BUTTE and MANHATTAN -- The Manhattan Tigers football team had quite the 2020 season, winning the Class B state title. Now, head coach Chris Grabowksa and a few seniors from the team are going to have one last hurrah at the Montana East-West Shrine Game.
“To be able to get to coach with the best athletes in the state, best coaches in the state, I’m really excited to be able to coach in the game and have the game. It’ll be fun,” said Grabowska.
This is Grabowska’s second Shrine Game selection and first time coaching in it. He’ll be an assistant for the West. The game means a little more to him than most of the other coaches.
“The game has a great meaning,” he said. “All the money goes to the Shrine Hospital. My oldest daughter actually was in a children’s hospital as a newborn for quite a while. It will be fun to give back in a sense.”
The last time Manhattan was on the football field, it was full of Gatorade baths, tears and championship hardware. But Grabowska gets to coach some of his now-graduated seniors who were the backbone of that state title team one last time.
“It’s going to be awesome,” said Grabowska. “They’re special kids, Toby (Veltkamp), Caden (Holgate) and (Gabriel) Delgatty, I’m excited to coach them one last time before they move on to the next chapter of their life.”
Over in Butte, the Bulldogs' 2020 season may have ended sooner than they would have liked, but they will still have plenty of representation at the Shrine Game, including assistant coach Dan Larson who will also be coaching as a part of the West team.
“Just taken by surprise. Ecstatic. Excited,” Larson said.
Those were some of the emotions felt by Larson after learning he had been selected to be an assistant coach in the Shrine Game. Just like Grabowska, this will be Larson's first Shrine Game. The Cut Bank and Montana Tech graduate has been a Bulldogs assistant under Arie Grey since 2011. He said he's looking forward to meeting new players and coaching some familiar ones.
“I'm really excited to get to know the other players that we compete against,” said the longtime Butte assistant. “There's four Butte High players. We get another chance to compete with them. And again to meet all the players that we compete against and coaches year in and year out.”
Larson and four Butte High seniors will hit the field on Saturday following a season that saw the Bulldogs bow out of the playoffs in the first round. But of course the Shrine Game is about so much more than football.
“I think the history of it is awesome,” said Larson. “I saw a stat where they've raised like a million dollars every year for the past 10 years. That's huge and that helps a ton of kids. And I checked out the patient ambassador with Grant and Alexis and to be a part of a cause that raises money for kids like that, I mean, we're just out playing a game and they're the true MVPs so to speak.”
The Shrine Game takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday in Billings.