BUTTE — One of Montana’s greatest athletic traditions is only days away, as dozens of high school football seniors across the Treasure State will wake up Christmas morning to find they have been selected for the 73rd annual Montana East West Shrine Game.
MontanaSports.com will unveil the 2019 Shrine Game rosters at 12:01 a.m., with an added surprise for this year’s selections.
The game, which is the longest running of its kind in the entire country, benefits the Shriners Hospitals for Children, raising money for the organization. Athletes competing in this year’s game will have an opportunity to meet Shriners, as well as children and families that have benefited from the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
That cause leaves a lasting impression on Shrine Game all-stars.
“Talk about a cool cause,” said Butte’s Colt Anderson, a member of the 2004 Shrine Game. “The Shriners, I’m real close with some of the guys that run it here in Montana, I grew up seeing what they did and how they gave back, it’s all about the kids. How cool is it that you can have an all-star game, give back and raise a lot of money?”
“Coming out of Butte, my coaches really harped on giving back to the community and they’re there for us, so any way we can give back to the community,” added fellow Butte Bulldog Drew Schleeman, a 2013 Shrine Game participant. “Moving into a game like this with all the donations that come along with it. … Putting a smile on (the kids’) faces and just realizing that you’re playing for such a bigger cause. These kids are less fortunate, as we get to go out there and run every day and do these great things and have fun, and some days may be a grind, but then you look at these young kids and really realize how fortunate you are and how big of a game this really is and really what the cause is for it, why we’re out there playing and putting a show on for the people in the stands.”
“It’s humbling to hear those stories. You live by the quote, ‘Strong legs run so weak legs can walk,’” said former Helena Capital standout Levi Dawes, who played in the 2013 Shrine Game. “It really puts it into perspective who you’re playing for. You’re playing for something bigger than yourself. For me it was awesome. You embrace it, you get to know those kids and it was a blast. The guys you meet along the way, most of them are great friends to this day, so those relationships last a lifetime.”
“It’s an awesome organization and an awesome cause. The football game, that’s great and all the kids are excited about that, and you think about it a little bit when you’re there, but being out of it for quite a while now and seeing the impact of the Shriners organization, the number of families and kids that they touch by the tremendous support from people all around the country with the good things the Shriners do,” said 2005 Shrine Game quarterback Gary Wagner of Havre, “you have the select Shrine Ambassador child that’s with you on game day, that’s neat to see him out there with you for the coin toss. There are families who went through some life-changing moments and to see those kids excited for that week of practice and coming out on game day, that gets me fired up right now.”
“They bring in those kids on day one and they sit you down and they tell you ‘it’s bigger than just a game,’ and it really is,” explained Butte Central graduate Kale Guldseth, who played in the 2014 Shrine Game. “You see these kids that look up to you so much and it really puts things into perspective, the abilities you have and the opportunities you have had in your lifetime, but these kids that won’t. The cause is so much bigger than just a football game, to bring smiles to those kids’ faces and raise money for a good cause, it’s a great thing for the state.”
“The Shrine Game, and relaying back to the Shriners Hospitals for Children, you really can’t play for a better cause than that. You think of all the nonprofits in the world, and there are so many unbelievable ones, but when you’re talking about helping children, these kids can go get free care and whatnot, I see commercials every day now with the holidays and still I can’t think of a better cause,” said 2005 Shrine Game athlete Dane Fletcher of Bozeman. “To be a part of that in a minor, minute way, playing in the Shrine Game and helping out any way you can, seeing the little kid come out on the field, it touches your heart, I don’t care who you are. If it doesn’t touch your heart, you’re heartless.”
The 73rd annual Montana East West Shrine Game returns to Butte this July. MTN Sports will have more feature stories and memories with former Shrine Game all-stars leading to the roster reveal at 12:01 a.m. on Christmas Day.