Freedom Bowl Classic organizers vow to return in 2022

No game again this year, but expect the charitable event to be back next summer

Organizers of the Freedom Bowl Classic met Wednesday to discuss the future.

The future definitely includes the Freedom Bowl Classic, and its fundraising efforts for Shriners Hospital for Children.

The summer all-star football game, featuring players from Southwest Washington, raises money for Shriners Hospitals for Children. It was called off again this year but is expected to be back in 2022.

The summer football game, featuring recent high school graduates from Southwest Washington, was called off last year during the pandemic. It was cancelled this year, as well, with uncertainty due to pandemic protocols and the lack of preparation time.

Mike Clemenhagen, the chairman of the game, insists the game will return in 2022.

The Freedom Bowl Classic usually is held soon after Independence Day. In this year’s case, it would have been Saturday.

Instead, the event that has raised more than $100,000 since it debuted in 2003, is expected to return next year.

The mission of the game is “to generate visibility for the Shriners Hospital and what they do for kids,” Clemenhagen said. “The proceeds go to the hospital.”

One of his favorite days during Freedom Bowl week is the visit to the hospital in Portland. The players tour the facility and also meet with some of the patients there.

“The players get on the bus to go to the hospital, and they are a different person when they come back,” Clemenhagen said.

That’s when they realize who they are playing for, who they are raising funds for while participating in the game.

High school football in Southwest Washington did get an abbreviated season, months later than the traditional September, October, and November schedule. Freedom Bowl organizers usually start preparation for the summer game in December and January. The high school season did not start until February.

Plus, there were still uncertainties regarding spectators. The Freedom Bowl, Clemenhagen said, is not just to highlight local football players one more time. It is to raise funds. If fans could not attend, that would affect the mission.

“We just weren’t sure when it was going to open up,” Clemenhagen said. “The way things were going, things could be open, shut, open, shut. We were uncertain.”

Furthermore, the organizers also had to give time for sponsors to recover. Sponsors are a big part of the game, as well, and many of those businesses also just suffered through more than a year of uncertainty and/or setbacks.

In recent years prior to the pandemic, the Freedom Bowl Classic was having difficulty attracting players to fill out rosters. Clemenhagen said he hopes for a renewed enthusiasm for the game, now that the game has not been available for two years.

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