By Richard Carter

Originally published 03:00 a.m., June 13, 2014
Updated 05:12 p.m., June 13, 2014

Every June since 1938, two all-star football teams, manned by recently graduated high school seniors, dig their heels into the turf and go head to head for bragging rights in the Maskat Shrine’s Oil Bowl Football Classic.

The clash, which will pit an East Texas team against a West Texas team, will begin Saturday with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Memorial Stadium.

This year, the 77th annual rumble at the stadium, the Shriners have partnered with Sports Football Camps International to make the game that much better.

“A camp is sending us an offensive and defensive MVP from Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Arizona,” Oil Bowl chairman Gary Hill said. “That should raise the caliber of play tremendously, and this should be one of the most exciting games ever.”

Each year, the company organizes 50 football camps, which are staffed by NFL players and coaches, and those who attend are serious about improving their game.

Those eight MVP’s will join Texas football players chosen by East Texas head coach Doug Stephens from Rowlett, and West Texas head coach Weldon Nelms from Weatherford.

“I think we’ve got some excellent coaches this year,” Hill said. “We’ve always been fortunate to have very good coaches — guys who were fun to work with and who wanted to be at the game.”

Every November, Hill starts receiving phone calls from players and their fathers, as well as football coaches, about what they need to do to be in the game. Coaches are allowed to helm more than one game, but they cannot serve as a head coach more than once.

“We also try and get at least one kid from each of our local schools to play. The majority of the people who attend the game are from the local market, so we want a lot of local kids to play and showcase them,” he said.

Hill has been a Shriner for 40 years and has been involved in the Oil Bowl in some capacity or another for those four decades. He became chairman five years ago.

Game attendance of 5,000 fans in 2013 was good, he said.

Proceeds go to the 23 Shriners Hospitals: three burn centers, 19 orthopedic hospitals and a new hospital in Sacramento, which treats burns, orthopedic concerns and spinal cord injuries. In Texas, an orthopedic hospital operates in Houston, along with a burn unit in Galveston.

The Shriners started the game in 1938 as an all-star contest, pitting high school football graduates from East Texas verses West Texas. In 1945, the game became a contest between all-stars from Texas verses Oklahoma, until 2013, when it reverted to East Texas verses West Texas

Famous players who later turned pro include J.C. Watts, who later served in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Steve Largent, along with numerous well-known high school and college coaches who have built teams for the game.

The players began practice Tuesday. That shifted to two-a-day practices on Wednesday and Thursday, and a morning practice Friday.

“They’re all graduated seniors and are considered the top players from their area. The practices are for the athletes to get accustomed to each other.

“We don’t let them use any trick plays or razzle-dazzle. The quarterback may have a different cadence in his call than what the linemen or backs are use to — that kind of thing.”

On Friday, the athletes, the coaches and trainers gather at 5:30 p.m. for a banquet at the Maskat Shrine Center. About 250 tickets are available to the public.

“Each of the players is allowed to nominate a young lady to be Oil Bowl queen, and currently we have 12 nominees,” Hill said. After interviews, the winner will be announced and crowned at halftime.

One of the players on the West team is from Harrold, Texas, and nominated his twin sister to be queen.

“In 1988, his mother was the Oil Bowl queen,” Hill said. “I got another call from East Texas from a man who told me that he was the king at the Carolina game (a similar all-star game) in 1971, and that his grandson will play in the Oil Bowl this year.”

He added, “The Oil Bowl has affected so many people over a great distance.”

Hill said there’s not a bad seat in the house, and that they will fill the west side of the stadium before opening the east side.

Tickets are available at the gate the day of the game for the same price.