Week full of activities will lead up to all-star football game

Texas high school football all-stars, with a heavy emphasis on local talent, will converge on Gordon Wood Stadium on Jan. 6 to battle a team comprised of out-of-state and out-of-country standouts in the first Texas Heritage Bowl.

Bowl Director Ron Oswalt made the announcement during a Thursday afternoon press conference at the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce.

“The goal of this game is to give back to others, to give athletes the opportunities to earn scholarships, to play football and to extend their careers, all while helping others.”

All of the proceeds from the game will go toward Gridiron Heroes Spinal Cord Injury Foundation, which provides immediate as well as long term resources and support to individuals sustaining a catastrophic spinal cord injury through activities associated with high school football.

“What better place to kick off an event like this for a good cause than Brownwood?” said Eddie Canales, founder of Gridiron Heroes. “Brownwood has a great reputation of being a football mecca right here in the heart of Texas.”

Canales was named as a Top 10 CNN Hero in 2011 for his work through Gridiron Heroes, which began after his son, Chris, suffered a spinal cord injury while making a tackle for San Marcos Academy in 2001.

“When Chris got hurt no one could help,” Canales said. “Coaches didn’t know what to do, where to go, how to find help for the family or how much Chris’ life was going to change. As we started dealing with the injury we learned it is very costly and can cost millions of dollars over a lifetime.”

As for the decision to play the inaugural Texas Heritage Bowl in Brownwood, Oswalt echoed Canales’ sentiments.

“Brownwood, Brown County is an amazing place with good people here. We want people from the outside to see what all this community has to offer,” Oswalt said. “Gordon Wood Stadium is a historic stadium and the new jumbo-tron offers a lot of opportunities for advertisers to be on the board, as well as banners throughout the stadium. This is going to be huge for the community.”

Local sponsors for the Texas Heritage Bowl thus far include South Park Medical Plaza, the City of Brownwood, Chick-fil-A and the Brownwood Bulletin.

Oswalt estimated anywhere from 80 to 100 players and coaches could be invited to stay in the area and take part in the game.

“This seems like the type of event that’s tailor made for a community or our size,” said City of Brownwood Sports Coordinator Roland Soto. “We’re definitely looking forward to seeing how this has a positive impact on us. Some of the early estimates are 400 to 600 hotel rooms nights based on a three-day stay.”

While players from as far away as Panama and Germany have expressed interest in taking part in the game, according to Oswalt, having local competitors — from both 11-man and six-man programs — is a primary goal.

“I want kids from May, Zephyr, Richland Springs, I want six-man players to have the opportunity get in front of recruiters, too,” Oswalt said. “There will be coaches from Division II, Division III and NAIA schools and these kids may never get an opportunity like this again. And they get that one more game.”

Other activities that will coincide with the Texas Heritage Bowl include:

• The NFL Alumni Association sending former NFL players to the game for meet and greets, autographs and photos with fans of all ages.

• An art scholarship worth $250 as local school kids can draw their favorite football related pictures. A committee will pick a winner who will receive free tickets to the game and a free meal at a local restaurant for the entire family, as well as other prizes.

• Tickets buddies, where a group of tickets can be purchased and donated to disadvantaged children in the community

• A helmet-free tackling academy two nights during bowl week at the HPU practice fields where, for $30, youth football players will learn how to tackle properly without using their head.

• A banquet the night before the game that will feature former NFL players as inspirational speakers.

For those who can’t attend the game in person, it will be live streamed on Fox Sports Go, according to Oswalt.

There is also a possibility a Division II or NAIA bowl game could be a late addition, making for a doubleheader. The likelihood of that happening this season is small, but next year a second facility may be required.

Additional information on the Texas Heritage Bowl and the week of activities that will lead up to the game will appear in future editions of the Bulletin.