The Oregon East-West All-Star Football game, now in its 61st year, and known as “The Greatest Little Shrine Game in the World” will be Aug. 3 in Baker City, and two Sherman County sports fixtures will be playing a role.
Sherman High 2013 grad Riley Brown, 2012 Huskies quarterback and defensive end, will be playing for East under his SHS coach Mike Somnis, who will be coaching for East.
Somnis was excited about participating in his last East-West game. Next week, he will take up duties at The Dalles-Wahtonka High School. As a 5A school, TDW doesn’t play in the Shrine event. In addition, Somnis will be giving up his coach’s whistle in favor of a desk as the school’s new athletic director-vice principal.
Brown, writing from the event Wednesday, said he is also excited about the experience.
“It’s a great thing the Shriners do with their children’s hospital and I’m happy for the opportunity to help,” Brown said. “It’s awesome being here with some of the best athletes in the state.”
Brown said his favorite part of the week-long event so far was visiting the children’s hospital. Shriners launch the event with a visit to the hospital as a way to remind players of what they are playing for.
The Shrine game is recognized nationally as the top fund-raiser of its kind in the North American continent for Shrine Hospitals for Children. The players come from Class 1A, 2A, 3A, and 4A graduated seniors. The game has cumulatively raised more than 2.5 million dollars during its 61-year history.
It will be televised in five states by FOX SPORTSNW for the seventh year in a row.
The East-West game was organized in 1952 by a group of Shriners in Union and Umatilla counties. They wanted the game, which was to take place in Pendleton, to be for players from the then “B” schools.
For the first 20 years the game was played at the Round-Up Arena in Pendleton. In 1960 the middle-size schools came in.
In 1973, the game was moved to Baker City. That year a group of Baker City ranchers decided to put a steer in the parade.
“The next year we got to talking about how they could help raise money for the ‘kids’ hospital’,” according to a 2002 game program. “Well, never at a loss for good ol’ cowboy ingenuity, and just plain hard work some mighty fine folks dedicated the necessary time, talent and resources to turn that idea into the annual event we now know as ‘The Cattlemen’s Breakfast’.”
Proceeds from the meal, which is served game day morning, by the Baker County Livestock Association and Cattlewomen, go to purchase the current year, Junior Livestock Association Champion Steer, which goes on the auction block during half-time at the stadium.
Prior to 1983, the Shrine coaches were the coaches that played in the state championship games for A, AA, AAA. Now, game coaches are chosen on a four-year rotation in 4A; two- and three-year rotations in the 3A and 2A. The coach winning his league the year that league’s turn comes up, is asked to coach in that year’s game.
Sixty players and sixty alternates, 30 for each team, are selected by nomination. The championship teams from Class 4A, 3A and 2A ranks may have two players from each of their teams selected for All-Star status. The Class 1A champ will have one of its players selected to the team. No other school may have more than one player.
The football coach of every high school receives a ballot. He nominates his own player and also other players in the league, if he chooses. The returned ballots are then tallied by East and West Team Personnel Chairmen and sent to the coaches. The teams are selected by the coaches. Formal team selections are held in January.
Both an East and West Queen can be selected for the game. To qualify, a girl must have been a patient at a Shrine Hospital or burn center. Each Queen is sponsored by her local Shrine Club and represents the game at local parades as well as during the Shrine All-Star Game.
The 2013 East Queen is Emma Stockhoff, West Queen is Antonia Piscitelli.
The players all meet at the Al Kader Shrine Center in Wilsonville 10 days before game day, where they are treated to a barbecue and receive their physicals.
After breakfast the next day, they receive their game jerseys, orientation, form teams and are bussed to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland to meet with staff and patients.
From there, they travel to Pendleton’s Tamastslikt Cultural Institute, for dinner and a guided tour of the museum, ending up at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, where they check into the dorm and receive their room assignments. Many other events during the week are part of the player experience.
On game day Shriners, parents and friends start out the morning by attending the Cowbelle steak and pancake breakfast in the Pollman-Geyer Community Park in Baker City. The parade starts at 10:30 a.m. with Shrine units from many Shrine temples participating.
Pre-game pageantry begins at 11:30 a.m. at Baker High School’s Bulldog Stadium. Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m.
East is currently leading the series, with 29 wins, compared to West’s 25 wins.
No matter how the score turns out, the big winners are the children in the Shriners Hospital for Children.