Children's Center Bowl special for Bethany, Washington players and for patients

BY SCOTT WRIGHT, Staff Writer, swright@opubco.com Published: September 15, 2011

BETHANY — As a pregnant mother, Regina Pence-Schatz dreamed of all the things her son would someday do.

Maybe he'd play football, or be in the band, or any of a million other things.

None of those dreams involved Chris Schatz being in a wheelchair, stricken with muscular dystrophy, unable to speak, much less catch a football or play a trombone.

That's why Friday night is so special — not only for Chris and Regina, but for several patients and parents from Bethany's Children's Center, as well as two high school football teams.

At 7:30 p.m. Friday, Bethany and Washington will kick off the second annual Children's Center Bowl football game, the culmination of a weeklong event unlike anything else in the state.

Chris attends Bethany High School for a couple of hours every morning, and on Friday, he'll be a part of the game, just like any other football-loving 15-year-old would want to be. He and several other patients from the Children's Center will be included in the festivities.

“You get used to your child not being involved in things like this,” said Regina, who attended last year's Children's Center Bowl between Bethany and Kingfisher with her son. “But when they are, and the other children accept them and greet them like they talk to them every day, it's very touching.

“They walk through and greet Chris, and he greets them. To see them interact like that is beautiful. It's wonderful to see that they accept him for who he is. And he adores these kids, you can tell.”

The emotional weight of the experience isn't lost on the players, either.

Hanging on Ryley Claborn's bedroom wall is a photo of Claborn and three other Bethany players walking out to midfield before last year's Children's Center Bowl against Kingfisher.

In the middle of the photo is Devin Campbell, last year's starting running back for the Bronchos, pushing the wheelchair of a boy named Luke, who was chosen to be a part of the pregame coin toss.

“That was the moment that really got me,” Claborn said. “We realize how blessed we really are here at Bethany.

“You're out there playing, and they're watching you. They look at you like you're a hero, even though they may not be able to say anything to you. You can tell that they look up to you.”

Other patients from The Children's Center will be on the field with the band at halftime, among other interactive events.

The schools did battle in Penny Wars all week to see which student body could raise the most money for The Children's Center. On Thursday night, players and cheerleaders from both teams were scheduled visit to the center and meet the patients, then compete in obstacle course events before sitting down at the same table to eat dinner together.

In many ways, it's a condensed version of what college football teams experience when they go to a bowl game.

“Last year, we were curious how our players would handle something like this,” Bethany coach Reagan Roof said. “They did excellent, and it was a good experience for everyone involved, especially our players. They get to realize the problems they have, in many cases, aren't really problems at all, compared to what some kids are dealing with.

“It was good to see our kids take a second to appreciate what they have.”

The importance of The Children's Center Bowl multipronged. It's a unique, valuable experience for the players and the patients, but it's also vital to the center itself.

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