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September 15, 2010

For Rochester players, Courage Bowl more than just a game

college student with three kids
Rochester quarterback Patrick Keegan ’11 spends some time with Camp Good Days campers Brenton Nugent, 9, of Rochester (left), Danny Gambino, 10, of Lewiston, N.Y., and Cal Bawden, 8, of Rochester. “It’s easy to forget how lucky we are to be able to play the game, and spending just a few hours with these kids puts things into perspective,” Keegan says. “We look forward to it every year.”


Six years ago, Gary Mervis came up with a bright idea while sitting in his car at a red light. Watching a mother admonish her son for throwing a football around in the backseat or the car next to him, Mervis, a football coach at St. John Fisher College, thought about how football had become so ingrained in American culture. As the director of Camp Good Days and Special Times, a nonprofit organization that supports children coping with cancer, he also thought about the kids from his camp that would never have the chance to play the organized sport. They’d never know how it feels to race across the end zone for a touchdown or feel the rush of energy that comes from hearing the crowd chant their names. With that in mind, the Courage Bowl was born, and Rochester’s Yellowjackets have faced off against St. John Fisher’s Cardinals for the benefit football game every year since.

“It has all the ingredients to become a great community activity,” says Mervis. “It brings together two quality institutions of higher education to support a charity that has roots right here in Rochester.”

During this year’s game, which is slated for Saturday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m., six children from Camp Good Days will serve as honorary coaches. They’ll attend a practice before the game to meet coaches and players, will be a part of some pregame activities, spend time in the locker room before the game and during halftime, will be a part of the midfield coin toss, and stay on the sidelines during the game. Four campers also are chosen to lead chants alongside the school’s cheerleading squads.

The game will move to Marina Auto Stadium, a larger venue that allows for greater community participation. In a night of many firsts, Camp Good Days is looking to regain the Guinness World Record for Largest Kazoo Ensemble, a record the organization held in 2006. Additionally, Bradford Berk, CEO of the Medical Center, will receive the inaugural Courage Award, given to someone who has displayed great courage during difficult times.

As part of the bowl experience, the two football squads spend an afternoon at a camp facility on Kueka Lake. The trip is a respite from the grueling preseason training sessions.

“It’s a chance for the team to bond off the field,” says Patrick Keegan ’11, the team’s quarterback. As he talks, Keegan, a native of Skaneateles, N.Y., throws a football around with a few campers. “It’s easy to forget how lucky we are to be able to play the game, and spending just a few hours with these kids puts things into perspective. We look forward to it every year.”

Ticket information

Rochester and St. John Fisher College are gearing up for the annual Courage Bowl football game on Saturday, Sept. 18, to benefit Camp Good Days and Special Times. The game kicks off at 7 p.m. in a new venue—Marina Auto Stadium in downtown Rochester. Tickets, which are $7 for faculty and staff, are available at the Common Market or at the stadium on game day. Tickets can also be purchased through Ticketmaster (service fees).

Kyle Sreniawski ’12, a wide receiver from West Seneca, N.Y., agrees.

“The game is so important and not for football reasons,” Sreniawski says. “To see how happy the honorary coaches are at practice, to see the smiles on their faces, it’s great to be a part of that.”

Sports is a natural setting for bonding, and as the older players interact with the campers they get right down to their level, playing tag and running around the playground while impromptu games of foursquare and basketball break out on the courts.

Zeus Doser, a 12-year-old camper from Hamlin, N.Y., is clearly excited to hang out with the team for the afternoon. “Its fun,” he says. “The energy is great.”

The girls also enjoy the afternoon—exchanging Silly Bandz with the players, who graciously allow the girls to style their hair.

Mervis believes that being around the campers—around people dealing with cancer—helps the players learn about what takes place at the camp and teaches empathy and appreciation, allowing the game to take on new meaning. 

“Developing young men is as much about coaching as the game itself,” he says.

Lucinda Loomis, a first-year volunteer at the camp, believes the experience impacts the campers as much as the players.

“It’s especially important for the campers to have older male role models,” Loomis, a retired teacher from Marcus Whitman Central School in Rushville, N.Y., explains. “These players are some of the best, they’re successful and intelligent, it’s a very positive experience.”

Come game day, Loomis suspects she may find herself in Rochester’s spirit section because her daughter is a two-time graduate of the University. “U of R made my daughter a doctor,” she says. “That’s kind of special.”

young man with girl
Linebacker Eddie Dauphin ’11 of New Hartford, N.Y., talks with camper Alexandria Criswell, 10, of Lockport, N.Y., during the team’s visit.




college student playing basketball with kids
Rochester football players and Camp Good Days campers enjoy a little friendly competition on the foursquare court.

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