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Bears chairman George McCaskey’s stellar performance

SYCAMORE, Ill. – Sycamore High School athletic director Chauncey Carrick saw the umpiring schedule for his school’s baseball doubleheader on April 27 and he knew there would be a conflict.

One of the referees had more on his mind that day than calling balls and strokes. Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey has been in charge of youth sports since his football coach at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, Ill., asked if any players wanted to referee Pop Warner football.

About fifty years later, McCaskey was working home plate for a high school baseball game in a small town just over an hour west of Chicago. But McCaskey had something else going on that morning: It was the third day of the NFL draft.

Carrick, who is a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Sycamore, the same church the McCaskeys attend, drove to the ballpark and offered to keep McCaskey informed.

“I say, ‘Hey, you guys are drafting four picks,’” Carrick said. “Do you want me to stay here and let you know who you’re getting?”

McCaskey appreciated the help. About an hour later, Carrick returned with an update, which surprised McCaskey since the Bears entered the draft with just four picks, including two in the first round.

“He says, ‘Not us, we don’t have any choices anymore,’” Carrick said. “I thought, ‘Well, you just traded up again.’ He immediately wanted to know who they had.”

Carrick informed McCaskey that his franchise had drafted Iowa punter Tory Taylor with pick No. 122 in the fourth round and Kansas’ Austin Booker at No. 144 after moving back into the fifth round.

McCaskey, whose family owns the Bears, has so much confidence in the management team he has put together, including president Kevin Warren and general manager Ryan Poles, that he doesn’t need to be involved in every transaction.

“He really trusts the people around him…he doesn’t micromanage,” Warren said. “It provides an environment of even higher levels of accountability because he is there and supportive.”

McCaskey has long advocated the approach of an NFL owner involved in everything but football decisions. His motto is: “Mouth closed, ears and eyes open.”

However, fans and critics of McCaskey and the team do not subscribe to the same philosophy.

“The main reason I do this job is because I don’t get questioned enough in my regular job,” McCaskey said with a smile.

CARRICK, Whose son Adam, who has the middle name Staley, after the Bears mascot, opened a prayer book during Mass at St. Mary’s and found a bookmark with a Bears logo on it next to a verse with the word “Bears” in it.

“Little subtle things like George’s stand out to me,” Carrick said. ‘He’s not out here bashing the bears on everyone non-stop, but when he sees it (someone in bear gear) he’ll say, ‘Hey, nice shirt.’

“If he sees someone with a Green Bay hat, he might say, ‘Hey, there’s something on your hat.'”

McCaskey isn’t trying to draw attention to himself. In fact, some opposing parents don’t even realize that the referee is the chairman of one of the NFL’s charter franchises and a grandson of George “Papa Bear” Halas.

It’s a different story for those who watch the hometown Spartans there. Everyone on their side of the fence fondly refers to the man behind the sign without mentioning his famous last name.

“He’s just George,” said Sycamore resident Jan Rutherford. “He’s part of the community.”

He has become a fixture on these youth sports fields long after his son Conor graduated from Sycamore 15 years ago. Many of the students whose games he referees have known McCaskey since a young age, but every now and then the curiosity is still there.

“Sometimes a kid will come up to me afterwards and say, ‘Hey, is it true? My teammate told me your family owns the Bears,'” McCaskey said. “But again, that’s not really the most important thing to them. It’s ‘Are we getting the calls?'”

This is different in the fall. Bear fandom is part of the fabric of this community, and McCaskey has been quietly handing out tickets and parking passes to parents and players heading to Soldier Field.

Mike Warren’s connection with the Bears began when he was 13 years old and watching Walter Payton. Warren, who coached football at Sycamore and often crossed paths with McCaskey during games he officiated, then shared his passion with his son Joey. It was a family bond.

After Joey died in July 2021, Warren McCaskey wrote a letter, expressing the impact his family’s organization played on the relationship he had with his son.

Not long after, a letter from McCaskey arrived at Warren’s house.

“To have such a large organization come down to family values,” Warren said. “That’s how it came across to me: this man is just one of us.”

QUARTERLY CONOR McCASKEY was running out of bounds when he was hit, but no flag was thrown.

“His mother scared the hell out of me that night for not calling,” said McCaskey, who in the early 2000s agreed to officiate games for the Kishwaukee Youth Football League rather than have games canceled due to a referee shortage .

The fact that his father stood behind him as an umpire at home plate did not guarantee Conor preferential treatment either.

“He said, ‘I don’t get the calls when I’m a catcher, and I don’t get the calls when I’m a hitter,’” McCaskey said. “He didn’t really like it.”

Eventually, Conor found another way to spend time with his father on the baseball diamond. For a short time, the younger McCaskey took over as umpire and called games from the field, while his father called the play behind the plate.

Even as his son grew up playing sports, George McCaskey’s dedication to his role has remained steadfast. He arrives early to games and immediately finds the home team coach to let him know the game will be staffed. Before the games, he will only introduce himself by his first name during the coaches’ meeting. He lets the catchers know that they can ask any questions that arise about how he calls the game, but the unwritten rule behind the plate applies: don’t argue with the umpire.

“He runs a very tight ship,” said Jason Cavanaugh, the head baseball coach at Sycamore High School. “He’ll ask the catchers if they think he missed a pitch, but most of the time he’s in control of the game.

“It’s a legitimate strike zone. With a lot of umpires, you don’t know if a pitch a foot outside the strike zone is going to be a strike or if it’s going to bounce in there, but he knows where the strike zone is and he calls it.”

McCaskey takes pride in getting these calls right because he understands that a call against a young athlete can be heartbreaking.

“You know how important it is for the kids, so you want to do it right,” he said. “You don’t want that boy to go home and say we could have won if the referee hadn’t been there.”

That happened once, and it’s a moment McCaskey remembers as one he would like to have back. While a student at Arizona State University in the late 1970s, McCaskey and Randy Nussbaum, one of his regular refereeing partners, were part of a two-man crew calling a game at Scottsdale High School. After the leadoff hitter crushed a potential triple, a booming play took place at third base.

Neither McCaskey nor Nussbaum were close enough to the case to make a final judgment.

“He looked at me and I looked at him and he just gave the safe signal,” McCaskey said. “The coach came flying out of the dugout because he knew we messed up.”

Kevin Warren believes McCaskey’s attention to detail and thoughtfulness have made him an “outstanding public servant.”

“He is passionate about the importance of letting the players dictate the outcome of a match, without a referee getting in the way,” Warren said.

McCASKEY’S INVOLVEMENT WITH youth sports stem in part from the desire to bring the next generation along. While involvement in youth sports continues to grow, the shortage of officials is raising concerns for the Bears’ president.

“A lot of that is because of the criticism that officials have received in all sports,” he said. “A lot of guys just decide it’s not worth it.”

Before the Illinois High School Association placed the responsibility for ejecting spectators on an outside game administrator — often the home team’s athletic director — instead of the referee, McCaskey had to step in when parents — or players — went too far. .

“One time I kicked a shortstop out of a game,” he said. “That’s hard to do.”

Tyler Grimm, 23, has been a referee for the past six years and is among the youngest in rotation in Sycamore. After growing up with McCaskey calling his baseball games, Grimm shared the field with the Bears’ president for a varsity doubleheader on May 16.

“We had a play where if you go out to see the ball in right field, you have to stay out,” Grimm said. “He wanted me to take a few more steps so that I’m not in his way when he calls the play at first base. Or so that a coach doesn’t start yelling that this guy is closer, he I should call, too even if I’m in the outfield.”

Starting this fall, the Illinois High School Association will recognize girls flag football as a sanctioned sport. McCaskey and the Bears organization were instrumental in pushing state athletic directors to give the sport the same resources that football has long had in the state. Unfortunately, the lack of officers remains the IHSA’s biggest concern.

“I’m thinking about applying,” McCaskey said.

And if he does, some will react the same way Mike Warren did when he first learned who was officiating the American Youth Soccer Organization match he was watching. It starts with surprise and ends with respect.

“Honestly, it was kind of shocking when I knew he was recommending AYSO games,” Warren said. “I’m thinking to myself, why is George McCaskey refusing?

“I don’t think you’ll find many NFL owners doing what he’s doing.”

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