East-West Shrine Game® fans are familiar with the event’s logo. The image of a football player walking with a young girl appears on game posters, billboards, T-shirts, as well as on the website. Although the logo is famous, the story and the people involved are less well-known. Here is what happened:
In 1974, Nicole Worley-Urteaga was a 2-year-old patient at Shriners Hospitals for Children® – San Francisco (Now Shriners Hospitals for Children – Northern California). She was born with Holt-Oram syndrome, a genetic condition that affects bones in the arms and hands. In Worley-Urteaga’s case, her thumbs were not fully developed. To provide more functionality, surgeons removed her thumbs and repositioned her index fingers in their place. The surgery allowed Worley-Urteaga to comb her own hair, button a shirt, hold a cup and be independent.
On the same day she was recovering from her first surgery, football players from the 1974 East-West Shrine Game visited the hospital. The annual visit is a tradition during the week of events leading up to the big football game, and allows the players to interact with the children and learn more about Shriners Hospitals for Children, a 22-hospital health care system that provides expert care regardless of the patients’ ability to pay for services.
One of the football players, Mike Esposito, especially noticed Worley-Urteaga because she appeared scared and was crying. Esposito took her hand to calm her down and they walked down the hallway together. A photographer from a local newspaper noticed the scene and snapped a photo of the two new friends. The image perfectly captured the spirit of the game and became the inspiration for the official logo of the East-West Shrine Game.
In 1988, at the 63rd East-West Shrine Game in Stanford, Calif., Worley-Urteaga and Esposito were reunited. At halftime, in front of an emotional crowd, they walked across the field hand-in-hand.
"It was definitely an exciting and nerve-wracking moment walking on the field in front of so many people,” said Worley-Urteaga. “I remember Mike being extremely calm and comforting, just like he was when I first met him.”
Today, Worley-Urteaga has three children of her own and works with children with disabilities. Her son, Collin, 14, was born with Holt-Oram syndrome and is a patient at Shriners Hospitals for Children – Northern California. So far, Collin has had four surgeries on his hands.
“After I found out about my son’s condition, a part of me was obviously concerned, but another part felt secure because I knew this was best place for him to be treated,” said Worley-Urteaga.
When she returned to Shriners Hospitals for Children – Northern California with her son, Worley-Urteaga was stunned when she noticed familiar faces. Collin had the same surgeon, anesthesiologist and nurse who helped her as a child.
“I was surprised that most of the staff was still there and remembered who I was,” said Worley-Urteaga. “I think that’s what separates Shriners Hospitals for Children from everybody else; instead of treating you as a patient, they treat you as part of their family.”
Top: The newspaper image of Nicole Worley-Urteaga and Mike Espoisito taken by Ken Yimm, Peninsula Times-Tribune, during the East-West Shrine Game players visit to Shriners Hospitals for Children in 1974. The image is the inspiration for the game's official logo.
Right: Nicole Worley-Urteaga and her son Collin, who is now receiving care at Shriners Hospitals for Children – Northern California