Big 33: State of Affairs

After more than half a century, nation's premier all-star football game faces trials and triumphs.

Fifty-one: The number of times the Big 33 Classic football game has been played.

Forty-three: The number of Super Bowls that have been played.

Zero: The number of Super Bowls that have been played without at least one Big 33 alumni on a roster.

This is a testimony to the excellence and pervasiveness of what has been called the nation's premier high school all-star football game. While newer contests such as the U.S. Army All-Star game have gained attention recently for their nationwide appeal, the Big 33 has remained true to its roots and has continued to focus beyond the game.

This year, Big 33 alumni and former Penn State and New England Patriots tight end Kyle Brady returns as honorary chairperson for the classic, following a long line of returning alumni that has included such stars as Joe Namath, Todd Blackledge and Dan Marino. Without exception, all consider the Big 33 classic a highlight of their athletic experiences and give willingly of their time in order to ensure the continuation of the tradition.

At the center of this tradition is the Big 33 Scholarship Foundation, which has raised more than $3.8 million for academic scholarships since 1985. Nearly $200,000 in scholarships have been awarded this year to high school seniors throughout Pennsylvania and Ohio, and more than $1.5 million has been earned since 1985 by local charities and high schools through Big 33 fund-raisers.

In spite of all this success, the Big 33 classic has faced — and continues to face — uncertainties. Several years ago, changes in NCAA rules allowed universities to establish earlier reporting dates for incoming student-athletes. This change forced the Big 33 foundation to reschedule the classic from its traditional July weekend to the third weekend in June, one week ahead of the new reporting dates. This move conflicted with Ohio's long-standing North-South All-Star game, and resulted in additional challenges on the part of state coaches associations to assemble the best teams for the Big 33.

Perhaps nothing has created a challenge for the Big 33 like the current economy. With many companies struggling to survive, sponsorship dollars are more difficult to come by for organizations like the Big 33. In combination with the retirement of long time Big 33 chairman Mickey Minnich after the 50th anniversary of the classic, there has been a downturn in revenue for the Big 33, and some scaling back of activities surrounding Big 33 week. This has not yet affected the foundation's "buddy program," nor the scholarship program, all-star cheerleaders, youth clinics, or visits by participants to local hospitals and homes. The Big 33 staff is committed to meeting the challenges that remain, and continuing to present the classic for years to come.

But if you would like to help the viability, a good way to start is by attending this year's game between all-star team from Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Kickoff for the 2009 Big 33 Classic is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium.

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