Young Life Lite

Most people reading the words "pass" and "cranberry bowl" in the same sentence would think one thing: Thanksgiving Dinner. Not so among kids and leaders in Portland, Ore., where those words can mean only this: Football — on Veterans Day.

This year and every year since 2000, rural and suburban kids from Greater Clackamas County and city kids from Portland Central have gathered on the eleventh day of the eleventh month to take part in a popular gridiron skirmish.

But unlike similar competitions, the teams in this game are chosen only after kids and leaders arrive, and then they just count off, two by two, in an imprecise draft. Kent Williams, Greater Clackamas area director, said the bowl game isn't about area superiority and "seeing whether my people can beat yours." The Cranberry Bowl is about unity and fun. This event focuses on the joy of playing. "There is no overtime, no offense, no stats," said Williams, "just kids playing football with their leaders. Occasionally it is ultra competitive, but once we settle down the leaders, we're able to enjoy a wonderful day chuckin' the pigskin."

When Williams arrived in the Portland area from Seattle, Wash., where the Cranberry Bowl has a storied history, one of his goals was to partner in ministry with the urban area of Portland Central, led at that time by Anthony Jordan. The two were of like mind and heart when they kicked off Portland's inaugural Cranberry Bowl.

On Veterans Day in 2000, kids from neighboring, but culturally distant, communities became teammates and friends. "All we asked was for kids to show up, ready to play some ball with some kids they'd never met before, and have a great time," said Williams.

These days the event promises even more — lukewarm cocoa, donated Taco Del Mar lunches, T-shirts, and the possibility of earning the coveted Cranberry Bowl MVP toilet seat trophy. The event offers all this and the annual discovery that these cross-town competitors are not so different from each other after all.

Jordan, now the president of Portland Leadership Foundation, said, "We were all about reconciliation and bridging the gap between kids who wanted to be together, but didn't know how. The Cranberry Bowl was the vehicle to connect them." Jordan and Williams continued this connection for a decade by also committing to schedule their areas' fall weekend and summer camp trips together.

How fitting the game is played on Veterans Day, especially considering the holiday's origin. Before 1954, Nov. 11 had been known as Armistice Day. The day was established by an Act of Congress in 1926, "inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples."

You can debate whether a field behind Westmoreland Park is a "suitable place," and whether kids attired in sweatpants with football flags stuffed in their waistbands is "appropriate," but the Congress of 1926 might be pleased to know that in a distinctly American game, played among kids of different colors and cultures, American ideals of unity and understanding are commemorated in the form of a Cranberry Bowl. For their part, Williams and Jordan are thrilled that four quarters of fun under the banner of football has resulted in the shared experience of Young Life camp and authentic friendship in the name of Christ.