The pandemic foiled a football game but it proved no match for the generosity of Baker County ranchers and farmers, and Shriners and other volunteers across Oregon.
Organizers of the annual East-West Shrine All-Star Football Game, a Baker City summer tradition since 1973 and a major fundraiser for the Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland, announced in early May that this year’s game, scheduled for Aug. 1, was canceled due to the coronavirus crisis.
But although the showcase of the state’s best recently graduated football players from Class 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A schools didn’t happen at Baker Bulldog Memorial Stadium, the annual donation to the Shriners Hospital, which provides free medical care to children, will happen as usual.
“It’s good to see that despite all the changes, people still saw the importance of what our underlying mission is, which is to support the Portland hospital and the children,” said Bryan Braun of Baker City, chairman for the Shrine Game.
The game, which started in 1952 and moved to Baker City in 1973, has raised close to $3 million for the Shriners Hospital in Portland.
The vast majority of the money comes from relatively small donations from individuals and businesses, Braun said.
“It’s a grassroots kind of donation-driven event,” he said.
Although Shriners Clubs and donors from across Oregon contribute to the annual fundraising campaign, two of the major components are based in Baker County.
Each year Myron Miles coordinates sales of ads in the Shrine Game program, making phone calls to about 130 local ranchers and farmers.
Although the game was canceled and no program was printed, Miles said he received phone calls from people who still wanted to make their annual donation to the Portland hospital.
He picked up his phone and started making his usual round of calls to solicit donations.
“Almost without question every one of them said yes,” Miles said.
But many didn’t just agree to make a donation in lieu of buying an ad.
“You’d be amazed at how many of them said they understand how tough things are this year and they wanted to double or triple their usual donation,” Miles said. “It was very rewarding.”
“People said that the game’s not happening but they still want to donate to the hospital,” he said.
Randy Guyer of Baker City, treasurer for the Shrine Game committee, said the donations Miles collected from local agriculture producers accounted for about half of the total donations of about $15,000 for the Portland hospital.
“They’ve been a great support for this game and one reason the game’s got to stay in Baker,” Guyer said.
The Haines Stampede Rodeo donated $1,000 from its Shrine Night, which included honoring Baker High School graduates Sam McCauley, who was chosen to play on the East squad, and Riley Flanagan, who was an alternate, as well as the East Queen, Adelynn Klundby, daughter of Casi and Dan Townsend of North Powder.
Guyer noted that the donations are especially generous considering the economic toll the pandemic has taken on the cattle industry.
A tradition that makes the Shrine Game in Baker City unique among Shriners fundraisers is the auctioning of a steer raised by a local youth.
The Baker County CattleWomen and Cattlemen raise money to buy the steer and then donate the animal for the auction that takes place during halftime of the football game, Miles said.
Typically several buyers, including Shrine Clubs, will “buy” the steer and immediately donate it back to be auctioned again.
Over the decades the Shrine steer auctions have raised more than $200,000 for the Portland hospital.
This year the local committee that picks the Shrine steer chose the animal that Ty Morrison, a 2020 Baker High School graduate, has raised (see related story on Page 1A).
Braun said he’s grateful to the Baker County CattleWomen and Cattlemen for choosing to continue the Shrine steer tradition.
The auction will take place during the 4-H/FFA livestock auction Friday evening. The auction, which will have limited attendance due to COVID-19, will start at 5 p.m., with steers first on the block. Morrison’s Shrine steer will be auctioned last, probably between 5:45 p.m. and 6 p.m., said Terri Siddoway of the Fair’s sales committee.
Guyer said Shrine steers for the past few years have brought in $14,000 to $15,000, and he’s optimistic that Morrison’s steer will entice bidders as well.
If the steer raises about that much the auction proceeds, combined with the $15,000 in other donations, would result in a donation to the Portland hospital that’s similar to what the event, with the football game being played, has generated in the past few years, Guyer said.
“That’s just great support — you can’t say thank you enough,” he said. “It’s a great credit to this county that they would produce this kind of support during these times.”
Braun said that although it was disappointing to have Shrine Weekend pass without not only the football game but also associated festivities such as the downtown parade, the CattleWomen’s breakfast and the tailgate party at Geiser-Pollman Park, the Shriners are honoring the players and cheerleaders who would have participated by buying jerseys for the players and shirts for the cheerleaders.