BANGOR, Maine — When the John Bapst Crusaders host Nokomis of Newport in an exhibition football game at Husson University on Saturday night, it will mark the final test run for the teams before they begin their regular seasons.
And while the 7 p.m. encounter also will be a matchup of head coaching brothers in Dan O’Connell of John Bapst and Matt O’Connell of Nokomis, the most notable family member of the night will be their mother.
Barbara O’Connell has battled multiple sclerosis for more than 30 years and now uses a wheelchair, but her perseverance in the face of the disease has prompted her sons to develop this game into the second annual “Mrs. O” Bowl, with proceeds from fundraising events held during the contest to be donated to the MS Society in their mother’s name.
“My brother and I had coached together for so long, and we were always thinking about ways to do a fundraiser for MS,” said Dan O’Connell, whose brother was a John Bapst assistant coach until taking over the Nokomis program last year.
“Our mother came down with MS in 1981, but she raised the three of us (the O’Connell brothers have a sister) with my father through it all. She did everything and more a mother could do for her kids, and we wanted to find a way to honor her.”
The inaugural “Mrs. O” Bowl was played just after the conclusion of the regular season last fall, with John Bapst not qualifying for postseason play in 2013 and Nokomis unable to compete in the playoffs because while a Class B program by enrollment it opted to play a Class C schedule, making the Warriors ineligible for postseason play under Maine Principals’ Association rules.
Nokomis remains ineligible for postseason play for one more year of Class C competition, but John Bapst hopes to return to the LTC Class D playoffs this fall, which left this year’s “Mrs. O” Bowl in doubt.
“I wasn’t sure we’d be able to do it this year,” said Dan O’Connell, “but the scheduling committee that put together the crossover [exhibition] games between Class C and Class D teams were good to us, and Waterville and MCI [Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield] were very cooperative in letting us do this.”
Waterville had been scheduled to play John Bapst while Nokomis was to face MCI under the original exhibition-game schedule but now will play each other at Pittsfield on Friday night while Bapst and Nokomis will meet a night later.
O’Connell said gate receipts from the “Mrs. O” Bowl will be donated to the MS Society as well as a portion of concession sales after expenses and proceeds from a 50/50 raffle as well as a raffle during the game for two specially stamped footballs honoring the event — one signed by members of each team — that have been donated by Turner Sporting Goods.