Courtesy of Norm Kieffer

With the game tied in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s eighth annual Courage Bowl, the UR field goal squad trotted out for what they hoped would be the game-winning score. Aside from a small gathering of UR fans, the capacity crowd at St. John Fisher College’s Growney Stadium was subdued. This was as close as UR had ever been to besting Fisher in the Courage Bowl, and everyone in attendance felt it.

Thirty seconds, a blocked field goal and a 72-yard return later, and the Cardinals were ahead for good. UR would walk away from their eight years of participation in the Courage Bowl without ever managing a win.

Co-founded by UR and St. John Fisher College in 2005, the Courage Bowl benefits Camp Good Days and Special Times, an organization dedicated to providing unique experiences for children diagnosed with cancer and other diseases. The kids also get to participate in the game as honorary coaches and cheerleaders.

Unfortunately, the spotlight on this year’s Courage Bowl had to be shared with UR’s much-maligned decision to end its participation in the event after Saturday’s game.

Last fall, UR Athletics started to consider dropping the Courage Bowl in the hope that the decision would help the team perform better in the early part of their conference schedule.

“If you look in recent history, for us to play a top-10 team early in the season has been difficult,” UR Athletic Director George VanderZwaag said of playing Fisher — a perennial Division III football powerhouse — near the start of every year. “That’s not just measured by our competitiveness within that game, but if you look at the following week, we haven’t done that well.”

Another important factor in the decision was last year’s restructuring of the University Athletic Association (UAA) football conference schedule. UR now plays seven conference games (instead of six) and only two non-conference games (down from three in previous years).

“We really had to think about what we wanted to get out of those [non-conference] games,” VanderZwaag said. “And what we want is to be as prepared as possible for the start of the conference schedule.”

Camp Good Days has The College at Brockport lined up to take the reins as St. John Fisher’s Courage Bowl opponent starting in 2014. A team to face the Cardinals in next year’s game has not yet been announced, but Camp Good Days Communications Director Laura Osborn expressed confidence that there will be a game in 2013 nonetheless.

“We look forward to continuing the Courage Bowl in the future,” Osborn said. “We are 100 percent sure we will have a Courage Bowl next year.”

After last year’s Courage Bowl, UR decided to play in one final game in the hopes that the University could walk away from the event on a high note. However, a miscommunication between UR and Camp Good Days apparently led to some friction surrounding UR’s decision to end its participation in the game.

According to VanderZwaag, UR Athletics notified Camp Good Days that UR was assessing its football schedule, and that dropping the Courage Bowl was a possible outcome. Camp Good Days, however, took this to mean that a final decision had been made — one that they had been left out of.

“I think Camp Good Days was surprised [by the decision],” VanderZwaag said.

Gary Mervis, who is both the Chairman and Founder of Camp Good Days and an assistant coach for the Cardinals, could not be reached for comment, but he characterized the split in a much harsher light in an article posted yesterday on the website of St. John Fisher’s student newspaper, the Cardinal Courier.

In the article, Mervis was quoted as saying that he “‘got really upset’” with how the situation was handled, and that “‘all hell broke loose’” once UR made their decision public.

“I think it would have been nice if they would have told us,” Mervis told the paper.

In spite of all the drama surrounding UR moving on from the Courage Bowl, VanderZwaag expects the University to continue to have a successful relationship with Camp Good Days. Though it is unclear what forms this may take, VanderZwaag mentioned UR athletes helping with Camp Good Days fundraisers, spending time with the kids at the camp and inviting campers to participate in other UR sporting events as possibilities.

UR Athletics will look to continue building on its commitment to community service in other ways as well.

“The types of things we’ve been doing outside the game are clearly things that we can continue to do — they don’t depend on the game,” VanderZwaag said. “You can’t be all things to all people, but I think from an educational standpoint it’s important for us to provide our students that service context.”

Fleming a member of the class of 2013.

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