BUTTE — Montana’s summers are loaded with all-star games, but the East West Shrine Game boasts a tradition unlike the others.
The oldest continuous-running high school all-star football game in the entire country, thousands of athletes have suited up in the Montana Shrine Game’s red and yellow uniforms over the years, representing their schools and programs, as well as eastern and western Montana.
The rosters for the 73rd annual Montana East West Shrine Game will be unveiled on Christmas Day, continuing a longstanding tradition. Fans can find those rosters at MontanaSports.com at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday. The Montana Television Network and MTN Sports will once again be broadcasting the Shrine Game live across Montana.
Few towns in the Treasure State have a Shrine Game history like Butte, however. The Mining City has consistently loaded the rosters with talent, from the late Bob Schulte, a member of the first Shrine Game in 1947, who passed away earlier this year, to the likes of Ty Peterson, Corbin Walker, Greyson Mandic, Ryan Moodry and Hunter Hartwick, all Shrine Game selections from Butte and Butte Central in 2018.
When the Shrine Game rosters are revealed each Christmas morning, there’s an extra sense of pride for the Mining City athletes selected.
“The blood runs deep in Butte for the Shrine Game. Connor Schulte was one of my best friends growing up,” said Butte Central graduate Kale Guldseth, a 2014 Shrine Game participant. “The Shrine Game tradition in that family, being able to be part of that with them, alongside him was a great experience.”
“I did feel a little more pride being from Butte, especially because the practice is held here,” said Butte’s Colt Anderson, a 2004 Shrine Game selection. “I remember as a kid going up there and seeing guys I idolized. To be on the west team was such a cool honor.”
“Butte is such a football town. We have the best support in the world out here and all the players that came before us, you play at Butte High or Butte Central, then up here on the hill at Montana Tech, and looking at the support you get around here, to make a game like that, it’s definitely something you’ll look back on forever,” added 2013 Shrine Game athlete Drew Schleeman of Butte High. “It’s a lifetime of memories and I would never take it away for anything.”
Programs across Montana are making tradition of their own each summer, as athletes are called upon to compete in the prestigious game. With famous alumni playing before them, they say it’s a humbling experience to have their name listed as fellow Shrine Game athletes.
“It’s awesome. When you hear names of guys like Tim Hauck, those guys that you grew up as a kid watching, then to be able to do that and be part of that legacy, now having someone else go do that and uphold the cause that’s bigger than yourself, I think that’s a tremendous honor and something that you can carry and be very proud of,” said Jordan Tripp, a Missoula Big Sky selection in 2009.
“It’s a great honor. Being a part of Montana’s best on the western side of the state was awesome,” said Helena Capital’s Levi Dawes, who played in the 2013 Shrine Game. “I got to play with guys like Drew Schleeman and Zach Bunney, those Butte guys, and Devin Jeffries, Rial Gunlikson, Kyle Griffith and even guys from across town (in Helena) like Dawson Reardon and Zach Winfield. It was a blast and a great experience. You get to live once and it lives up to the hype every year.”
Havre’s Gary Wagner was the signal caller in the 2005 Shrine Game, adding his name to a list of all-time great quarterbacks to play in the game.
“It’s pretty neat. I got to go to the Shrine Game when I was a young kid, my sister was a cheerleader there and I got to see some of the guys from Havre High that I admired and looked up to,” he said. “You can go back to the rosters and everyone is quick to give credit to different places, but those kids deserved and earned a lot of their achievements throughout their career. To earn a spot in the Shrine Game is pretty impressive, so to see your name in there with a lot of the guys I looked up to, Dave Dickensen, while having some of my best friends in there, Coda Tchida and Marc Mariani, it was pretty fantastic. It’s fun to look back and a couple years ago I was able to announce the Shrine Game (with MTN Sports) and looking at the rosters even then, there was a lot of talent from all over the state and it’s fun to see your name in there.”
“When you’re playing in a game like the Shrine Game, you don’t know who you’re going to meet. In the Shrine Game my year, I met Shann Schillinger, Marc Mariani, and whatnot,” Bozeman’s Dane Fletcher said of the 2005 Shrine Game. “It’s kind of funny, we watched our careers progress into pretty good college careers and into the NFL, then you’re locking hands and tackling each other in the NFL and whatnot. You don’t know what’s going to transpire out of this game. It’s an honor, it was an honor back in high school just to get asked to be a part of the Shrine Game, and to take advantage of it the way some guys do and the way I feel like I have, to really push those friendships and stay connected the way we have. Colt Anderson just hit me up the other day, he’s coming to Bozeman for his kids’ hockey game so we’ll get together. Things like that, you can’t beat.”
Fletcher, Schillinger, Mariani and Anderson are only a handful of the names of Shrine Game alumni who went on to suit up on Sundays, playing in the National Football League. Sharing the title of Shrine Game participant with those athletes is a dream come true for many.
“It’s very crazy to think because we look up to those guys,” explained Dawes. “They’re Montana guys who played before us and they played on Sundays. It’s a very humbling experience and very cool to look back on and see those guys from Montana representing Montana and playing after them was awesome.”
Schleeman agreed: “It’s a very humbling situation and really the sky is the limit coming out of this game. Some guys will go play basketball, football, baseball, they’re all over the board, but they’re all athletes. Understanding how much of an honor it really is, because we look back on this game and talk about it year in and year out, talking a little trash to the east guys, they give it back as well, but it’s something that sticks with you and you’ll always remember that game.”
“I mean, it’s an all-star game. These guys are picked to represent the state and it’s such a great cause. I look back, I was chosen a captain that year, and Kroy Biermann was on the east team, so it’s pretty neat to be able to field guys like him,” Anderson said of his former Montana Grizzly teammate.
“It’s very, very humbling. You see these guys, like you said, playing on Sunday and a lot of successful people. To be in that class and that kind of caliber of athletes that have been selected, it’s a great feeling,” said Guldseth. “Those guys that come before you, they’re playing for a great cause and a great road has been paved for future athletes. The whole deal is a great deal.”