MILTON-FREEWATER — Patton Wright has five screws in his hips. Souvenirs, so to speak, from his three surgeries over six years at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Spokane.
It’s because of those surgeries that Wright was able to play football at Weston-McEwen High School, and subsequently earn an invite to play in the 67th annual East-West Shrine All-Star Game on Aug. 3 in Baker City.
“I was super ecstatic about it,” Wright said of the invite.
It’s rare that a patient at the Shriners Hospital has an opportunity to play football, let alone play in the game that is a major fundraiser for the organization.
“I like to think I am giving back to the kids who can’t play, and the hospital that helped me,” Wright said. “A lot of the kids, unfortunately, can’t play regular sports, let alone contact sports. After three surgeries, I am able to play football and wrestle. My left leg is about an inch shorter than my right. I have a little limp, but it’s not real noticeable unless you know to look for it.”
Wright will be joined on the East roster by Derek Howard and Tyler Carter of Heppner and Josh Gray of Ione. Trent Durfey of Umatilla also was selected to play, but he will not be able to participate.
According to Shriners International, the game is the largest fundraiser in Oregon for the Shriners Hospital and is considered the second-largest athletic money-maker for Shriners Hospitals in North America.
Though he is a lineman, Wright will wear No. 27 in the game, honoring his grandfather, Larry Wright, who played in the Shrine Game in 1964.
“I didn’t even know that until this came about,” Wright said of his grandfather. “He was really excited for me. He had forgotten he played in the game until my grandma (Kay) reminded him about it. She brought out all these articles and photos.”
Larry Wright was an all-state offensive lineman for North Salem High School, and later played at University of Oregon before he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War.
It has been 55 years since Larry Wright played in the Shrine Game, but he still has his jersey, and proudly wore it for a photo with his grandson.
Surgery changes everything
Wright grew up playing soccer, and was on a select team in Milton-Freewater when he was 11 years old.
When he was 12, he began having pains in his left thigh. He eventually was diagnosed with slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE), where the growth plate is not fully developed, and that results in slippage of the overlying end of the femur.
The first surgery in 2012 impacted his mobility, but he refused to let it beat him. He continued to play soccer, wrestle and rodeo.
“It’s a lot better to think positively than negatively,” Wright said. “It affects your entire life.”
He had two additional surgeries in high school, the last being in March 2018.
After his sophomore year, Wright transferred from Mac-Hi to Weston-McEwen, and switched from soccer to football. The 5-foot-8, 210-pound Wright was a Blue Mountain Conference honorable mention pick as an offensive lineman his senior year, as well as team captain for the TigerScots.
He also continued to wrestle, and was a three-time state qualifier.
“I played soccer for a long time, but I had other commitments that made it difficult to keep up with it,” Wright said. “I love football — the mix of a physical game and the camaraderie. I got a lot of yellow cards in soccer, so it was an easy transition. The football team was like a big family. I didn’t experience that with soccer. I wish I would have played football for four years.”
Wright also is a member of the Boy Scouts. He earned his Eagle Scout badge, re-roofing the American Legion Hall in Milton-Freewater as his project. He went on to earn additional badges to finish the scouting program with three palms.
The next chapter
Wright is headed to Eastern Oregon University, where he will play baritone sax in the jazz band and study nursing. He would like to be a critical care nurse, possibly at a Shriners Hospital.
“When I was younger, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” Wright said. “When the radiologist figured out what was wrong with my hip, I thought I wanted to do that job. Then I realized you sit in a room all day staring at screens. I’m a people person, I want to help people. I want to be the first person you see.”
Wright graduated with a 3.98 GPA and earned several scholarships to help with school. Once he completes his courses at EOU, he plans to continue in the nursing program at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.
But first, he has one more game to play, and he’s giving it his all.
Each player selected to the Shrine Game is asked to raise $300, with contributors honored in the game program. Wright earned $1,385.
“Words cannot describe how this opportunity to give back impacts me,” Wright said. “I don’t even know where to start. I have found that actions speak louder than words.”