used as a motivational tool to maintain discipline and focus in the classroom.
Noel Fouks, an administrator at Acacia Academy in LaGrange, has seen the positive effects of the PRO League.
"For the past three years, this program has been instrumental in creating our school spirit. Each week, about one-third of our school signs the pledge so they can play flag football. At the end of the season, most of the students sign up to watch the team play its final game," Fouks said.
The program also works to develop self-esteem, teamwork and sportsmanship. Two sportsmanship medals are awarded after each game, one to a teammate and another to an opposing team's player who displays good game behavior.
The medal generates positive peer pressure and becomes a real incentive.
"One kid's house burned down and he lost the medal in the fire. The next week he asked if the medal could be replaced," recalled Carrie Henry, NEDSRA's recreational coordinator.
Some of the kids have been bullied in their public schools and need their confidence restored.
"We encourage teamwork and leadership on the field and a positive opportunity for everyone. This helps the students build the skills needed to be successful in their respective schools," said Ted Adatto, WDSRA's inclusion supervisor.
This season's flag football program involves seven schools divided into eight teams with 117 total players. The program is growing, and additional schools are signing up for the next sport season of volleyball.
To learn more about the PRO League program, contact Ted Adatto at (630) 384-8588 or Carrie Henry at (630) 576-4031.