Central-West Chowder Cup football game called off

After 13 years, the Central-Western Mass. Shrine Chowder Bowl appears to be finished.

The summertime event centered on the top senior high school football players from both regions of the state. For some, it would mark the final time they would suit up and play competitively.

More-importantly this was game that raised public awareness for Shriners Hospitals for Children, which both the Shriners and Chowder Bowl representatives and players prided itself in being apart of. All proceeds from the game went directly to Shriners Hospitals. According to former Chowder Bowl chairman Peter Spaulding, the event raised more than $100,000 during its 13-year history.

But for now, the game is off. During the past several months, conversations between Central Mass. and Western Mass. Chowder Bowl reps stalled. Questions arose as to whether or not to continue the game and who would take over the reins once originators of the event began to step down. In addition, dwindling interest from players and coaches alike played a significant role in the game's abrupt demise.

“For me personally, I'm very sad to see this happen,” said Spaulding, who was Chowder Bowl chairman from its inception in 2001 to 2012. “Things change and it had gotten tougher to get kids motivated to play in the game. It is their senior year and many of them have other things to do. The coaches are not paid and volunteer their time. But more and more coaches have had opportunities to work at various football camps during that same time period and can make some extra money doing it. It was a number of factors that led to the downfall if you will. It’s just an evolution of the times I guess.”

After learning there would be no Chowder Bowl this year, members of the National Football Foundation/Joseph R. Mewhiney Central Mass. Chapter acted swiftly in an effort to start up a Central Mass. all-star game. In late February, that idea became reality. A decision was made to go forward with the game -- dividing teams into a north and south region based on geographical location.

That resulted in the inaugural Joseph R. Mewhiney Central Mass. Chapter All-Star Game, which will be held on June 27 at Worcester State University’s John Coughlin Memorial Field at 7 p.m.

Maynard head football coach and Chapter committee member Harold Oglivie said a total of 44 senior-only players will represent each squad. High school coaches were allowed to nominate as many seniors on their respective teams as they wanted to. They could also nominate players from other schools.

“I’m very disappointed that the Shriners game is off,” Oglivie said. “It was a great event for a great cause. But if you aren’t getting all of the representation, and kids start to back out of the game, that does hurt the event. It’s no longer considered a true all-star game at that point.

“Now, by having this Central Mass. game, there will be more player representatives, especially from the smaller schools. There is more-opportunity for those Division 5 and 6 programs to put more than one kid on the team. I hope there is a group of coaches in Western Mass. doing exactly what we are doing now. If not, then it is unfair for those kids out there who want to play.”

Committee member and Algonquin Regional head football coach Justin McKay believes the new format will be a viable resource in promoting high school football within the region.

“Football needs to be promoted more in Central Mass.,” he said. “The way the game is presently going, there is a lot of pressure for kids to do other things because of concussions and other things. I think the point of this all-star game, and why we wanted to have it, was to promote Central Mass. football.”

According to Spaulding, the Chowder Bowl earned a profit in its very-first year and would eventually top off around $10,000 per-year before things started to drop off a bit the past couple of years due economic issues. A large portion of revenue that was raised came from game program advertisements purchased by team-member families and various corporations.

Perhaps overshadowed in all of this is the message the Chowder Bowl carried. The game brought attention to work done at Shriners Hospitals and the care of its patients.

“When kids wore the Shriners game jersey on the field, I always felt that it brought an awareness to the public about the Shriners,” Spaulding said. “It told them who we are and what we were doing. It reminded them that the Shriners is always there to take care of the kids.”

McKay added, "The biggest shame in all of this is that the Shriners will not be getting what they have gotten in year's past. That is the biggest sorrow I feel about all of this. What has been done over the last 13 years in terms of raising money for sick children is not going to be done this year. That is the sad part."