If you’ve driven past Big Ball Park in Riverside on Thanksgiving morning anytime in the past 40 years, you’ve no doubt seen a pickup football game going on. While you may not have known it, the guys playing in that game largely have been the same ones, year in and year out.
All seventh-graders at Hauser Junior High when they played their first game in 1976, a dozen or so have reunited every year since.
But in 2015 they blew the final whistle, and handed the tradition off to a local charity, which raises money to help the parents of children with chronic medical conditions pay for expensive care.
“No one wanted to be the one to put it out there,” said Bob “Hutch” Hutchison, who was one of the game’s charter players back in 1976. “But this was it; it was the right time.”
So on Nov. 26 about 9 a.m. on a muddy field and in intermittent drizzle, the torch officially was passed from the ex-Hauser grads — all now in their 50s — to the folks at the Cameron Can Foundation, which is based in Riverside.
The foundation was created six years ago to help Rory and Matt Dominick pay for the medical of their son, Cameron, who suffers from a variety of medical issues, including hydrocephalus, where fluid builds around the brain.
In its second year, the foundation was granted nonprofit status and its focus has moved from providing for the Dominicks’ needs to the needs of others.
“A lot of people think we’re supporting Cameron,” said Rory Dominick, who is the foundation’s executive director. “He’s no longer the beneficiary. But we continue to help other children and organizations.”
According to the Cameron Can website, the organization has raised more than $400,000 and has assisted about a dozen families.
In recent years, Cameron Can has hosted a large fundraiser in the spring. But in 2016, they decided to take a break from that event. In its place, they are organizing Cameron’s Rockin’ Road Trip 2016, a series of smaller fundraisers in different places.
Dominick felt a Thanksgiving “Turkey Bowl” football event would be a good way to showcase what a Road Trip fundraiser could be and decided to organize one for Nov. 26 at Big Ball Park.
She didn’t know about the Hauser grads’ tradition but found out about it through Hutchison, whose mother, Bonnie, had caught wind of the plans. Hutchison sent Dominick an email outlining the history of the local get-together — and included a proposal.
“It gives us the needed justification to make 2015 our 40th and final game,” Hutchison wrote. “You will be there to watch your kids, and we will play in memory of the many Riverside parents who watched our athletic endeavors over the years but are no longer with us.”
So on Nov. 26, both groups — about 13 Hauser grads and a couple of their older kids and about 40 to 50 youngsters there for the Cameron Can event — gathered at Big Ball Park for a couple of photos before staking out decent enough spots to play concurrent games.
The event raised about $1,700 for Cameron Can, according to Dominick, and the old guys walked away from their final game uninjured.
“It was wet and slow enough that no one could do much,” Hutchison said.
Dominick said she hopes the Cameron Can Turkey Bowl will become an annual event.
“Everybody really enjoyed it, and it was a great way to kick off the holidays,” she said.