Shriners and football make a great team. In addition to the East-West Shrine Game®, Shriners host 30 all-star high school football games around the country that help raise money and awareness for the health care system.
“The shrine bowl games are a great way for local communities to learn about the expert pediatric care Shriners Hospitals for Children® provides and how individuals can seek treatment,” said Mike Severe, Imperial Potentate of Shriners International, the fraternity that founded and continues to operate the 22-hospital health care system. “The publicity that comes from these games is truly immeasurable for our organization.”
The largest of these games is the 75-year-old Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. After seeing the success of the East-West Shrine Game, Hendrix Palmer, a fire chief from Charlotte, N.C., organized a similar game for high school football players that benefited Shriners Hospitals for Children. The success of the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas inspired other Shriners to develop similar high school football games in or near their hometowns.
An interesting aspect of the shrine bowl games is the smaller communities that of ten host the games. For example, the Oregon East-West Game takes place in Baker City, Ore., which has a population of 9,800.
“Every single person in the town gets excited and supports the game,” said Tom Reeves, past chairman of the Oregon East-West Game. “It is by far the community’s signature event of the year and the local media covers it like the Super Bowl.”
None of the shrine bowl games would happen without the support of the fraternity members. Local Shriners serve as executive directors of the games and volunteer countless hours of their time to make sure everything runs properly. They do it because of their passion for both football and their philanthropy.
“My favorite part of being involved with the game are the patients I get to meet every year,” said Tim Luttrell, chairman of the Maine Lobster Bowl Classic. “A highlight for me was having Eddie Warren, a former patient, play in our 2010 game.”
Eddie Warren, 20, was born with orthopaedic difficulties and was treated at Shriners Hospitals for Children – Springfield. Despite using prosthetics, he became a three-sport athlete in high school and kicked the longest extra point in Maine Lobster Bowl Classic history.
“The game to me wasn’t about winning or losing,” said Warren. “It was about the kids and helping the organization that means everything to me.”
Prior to every shrine bowl game the players have an opportunity to meet patients from one of the Shriners Hospitals for Children. The encounter gives the players a deeper understanding of the true meaning and purpose of the game.
“For the first time in their lives, high school players are playing a football game to help kids who were not given the same talents and abilities that they were given,” said David Mize, executive director of the Kansas Shrine Bowl. “It may not occur to them right away, but when it does they recognize that opportunity was our greatest gift to them.”
In the photos: Above, right: High school senior Darth Winkler was the first Shriner to participate in a high school Shrine Bowl.
Above, left: High school seniors in the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic