On any given Monday night, the weight room in the athlete's wing of the College of DuPage Physical Education Center is filled with laughter, music and the clanking of weights.
Football season still has several weeks remaining, but Chaparral players and coaches aren't just focused on improving their performance and stamina. They are building friendships and serving as mentors to athletes from Western DuPage Special Recreation Association and Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana.
For the last three years, Chaparral team members have volunteered their time, helping WSDRA athletes with their weightlifting and conditioning. View photos.
"Our program is not just about football," said Chaparral Head Coach Matt Foster.
"That's certainly a large part of it, but we want our students to excel on and off the field. That means putting in the time in the classroom and working with outside groups. We stress the idea of community service to our players and I want them to understand that they serve as role models to our WDSRA athletes."
Eighteen WDSRA participants travel weekly to College of DuPage. After lifting with their COD counterparts, the entire group enjoys free gym time, shooting hoops and sharing a meal together, said Joni Bolek, part-time WDSRA staff and head instructor.
"Our participants look forward to going to the program each week, and we've nearly doubled the number of participants we bring since this started," she said. "Our guys love it and they look forward to it. They get a good workout and they've really become attached to the football players."
For the WDSRA participants, working with college students has created not only an opportunity to train and lead healthier lifestyles but also to develop personal connections, Bolek said.
"Most of our participants compete in Special Olympics in one sport or another. What's fun is when they medal, they'll bring it in to show their football buddies," she said. "The athletes from both groups have built great friendships."
The Chaparrals also travel off campus, assisting at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana. During the off-season, Foster and a handful of players visited the Winfield location to help raise the spirits of families coping with a child's illness.
"It's great to get our athletes out in the community to not only build their character, but also to offer assistance where we can," he said. "Sometimes it's as simple as helping put a smile on someone's face."
For Jim De Maria, Vice President of Development for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana, the partnership benefits both RMHC and COD athletes, who gain a better understanding of the organization's mission.
"One of the first times Coach Foster brought the guys, they showed up with all sorts of games. The weather was nice so they played outside with the kids," he said. "I think they were supposed to stay one hour and ended up staying until it was time for the kids to go to sleep for the night. The kids really enjoyed it and you could see their faces light up as they ran around."
Even more impressive, several COD athletes have returned on their own, eager and willing to visit with RMHC families, De Maria said.
"People should know all the good work out there," he said. "We're inundated with so much negativity. This is something good that we're doing and we want people to see it."
Continuing their commitment to community outreach, Chaparral Football is donating proceeds from the second annual Red Grange Bowl to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana. The game is at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, at COD's Bjarne Ulsvik Stadium on the Glen Ellyn campus, 425 Fawell Blvd. Gates open at 10:30 a.m. Tickets are $10.
College of DuPage earned the distinction last year of being the only non-scholarship school to host a bowl game sanctioned by the National Junior College Athletic Association.
"It's exciting for us on the one hand because we get to educate our players and the community about Red Grange's legacy," Foster said. "The other side is that the event benefits Ronald McDonald House Charities. We're able to get the community out to the College, out for our players and, ultimately, out for this organization."
Grange spent most of his childhood in Wheaton, attending Wheaton High School, where he played football, baseball, basketball and ran track. He earned 16 varsity letters during his tenure and as a high school junior scored 36 touchdowns and led the school to an undefeated season. The two-time NFL champion football halfback played for the University of Illinois, the Chicago Bears and, for a short time, the New York Yankees.
In addition to game tickets, a limited number of tickets for the Red Grange Banquet on Nov. 30 are available for $25 each. Click here for all Red Grange Bowl details or to purchase tickets online.
For more information on COD Chaparral Football, click here.
College of DuPage is a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association, National Junior College Athletic Association Region IV and North Central Community College Conference (N4C). The College's Athletics program offers eight men's and seven women's sports teams each year, including track and field, cross country, football, volleyball, golf, basketball, tennis, baseball, softball and soccer. All home games are played on the Glen Ellyn campus, 425 Fawell Blvd., and are free and open to the public.