It's more than a game. The Big 30 Charities Classic provides great football and gives back to an area where needed. The game played the first Saturday in August since 1974 returns for 2021 after being forced to cancel last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The game was officially called-off on June 27 when coaches and players were informed.
"We waited until [the end of June] to cancel the game. There were uncertainties, and we didn't know what was going to happen with [COVID-19]. We thought the welfare of the kids meant more than everything. That's why we cancelled the game," said Charities Classic President Bob South during a phone interview on Wednesday.
"To be honest, we were ready to play (rosters in place). The [Bradford Area] school district didn't want to risk it, and we didn't want to risk anyone's health. They are our biggest partner, and they and we didn't want to jeopardize anyone's health," he added.
Things are moving forward for this year's 47th edition being played on Saturday, August 7. The game matches recent-graduates from Pennsylvania against their New York counterparts. The Big 30 covers Elk, McKean, Cameron, Potter, and Warren counties in PA, Allegany, Cattaraugus, and Chautauqua counties in the Empire State. While teams south of the border held an abbreviated season in the fall, the New York teams began to practice this week for their spring season.
"We're just starting to get nominations from New York while we're in the process of selecting the Pennsylvania team. It's going to be a tight timeline, but we fully expect we're going to be able to do this," said Big 30 Charities Classic Football Committee Chairman Shawn Llewellyn, who was interviewed along with South.
"My thoughts are we want to wait until we can announce the New York side as well. We're very impartial, and the last thing we want to do is make it look like one side, or other is favored. We don't care who wins. We're here to help put on a good game, entertain the crowd, raise a bunch of money, and give it to people that need it," he added.
Cheerleaders and Homecoming Queens are also part of the festivities. South pointed out invites for nominations have been sent out to the various school districts for those selections. Head coaches nominate the players.
The Committee President said things are going well thus far with planning, which began in October.
"We're prepared to go. Everything I've talked about with the school district and the city has been good. They don't anticipate any problems with what we've addressed so far. We know what we can do right now (crowd size), and we're hoping it will even improve before July to get more people in. Bring on the vaccine."
Game with a purpose
Since its start in 1974, the Charities Classic has raised close to 1.8 million dollars distributed to organizations and individuals in need throughout the Big 30 area.
"The reason we started this thing many, many years ago was we thought there was a need. Originally it was just going to be a football game. I'll tell you what, that first year we didn't know what to expect. We thought if we got 500 people in the stadium, we'd be lucky. It's grown. People look forward to coming to the game, and it does a lot of good," said South, who is thankful for the support.
"The school district, the community, people involved with the city, and the whole area on both sides is so supportive. When we ask them to do something, they'll do it if it's possible in any way. They don't think twice about it," he said.
Llewellyn talked about the needs addressed by the Big 30 game.
"We live where there is 33-percent poverty throughout the Big 30 area. It's pretty similar in every city. If we can't give money to people in need, we're not doing what the mission was when the game started. We're a bunch of football guys who just want to do something good in the world,” he said.
How to help
The Committee's significant way to raise funds is through its program.
"Advertising in our program is our biggest thing. We take great pride in how it looks. For anyone wanting to be part of it, all they have to do is contact the Big 30. I guarantee someone will get back to them," said South.
Those interested can contact the organization – Big 30 Charities Classic, Inc., P.O. Box 82, Bradford, PA 16701.
The Committee President also gave a shout-out to the game's participants, who help bring in program revenue.
"The players, cheerleaders, and queens do a great job with that. It raises a lot of money. The kids do a great job getting us leads from their community. We appreciate everything they do," he said.
The Committee expects to begin releasing rosters in the next couple of weeks…..Ridgway head coach Mark Heindl and assistants Mickey Delhunty, Rick Viglioni, Jack Kifer, and Tony Defilippi will coach the Pennsylvania squad. They had been selected to coach last year (see related story)…..South said while the 2020 selections were presented with jerseys and shirts last year, the Committee will recognize them as part of this year's event….. The 2019 game ended 27-27.....Pennsylvania had won the three previous contests.....New York holds a 22-21-3 edge.