All-star football game will benefit sick kids

by Kathleen McDermott | 7/31/01 5:00am

The finest high school football players from New Hampshire and Vermont will face off this Saturday at Alumni Field in the 48th annual Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl, which organizers hope will raise over $200,000 for Shriners hospitals.

David Orr '57, the organization's director of media relations, said the Maple Sugar Bowl and other similar athletic fundraisers bring in nearly $3 million to the Shriners each year, allowing them to operate twenty-two hospitals throughout the nation and provide children with free health care.

The Hanover game is the third largest football competition the Shriners organize -- out of the forty that take place all over the country -- and has attracted up to 10,000 visitors to Hanover in past years.

Over the past forty-eight years, the Hanover event has raised four and a half million dollars, Orr noted.

The funds raised from the Hanover game, he added, will specifically benefit the Shriners hospitals in Springfield, Ill., Montreal and Boston.

But the activities will begin before the kickoff.

Approximately 3,000 Shriners from throughout the northeast will march down Main Street in a parade beginning at noon. With bands, bagpipes and horses, the parade route will take one and a half hours, Orr said.

All-star high school football players -- selected last winter by a committee of head coaches from their respective states -- will begin their game at 2:30 p.m. that afternoon.

"Strong legs run so that weak legs may walk," Orr explained.

Although Vermont won the competition last year by a margin of 47-40, New Hampshire has won 32 of the 48 games since the Maple Sugar Bowl's inception.

In addition to playing, however, the high school athletes have also spent time visiting a Shriners hospital.

Forty years from now Orr said, "[The players] may not remember the score of the game they played, but they'll remember their trip to the hospital."

Orr's own involvement in the Shriners began nearly 40 years ago, when he returned to Hanover and saw the work they were carrying out in their football fundraiser.

Founded in 1876, the Shriners were initially a fraternal organization, with its main aim being "to have a good time," Orr said.

However, they "realized they needed more than that," and began looking for a specific cause to devote themselves to, he said.

As fate would have it, in 1922 a hurricane hit Louisiana, destroying a children's hospital in the area. "Literally, they came to the rescue of the kids," Orr explained, and provided medical care for these children.

It grew from that one hospital to 22 hospitals across the country, Orr added.

Bequests, endowments and various fundraisers allow the organization to completely fund the hospitals and provide free medical care to children.