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On Saturday, Sept. 17, two local rivals will line up on the football field at Sahlen’s Stadium in downtown Rochester, playing for much more than bragging rights.

From kickoff to the final whistle, this game is different from the regular season because of who it’s played for — children who are dealing with cancer and their families. This game, of course, is the seventh annual Camp Good Days’ Courage Bowl, between UR and St. John Fisher College.

The motivating force behind the game comes from Gary Mervis, who founded Camp Good Days and Special Times in 1979 upon his youngest daughter’s diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor. A major influence in the Rochester area, his not-for-profit organization has changed the way that people cope with cancer, as Camp Good Days is “dedicated to improving the quality of life for children, adults and families whose lives have been touched by cancer and other life challenges through summer camping experiences and year-round events and activities.”

In 2005, the Courage Bowl became year-round activities, as Camp Good Days partnered with UR and Fisher as a sponsor for the football game, which has since picked up a variety of sponsors and support.

Originally, the Courage Bowl alternated between the home turfs of Fisher and UR each consecutive September. In 2010, however, the Courage Bowl made a leap to a more accommodating venue, Sahlen’s Stadium, rather than being played on either campus.

“Moving the Courage Bowl to Sahlen’s Stadium provided an extra special atmosphere for all involved,” according to a Camp Good Days press release. “The players from both teams have the opportunity to play on a neutral field, and the components have been put into place to make the Courage Bowl a true community event.”

Through its efforts, Camp Good Days has taken the emphasis off the Courage Bowl as a competitive football game and placed it on celebrating the charity and community of Camp Good Days’ mission — and, more importantly, celebrating the campers.

While the audience still gets to watch competitive football, additions to the game highlight the childrens. Each year, the camp selects “honorary coaches” and “honorary cheerleaders” — young boys and girls who have been battling cancer. For each football team, three “coaches” are selected, and participating girls become “cheerleaders” to support both squads present. The honorary coaches and cheerleaders spend their day with the teams — in the locker rooms, on the sidelines and at midfield for the coin toss.

The names of the six honorary coaches are also inscribed onto the Teddi Cup (named after Teddi Mervis, Gary Mervis’ daughter), along with the date of the game, the final score and the MVP of each team — a player who shows exceptional leadership and sportsmanship.

This year, the Courage Bowl features a new event: Carry the Ball for Courage, in which an Olympic torch-style race will ferry the game balls into the stadium by the game’s kick-off at 7 p.m. To participate in the event individuals and teams need to donate a minimum of $25 in order to run a quarter-mile stretch of the route, which is separated into two divisions.

The route is symbolic, starting at Camp Good Days’ Headquarters in Mendon before it splits into two factions — the first heading to St. John Fisher, the second to UR — until they both rejoin at Sahlen’s Stadium.

Lastly, the Courage Bowl also features a raffle to win a 2011 Four-Door Toyota Corolla-S, sponsored by Vanderstyne Toyota (with support from the Toyota Motor Company). This partnership echoes past Courage Bowls, during which Toyota/Scion manager Jay Vanderstyne’s son Jay was a standout player. One can purchase a ticket for the raffle for $25, but all proceeds go to support Camp Good Days — to help them continue their motto of free participation in all of their programs and services for campers and their families.

Each year, the Courage Bowl grows more ambitious and popular through its addition of new participants and sponsors,  while gaining support from the student body. This year’s match-up follows the trend, as Saturday will prove to be fierce competition — not only in football, but also in battling cancer.

Cicoria is a member of the class of 2012.

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