Free tournament lets fans get close to players

Bears fans, mark your calendars for June 26. That’s the day of the annual Meijer Celebrity Gridiron Challenge, where members of the Bears play quarterbacks in a flag football tournament with"average Joes” to raise money for sick kids.

And while each team playing football is required to raise several thousand dollars as part of the fundraiser, watching the games and meeting the Bears players is free. It’s a great way for fans to get autographs and maybe win tickets to see a game at Soldier Field.

“This is a family-friendly, very low-cost, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet the Bears,” says Jeff Ginn, president of the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation. The foundation, started by Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, is devoted to helping sick children and their families.

The tournament takes place at Elmhurst College’s Langhorst Field, 190 E. Prospect in Elmhurst, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. During the tournament, 16 teams compete on the football field. The Bears players this year include Tommie Harris, Nathan Vasher, Mike Brown, Danieal Manning, Israel Idonije, Rashied Davis, Jason McKie and Chris Harris.

“Families can get very close to the action and players come over after their game for everybody in the stands,” Ginn says. All of the free entry tickets also include automatic entry into raffles that are held every 20 minutes during the tournament. Tickets are available at Meijer stores or at Fifth Third banks in the western suburbs. Even if you don’t have a ticket, no one will be denied entrance on the day of the event, Ginn says, but you won’t be eligible to win raffle prizes.

The Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation grants sports-related wishes, helps buy items such as game systems and wireless computers for patients and their families to use at local hospitals and holds a TendHer Heart Luncheon to honor moms of critically or chronically ill children. Tiana’s Fund provides financial help to families of sick kids. For more information, visit www.charles

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