'I felt like I was in a movie': Maine West linebacker Kyle Ramirez earns honor from the Bears

On the football field Kyle Ramirez is a hard-hitting linebacker and a sure-handed receiver.

Off the field, the Maine West senior has earned a reputation as a leader, both in the classroom and the community and as a young man who is extremely proud of his Latino heritage.

All those qualities led to Ramirez's selection as a winner of the Chicago Bears' Latino Heritage Youth Leader Award.

The Latino Heritage Youth Leader Award winners are football and girls flag football players selected for their academic excellence, leadership, strong character, service to the community and advocacy for the Latino community. All 32 NFL clubs recognize one male and one female winner. From those, eight finalists will be selected to attend the Pro Bowl and have a chance to earn scholarships. In addition to being recognized at the Bears' Oct. 1 game against the Denver Broncos at Soldier Field, Ramirez served as an honorary captain and participated in the pregame coin toss.

It was recognition Ramirez took seriously.

“It was extremely important to represent my Mexican Heritage and family,” he said. “Both sets of my grandparents came to this country from Mexico with not much more than the clothes on their back, and through hard work and sacrifice, they were able to create a life for themselves in this country.”

Ramirez, who holds a 3.9 GPA at Maine West, is one of four children born to Alonso and Lilia Ramirez, who are both counselors at Palatine High School, where they work closely with the Latino community.

“My parents have always encouraged me to help others and be a voice within my community,” said Ramirez, who has an older sister, Viviana (19), a sophomore at Vanderbilt University; a younger sister, Karina (15), a sophomore at Maine West; and a younger brother, Memo, (10) in fifth grade.

In selecting Ramirez as the Latino Heritage Youth Leader award winner, the Bears noted that his connection to his grandparents and parents has instilled in him a profound sense of cultural identity and a strong work ethic.

“I spend a lot of time at my grandmother's church in Chicago, St. Procopious in the Pilsen Neighborhood,” Kyle said. “I volunteer at church events like the Kermes, the church's annual fundraiser and summer festival. I help my grandmother with everything from setting up the festival, to making and selling enchiladas at the festival for three days. All the proceeds from the Kermes help fund the church, where the majority of the parishioners are Latino.

“I guess my family has always given back. My family sacrificed a lot to for me to get to this point and I feel it is my responsibility to give back. I want all Latino students to have the chance to play sports and have the opportunity to be part of a team environment. I have learned so much from being part of a team and the discipline it takes to be a leader and role model. To have been nominated by Maine West High School for this award and being recognized by the Bears really motivates me to keep striving to help others and support them in their passions and dreams.

“I was incredibly grateful and honored to be selected for the Latino Youth Leader Award and having the privilege to be able to go on the field with the players and partake in the coin toss. Before walking to midfield to partake in the coin toss, I was on the sidelines for the national anthem. I was just taking in the moment. The cheers of fans as the song concluded, and seeing the players getting hyped up, it got me going and felt like I had to play in the game.

“Add this to walking out at the 50-yard line while thousands of fans are watching ... I felt like I was in a movie. Being able to see football players I've only seen on a TV screen being within a couple of inches from me. It was totally surreal. After the coin toss, I was able to go up in the booth and be interviewed live on the radio, and answer questions about the award. They asked what the Latino Heritage Award meant to me and how football was going. During the interview, I could not help but think of what got me to this point.

“To be standing at Soldier Field with my family in attendance and having my grandparents there, who have never attended a Bears game in their life is something my family and I will never forget. To see the Latino community being recognized for our contributions to the city and Bears organization is something I will always carry with me.”

One of Kyle's passions is football, and he's a player who has led Maine West to a second straight playoff berth under fourth-year coach George Klupchak. After Friday's 48-7 win over Vernon Hills, Maine West still has a chance to become the school's first football team to go undefeated in a regular season since 1959.

“This (7-0) start was not just made overnight,” Ramirez said. “This was a three-year grind of hard work determination that would not have been possible without our coaching staff, players, and everyone who has stuck with us through the good and the bad. I am thankful for having the ability to grow not only as a player, but as a person with my teammates through the years. We are consistently trying to make each other better.

“Being able to play at the level we are playing at would not be achievable without our coaches. They pushed us to be our best and gave us the guidance we needed. They believed in us, and that boosted our confidence. Their love for the game and determination showed out in the players' performance on the field. Still, we are trying to go 1-0 each week and with the overall goal of being 9-0. I am so proud of this group of football players I can call my brothers.”

Ramirez has been a starter at linebacker since his sophomore season.

“While Kyle consistently makes big plays for our defense (solo tackles, interceptions, forced fumbles and blocked punts), he also does the unseen dirty work that helps his teammates shine,” Klupchak said. “For example, as an outside linebacker he does an exceptional job maintaining outside contain, turns back plays to the inside, so inside linebackers and pursue and make big tackles. Offensively, Kyle runs great routes and has soft hands, but he is also a consistent blocker.

Klupchak also noted Ramirez's contributions off the field.

“As a student Kyle leads incoming freshmen as a Link Crew leader and helps acclimate them to Maine West as a PE Senior Leader,” Klupchak said. As a member of our football leadership council, Kyle makes thoughtful contributions regularly and leads his squad with consistent enthusiasm.”

Enthusiasm that Ramirez has manifested both on and off the field.

• John Radtke can be reached at

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