NAPERVILLE, Ill. (CBS) — Hundreds of students from around the Chicago area went to Naperville for a football showcase with no social distancing and barely any masks. The organizer says it was worth it for the sake of the kids’ future and sanity.
Video on social media shows a fun time. High school and middle school students packed at football field at Commissioners Park in Naperville for drills. It would be an OK sight if it weren’t for the COVID-19 pandemic and community complaints that followed.
“For me, my son just got off of his treatments for Leukemia, so if anyone’s going to be concerned it’s me,” organizer J.R. Niklos said.
Niklos is the general manager of Midwest Boom, and he calls what he put on last weekend the safe showcase for players and recruiters. He wanted to do it before August 15 when state restrictions go into effect banning football games at schools until spring.
“We’ve had to keep kids just motivated,” he said. “They want to quit school. They want to quit sports. I’m staying balanced and trying to make this ok for these kids right now.”
Niklos said each player had their temperature taken and hands sanitized. They were kept in pods or appropriately sized groups for drills. Spectators were outside gates.
He said a video shows a moment when two groups accidentally merged.
“Right at the end. Kids were just excited to come together again, and that’s where a lot of these videos came out, the last 10 minutes of our four-hour event,” he said.
But CBS 2 checked the Naperville Park District website. It clearly lists strict social distancing rules for sports under the governor’s phase four plan — rules a worker said this camp broke.
“When I see that football video, I’m irate,” said Dr. Emily Landon, University of Chicago Executive Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control.
She said the summer has proven more COVID-19 cases in children, who, for the most part, don’t show severe symptoms.
“There’s no reason why we can’t find ways for kids to participate in a lot of sports, but not the way they’re doing it in that video,”she said.
“It was safer just to not do it, but to keep these kids motivated, to keep them going, to keep them off the streets, it was worth it,” Niklos said.
He said the event is not being held again but got mainly positive reactions.
The DuPage County Health Department is urging anyone who went to the camp to get tested.
The park district said the group rented the space last spring. Their plan was in accordance with the rules, but it got out of hand without their knowledge.
Under new sports guidelines to come, football training can happen only without contact. The district says it has a right to shut down events that come in violation.