Bears Star Matt Forte Shines During Special Panini America Event at Learning Express

January 23, 2012

Chicago-based freelance writer Dan Campana was on location Sunday to cover the special special Panini America appearance by Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte at the Learning Express Toys store in Glyn Ellen, Ill.

By Dan Campana

Charlie Peterson had plenty of reasons to smile Sunday.

For one, the 8-year-old was honored as the first collector to complete a 2011 Panini America NFL Sticker Album at Learning Express Toys store in Glen Ellyn, Ill., just outside of Chicago. But the highlight for Charlie came when he met Chicago Bears All-Pro running back Matt Forte during a special autograph event at the store.

“Very excited,” Peterson said with a huge smile on his face.

Learning Express in Glen Ellyn won the Forte appearance as the top seller of Panini America’s 2011 Official NFL Sticker and Album collection during a recent competition among Learning Express stores across the country.

As many as 300 people lined up in a cold, light drizzle at the store on Sunday to meet Forte and receive an autograph. Learning Express shoppers earned tickets to the event by purchasing $10 in Panini America merchandise, including the NFL and NHL sticker and album collections.

Randy Horn, owner of the Glen Ellyn Learning Express, said the Panini stickers have proven to be a popular and affordable item with a fun, educational side. Kids are collecting, organizing and trading them with their friends, he explained

“The parents loved them,” Horn said, noting the stickers have become popular rewards for doing homework and other chores. “It’s very exciting to have a player like Matt Forte here.”

Forte, who has rushed for 4,226 yards in four NFL seasons, smiled and chatted up the Learning Express customers as they passed through to collect an autograph and take snapshots on cameras and cell phones. The crowd chanted and tapped on the windows when Forte first came into view.

Forte thinks the sticker albums bring something different to the hobby for young collectors.

“It gives them the goal to try to finish the sticker book,” Forte said.

Before signing for the crowd, Forte shook hands and posed for pictures with Charlie, who also received a one-of-a-kind autographed Forte poster. Forte even thumbed through Charlie’s completed sticker album – pausing briefly to see his smiling face on sticker No. 290.

“That’s pretty awesome,” Forte said of Charlie’s accomplishment. “How long did this take you?”

Charlie said it took about six weeks, and with plenty of help from family members, to buy stickers and fill the book.

“The Bears were my first team finished,” Charlie said proudly.

“He and his buddies would trade them like baseball cards,” Charlie’s dad, Ken, said of the journey to complete the album.

Charlie is now working on his NHL and SpongeBob SquarePants albums.

Dan Campana is a Chicago-based freelance writer and communications consultant. He can be reached at [email protected].