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Bears’ rookies tackle ‘The Dungeon’ at Round Lake High

(From left) Jennifer Tello 16 Round Lake Bears offensive tackle Roger  Gaines 70 KristPierce 17 Round Lake glue number

(From left) Jennifer Tello, 16, of Round Lake, Bears offensive tackle Roger Gaines 70, and Kristin Pierce, 17, of Round Lake, glue number tags Tuesday at Round Lake High School. | Joe Shuman/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 16, 2013 2:48AM

Most school projects don’t involve painting a hallway alongside an NFL first-round draft pick, but that was the assignment on Tuesday for Round Lake High School senior Ivan Trevino.

“They were just like, ‘We need a student to step out in the hall and help out,’ so I stepped out. I had no painting experience at all,” Trevino said. Asked if he knew he was working elbow to elbow with Chicago Bears guard Kyle Long, Trevino admitted with a laugh that “I had no idea” even as it was happening.

Tuesday’s visit by Long and his fellow 2013 rookie class was something of a surprise for the school itself in more ways than one. First of all, administrators learned earlier this year that the high school’s request for a renovated fitness room had been selected by the Bears and the United Way of Lake County as one of their Hometown Huddle community-service projects for the 2013 season.

Prior to the $40,000 overhaul — with half provided by the United Way through a grant from the NFL Foundation and the other half through Bears Care, the team’s charitable arm — the space had fallen into disrepair during the years the Round Lake School District struggled with financial problems that required intervention by the state.

“The nickname for it was ‘The Dungeon,’” said athletic director Mike Mizwicki. “We even had some artwork on the wall with a (Round Lake) Panther lifting weights in a dungeon, and that’s kind of how it felt.

“The ceiling tiles were falling down,” Mizwicki added. “The floor was all uneven — it was probably 20, 25 years old and just beaten up, and the equipment was basically the same way.”

Mizwicki pointed out that the refurbished room will be used not only by student-athletes like Trevino but by literally every student who passes through Round Lake High and participates in physical education classes.

“The whole point of a weight room is to get kids to feel good about themselves,” he said. “We have 2,000 kids, and when every one of them for four years is going to be in this room — that’s different than any other (facility).

“An English classroom isn’t going to have everyone come through there, so when every kid comes through a room and it looks like it did, it doesn’t feel right,” Mizwicki added. “Every kid is going to have access to this now, which makes it great.”

United Way spokeswoman Jennifer Yonan said the application for assistance from the district emerged from a field of candidates around the county after it was deemed to be a good match with the Hometown Huddle’s goal of promoting youth health and fitness.

“We did a site visit here and it was overwhelmingly the most needed project on our list. It was in really bad shape,” said Yonan, who noted that with the school’s finances under state scrutiny over the past two decades, “money could only be spent on certain things academically and operationally, so athletic programs kind of took a back seat.”

Yonan added that with donated material and assistance from more than a half-dozen outside vendors, the project’s total cost came closer to $75,000. Among the donors were JP Mechanical Services Inc., which donated an air conditioning and ventilation system, and Anderson Floors, which provided a wall-to-wall rubberized surface that will extend out into the hallway.

The second unexpected development came when Bears officials asked if the rookies could visit a week earlier than the United Way’s national Hometown Huddle commemoration, since the team will be on its bye week on Oct. 22.

No. 1 pick and starting offensive lineman Long — son of NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long — was joined in signing autographs by a lineup of first-year players that included running back Michael Ford, defensive lineman Christian Tupou and linebacker Jon Bostic, who is scheduled to make his first start this week against Washington.

The Bears’ director of community relations, Caroline Schrenker, said various Bears players spend their Tuesdays off visiting different community-based events and organizations, with four stops on Oct. 15 alone. She added that the rookies will travel together to four events over the course of the 2013 season, with Round Lake being their second trip.

“This is the most engaged and fun group of rookies we’ve had in a long time,” Schrenker said. “They really seem to get along well.”

Before the players departed, Long displayed some of that good humor when he posed for one final photo with a group of students.

“OK, you guys have a good day,” he said with mock seriousness. “Now get back to class.”

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