Eye-opening trip to Shriners hospital for all-star players

Freedom Bowl tradition eye-opening for football players

By Meg Wochnick, Columbian staff writer

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PORTLAND — They felt like celebrities, walking the halls of Shriners Hospital for Children.

The biggest highlight of the week for the recent high school graduates from Southwest Washington who will play in Saturday’s 15th annual Freedom Bowl Classic game at McKenzie Stadium isn’t football.

It was what they described as an eye-opening experience touring Shriners, visiting with patients, and what the pediatric orthopedic-specialized hospital provides children and their families.

For recent Hudson’s Bay’s High School graduate Jordan Hickman, the value he puts on Wednesday’s visit to the Portland campus was second to none.

Football became secondary.

“We know we’re helping someone out,” said Hickman, a future Western Oregon University quarterback. “It’s nice to be back on the field, but this is the more important thing.”

Since the Freedom Bowl Classic’s inception in 2002, game players and coaches, such as the nearly 40 from the East and West rosters Wednesday, spend part of their week at the hospital, said John Bryant, chairman of the game. Proceeds from the game benefit Shriners.

Some went on a guided tour, others went on a scavenger hunt on various floors. Each learned what services Shriners’ 22 hospitals nationwide and its Portland location provide, such as how orthotics and prosthetics are made, the unique specialization of a 2.5-ton X-ray and imaging system and its patient rehabilitation therapy and day-time schooling.

And, of course, visiting patients.

One of them was Shawn Rice, a 23-year-old from Medford, Ore. He’s been a Shriners patient for six years, and most recently had surgery on his hip to remove a tumor.

Approximately 20 to 25 groups the size of the Freedom Bowl Classic toured the Portland facility, said Emily Coleman, the hospital’s volunteer and event coordinator.

From football players to clowns, the group visits always shed light on what otherwise might be a dark place for some patients, Rice said.

That’s what makes visits a win-win “on the players and the patients,” Rice said.

Wednesday, too, was a win-win for recent Mountain View graduate Troy Pacheco. Work conflicts have made this week’s Freedom Bowl Classic practices tricky to attend, but this was a must-attend for Pacheco, who aspires to go into the medical field.

“It’s incredible the types of things they’re able to do for all the kids, and the kids deserve all of that,” Pacheco said. “That’s really special. And definitely a great experience. I’d love to go back another time sometime, too.”