By Ted Buss
Friday, June 8, 2012

Begging sports fans for support rarely works. It’s like the great Yogi Berra once said, “If people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s gonna stop them.” To plead is to lose every time. Attempting to shame someone into a positive action does not work either, because all those who disliked you in the first place will dislike you even more.

No longer can you toss out names of former Oil Bowl players who went on to collegiate and NFL stardom and expect folks to storm the gates. Few people today under the age of 50 have ever heard of fellows like Jack Mildren, Jerry LeVias, James Street and Steve Owens. Most folks today think the name “Royal” is the prefix to the title of some British throne duster.

No, there is only one way to jar the senses of right and benevolence into an otherwise disease called apathy.

It’s called a heart massage. Matters of the heart go directly to sensible reasoning, and this is my hope today. If this little story encourages only five or six people to purchase a $10 ticket to the 75th Oil Bowl Saturday night, then it will have been worth the effort.

The high school football game between Texas and Oklahoma remains special despite its undeserved struggles at the gate.

It still means something to players and coaches who come here or else it wouldn’t have survived 75 years to become the oldest all-star fixture of its kind in the nation. However, in a larger sense, the game is overshadowed by a greater calling.

There are 22 Shriners Children’s Hospitals in the U. S., and each one specializes in critical, often life-threatening needs of boys and girls struck by brain disorders in infancy or early childhood. Well-documented world class teams of physicians deal with victims of Cerebral Palsy, Cleft Lip and Palet, severe burns and countless physical ailments that construct huge barriers to happiness and normalcy that afflicted children and loving parents yearn for.

I am as guilty as anyone for forgetting the true meaning of the Maskat Shrine charity classic. I’ve gone to see Chris Gilbert run and Lee Roy Selmon tackle. Somewhere in my foggy mind I often forgot why the game is played. Last week, after extensive visits with two Wichita Falls families directly touched by Shriners Children Hospitals in Chicago and Shreveport, the fog lifted. Their stories which will appear in the sports section are real life journeys of extraordinary children and parents.

“The Shriners Children Hospitals have a combined budget of about $900 million. The salary of the CEO is zero,” said Gary Hill, chairman of the Oil Bowl. “Unless you are a parent of a child undergoing intensive care or until you actually walk around one of the hospitals you cannot begin to imagine the skill and dedication of these physicians, nurses and volunteers.

“The Shrine hospitals are remarkable. Technology for what they do is unmatched. Our burn hospitals are equipped and willing to link up to any hospital in the country to help deal with emergency cases. All they have to do is call and ask. These are special people giving all they can to help children fulfill their dreams. They have no other agenda.”

Hill said that he doesn’t know of any high school coach in Oklahoma or Texas who has ever rejected the offer to represent their state in the Oil Bowl. “Coaches understand the importance of the game, and once players get here, most of them sense the deeper meaning to why they are here and become committed for life to our mission.

“Even if you hate football, our hope is that tickets will be purchased for the good of those we serve,” he said. “If you can’t attend, buy tickets and give them to someone who can’t afford to go.”

Call it a donation from the heart.