The inaugural Texas Heritage Bowl, featuring an all-star roster of high school football talent from across the state, was scheduled to kick off at 2 p.m. Saturday at Gordon Wood Stadium.
But Tuesday, just days before the event, the Heritage Bowl announced on its Facebook page that the game has been postponed until December 2018. Bowl president Ronald Oswalt said the cancellation was forced by sponsors who reneged on their pledges for the game.
“Essentially, they didn’t come through as expected,” Oswalt said on Thursday. “Working on behalf of a nonprofit, there’s just no way to take a financial hit like that.”
The nonprofit Oswalt referred to is Gridiron Heroes, a group dedicated to supporting former football players who have suffered devastating spinal cord injuries on the field. Oswalt has been involved with the organization for years, and brought some of its representatives to Brown County for the Early Pioneer Days in 2017.
A portion of the Heritage Bowl proceeds were to be designated for the nonprofit.
“It was a lot of money to generate in a short amount of time for that event,” Oswalt said. “But all the groundwork’s been laid for next year. I’m turning everything over to [Brownwood sports coordinator] Roland Soto and [Gridiron Heroes director] Eddie Canales.”
Oswalt won’t be able to oversee December’s event himself — last month he accepted a position with the Shreveport-Bossier Sports commission, working with major events like the city’s annual Independence Bowl. But he accepted that role with the intention of completing the inaugural Heritage Bowl first, he said.
In a written statement, Soto said he is “disappointed” that the Heritage Bowl didn’t happen this month. “My understanding is that they were unable to meet their sponsorship needs by the deadlines required to pull off an event of this magnitude,” Soto said. “Over the next few weeks we will be able to look into the future of the event. I am always willing to support any project with the potential to bring visitors to our city to enjoy a great sporting event.”
Though the bowl’s future is far from secure, Oswalt said he thinks the city will “definitely” want to follow through with the event. “Roland’s going to do an amazing job for the city of Brownwood. Bringing back the basketball tournament [the Holiday Classic] was a big thing, and I just think he’s on the right path to start bringing some bigger things to town.”
The Heritage Bowl already had a number of sponsors committed to help — including the Bulletin — with either monetary or promotional assistance. Chick-fil-a, the Brownwood Area and Early chambers of commerce, Prosperity Bank, Kohler, Air Temp Comfort Solutions and the Songbird Lodge are among the sponsors listed on the Heritage Bowl website, as well as the Blue Sky Entertainment radio stations where Oswalt worked during his time in Brown County.
Oswalt said sponsors and advance ticket-buyers will receive a full refund. “Everything will just be refunded,” he said. The Heritage Bowl website post announcing the cancellation says corporate partners will be contacted within the next several days.
Fred Spencer assisted the Heritage Bowl with print and design help from his business, ASAP Creative Arts. “It would have been great for Brownwood,” Spencer said. “I think the Gridiron Heroes are a good organization and I’m hoping they’ll have a great event next year.”
Dottie Layman’s South Park Medical Plaza also sponsored the Heritage Bowl with a $5,000 contribution. “I was very proud to be involved,” Layman said on Wednesday. “I think Roland and all of them at the city are very well-qualified to handle it, and I think December will be better because hopefully it won’t be so cold.
“Gridiron Heroes is a wonderful organization, and with my connection to the medical industry I felt it was important to be involved.”
Layman said Oswalt brought a “rare opportunity” to Brownwood with his connections and previous experience in the world of Texas football. Oswalt has worked with several arena football teams and has covered Texas high school football. “It was just too little, too late,” she said.