Four years ago, St. John Fisher College assistant football coach Gary Mervis had an idea. Why not put a cause behind the annual football game played between UR and St. John Fisher (now known as the Courage Bowl)? And Mervis had just the cause to put behind it.
In 1979, Mervis’s youngest daughter was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. That same year, he went to work creating an organization known as Camp Good Days and Special Times. According to its Web site, ‘Camp Good Days and Special Times is a non-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for children, adults and families whose lives have been touched by cancer and other life challenges.” It provides a summer residential camp on the shore of Keuka Lake, as well as year-round recreational activities. All programs and services are free of charge to the participants.
So, in 2005, Mervis and his colleagues created the ‘Courage Bowl” to honor the courage that these children have when dealing with the difficulties they face each and every day.
Donations will be accepted during the game, and Courage Bowl merchandise will be sold, with all profits being donated to Camp Good Days.
In addition, six campers who have been battling cancer will serve as honorary coaches. These coaches attend practices in the week previous to the game and attend a pre-game meal with their respective teams. Most importantly, the honorary coaches will get to hang out in the locker rooms with the teams, lead them onto the field and spend the game on the sidelines. Four girls who are fighting cancer have also been selected to be honorary cheerleaders. These cheerleaders will attend practices and cheer on the sidelines during the game.
‘Over the past three years, the Courage Bowl has truly become more than just a game for everyone involved and has become so special to all of us at Camp Good Days, particularly the Honorary Coaches and Honorary Cheerleaders,” Mervis said in a press release.
The players carry the same sentiment. In addition to spending time with the honorary coaches and cheerleaders, each year, both teams attend Camp Good Days during preseason training and visit with all the campers.
‘This game is extremely special to me, as it serves as a reminder of how blessed I am to have the ability to play the game of football,” senior defensive back Matt Stack said. ‘Having the opportunity to create lifelong memories for the children at Camp Good Days is something special to me. It’s a great feeling to know that you are able to provide happiness and enjoyment to children whose lives have often been filled with many hardships.”
Senior defensive back Sean Simpson agreed.
‘We interact with a group of children who are less fortunate and have had a tremendous amount of adversities in their lives, which I believe to be truly inspirational,” he said. ‘When we’re there, they can forget about any unfavorable memories or conditions and fill their lives with laughter and memories to cherish.”
UR’s and St. John Fisher’s football programs have a storied history. The two first started dueling in 1989, and they played for five consecutive years with UR decisively taking the win in each of the games. After a brief hiatus, the series was renewed in 2000. The ‘Jackets once again continued their reign of success, winning games in both 2000 and 2001.
However, during this time, Fisher’s program was undergoing some beneficial changes. In 1999, the campus’s Growney Stadium was built, and in 2000, the Buffalo Bills moved their training camp to St. John Fisher’s campus. With the rebuilding of the stadium came the rebuilding of the entire football program, and the Cardinals developed into the national powerhouse that they are today according to d3football.com’s most recent top-25 poll, St. John Fisher is ranked 11th in the nation.
On Saturday, the Cardinals will look to beat the ‘Jackets for the seventh-consecutive year, and UR hopes to take revenge. Although it has been Fisher who has been at the top of the polls in recent history, that hasn’t taken away from the excitement of the games. The rivalry between the schools runs deep, and each year the game seems to run close. Perhaps the most exciting game in series history was in 2004, when the 0-2 UR team faced off against the 2-0 Cardinals. The ‘Jackets held the lead throughout nearly the entire game, but with 23 seconds left, a Fisher player rushed to the end zone to put the team ahead.
Not only has the rivalry between the two been a force felt at both schools, but it also is something Rochester-area residents look forward to again and again. And, with the newly developed philanthropic cause to the game, it creates an even bigger draw of a large crowd. The game is one of the most highly attended UR sporting events. Last year, the game was played at Fisher, and the attendance was 5,900. Two years ago, when the Yellowjackets hosted, 4,100 spectators were in the crowd (Fauver only holds 5,000). In addition, the game is televised on local TV, WROC Channel 8.
Going into Saturday’s game, UR is 0-1. The Cardinals are 1-1 their defeat coming from Mount Union College, who is currently ranked first in the nation among Division III schools. This past weekend, Fisher defeated Buffalo State College 20-7. The game will be played at 7 p.m. in Fauver Stadium and will be the next game in the Students’ Association’s ‘Fill Fauver” series. Tickets are required to enter, but they are available for free with a UR I.D. at the Common Connection on the second floor of Wilson Commons.
The players are looking for all the support Yellowjacket fans can provide when entering the game against such a nationally recognized team.
‘Put it this way…. since the first Courage Bowl in 2005 I haven’t won this game. Honestly, words can’t express how bad I would like to win the game,” Simpson said.
Philbrick is a member of the class of 2009.