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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Game is a labor of love

Game is a labor of love

North Powder residents Gary and Carol  Tate turned a personal experience with the Shriners Hospital into a passion for helping organize the annual East-West Shrine Game, which is this Saturday in Baker City. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
North Powder residents Gary and Carol Tate turned a personal experience with the Shriners Hospital into a passion for helping organize the annual East-West Shrine Game, which is this Saturday in Baker City. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)

Personal experience sparks North Powder couple to volunteer to help organize East-West Shrine Game

NORTH POWDER — The memory is one etched deeply into the mind of Gary Tate of North Powder, the general team manager for the East-West Shrine game in Baker City on Saturday.

So strong is the memory that it has forever shaped his life and legacy.

It invokes a grandson of Tate’s who was born about 25 years ago with a clubfoot. Doctors at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland began correcting the problem with the use of casts that were replaced every few months. The parents of Tate’s grandson later began having doctors in Northeast Oregon continue the clubfoot treatment. The parents were dissatisfied with the treatment their son received outside the hospital, noting the child was experiencing pain he had not before.

The parents soon returned their son to the Shriners Hospital in Portland where the treatment went much better. Today, Tate’s grandson is 25, healthy and has no hint of a clubfoot. 

Gary Tate said his grandson’s experience inspired him to become a Shriner and begin helping organize the annual East-West football game.

“(The Shriners Hospital doctors) are so good,” Tate said. “They are the best in the world at what they do.” 

Tate joined the Shriners in 1995, the same year he began helping organize the game. 

Since then, with the help of his wife, Carol, Tate has continued to take on the challenge of helping coordinate the annual event with the gusto of a running back leaping over the goal line to score a game-winning touchdown. Today, Shriners speak like they do not know how the annual East-West game could be played without the Tates.

“It takes years and years to learn the ins and outs of putting the whole thing together. They are invaluable,” said Hank Stockhoff, the assistant general team manager. 

The Tates work year round to put on the game, and the game is never far from their minds.

“As soon as Saturday’s game ends, we will start preparing for next year’s game,” Gary Tate said. 

A critical step takes place in October when the Tates mail ballots to the head coaches of the approximately 175 high schools in the classifications eligible to send players to the game. Coaches are asked to nominate their best senior, a player who must have strong character. The coaching staff for the Shrine game later select players from those nominated.

The Tates have had to deal with more than their share of logistical problems over the years. This year is a prime example. Arrangements had been made to bus all the players from Wilsonville to La Grande where the teams practice for a week. 

Less than a week before the players were to leave from Wilsonville, the company set to provide bus service had to cancel. The Tates, facing a logistical emergency, were able to get Moffit Brothers of Wallowa to provide the bus service.

Another complication arose when the physicians scheduled to give all the players the physicals they need before they are eligible to practice had to cancel because of a health problem. 

Facing another emergency, Tate was able to line up new physicians to provide physicals with major help from Grande Ronde Hospital. Again, everything worked out in the end but not without some stressful moments.

“It’s called a panic attack,” Carol Tate said with a laugh. 

One thing that went smoothly without a glitch this year was the players’ mandatory annual visit to the Shriners Hospital for Children. There the players saw many of the children who are being treated for everything from cleft palates to scoliosis. The visit to the hospital is an emotional experience for many of the players.

“Some of the players come through teary eyed,” Gary Tate said.

The visit is conducted to show players exactly who the Shrine football game benefits. 

“That’s who they are playing for,” Carol Tate said.

Gary Tate said the hospital visit alters the players’ perspective.

 “Seeing the kids is what it is all about. It changes their lives,” Gary Tate said. “They know what the game’s all about.”

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