BY ESTEBAN RAMIREZ Special to The Californian
Over a half-century, the Shrine Potato Bowl provided countless memories for football players and fans in Bakersfield and a sizeable financial boost for the Shriners Hospital for Children in Los Angeles.
When the annual community college game ended several years ago, Golden Empire Youth Tackle Football executive director Ron White decided to try to revive it, in a different format, to continue to support the Shriners Hospital, and provide a stage for youth football as well.
"In early 2010, I just happened to be driving by the Kern County Shrine Club and noticed the old Potato Bowl float in the parking lot," said White. "It was pretty decrepit, beat-up, and ... I realized how sad it was that the community lost that event."
It got White to thinking.
"Myself and a few other people approached the Shriners about the idea of bringing it back, and they were in agreement," he said.
"We wanted to make sure that the Shriner's Hospital for Children would continue to receive funding from the Bakersfield community like it had always."
The Shrine Potato Bowl started in 1948 as the first junior college football bowl game. It was consistently a big draw, including a crowd of 20,963 in 1990. In 2002, the Shriners Club chose to withdraw its sponsorship of the event because of increased fees by the state Commission on Athletics.
The name of the event was changed to the Golden Empire Youth Shrine Potato Bowl when it was brought back in 2010 and has been going ever since. The event consists of four to five games between youth teams from Bakersfield and Santa Clarita, including a final game between all-area youth teams from both cities. It has been held at Garces and Independence high schools. Since 2010, the bowl has raised nearly $25,000, including $8,000 this past year to the Shriners Hospital for Children.
"It's very personal to me because as a young man I attended those games, I took my son to those games and you never want to see a staple of the community go away like that, so on a personal level it has meant the world to me," White said of helping the Shriners Hospital.
David Stevenson, chairman for the Kern County Shriners Club Youth Potato Bowl Committee, felt it was a good union from the start "because it does nothing but help kids all around. Whether it's the kids getting to learn the skills in football or the kids in the hospital that are benefitting from the donations.
"So how can it not be a win-win situation all around?