BUTTE — Santa Clause won’t be the only one delivering gifts on Christmas Day.
Organizers for the Montana East-West Shrine Game, the oldest high school football all-star game of its kind in the entire nation, have gifted seniors across the state with a selection to the Treasure State’s prestigious summer contest, revealing the rosters each Christmas morning.
The way those rosters were released have changed over time, from waiting until the local 5:30 p.m. news to email or phone calls to this year’s roster reveal at 12:01 a.m. on Christmas morning at www.MontanaSports.com, but no matter how athletes find out they were selected, receiving the gift has always been one of the best parts of the Christmas holiday.
“It’s one of the coolest gifts you can get playing here in Montana,” said Bozeman’s Dane Fletcher, a 2005 Shrine Game defender. “Growing up playing football here, to be released into that category, playing in the Shrine Game and playing with some of the top guys in Montana, it was a great memory for me, I enjoyed it.”
“For the Butte kids it’s a big deal. Everyone is looking forward to it,” said former Butte Central standout Kale Guldseth, a 2014 Shrine Game participant. “I can remember on Christmas Eve, the itch, staying up until 12:01 a.m. just to see if you made the roster. When I did, it was really a dream come true. Waiting that whole day and finding out in the end, waiting the whole year, really, finding out at midnight you made it was a good feeling.”
“Back then the internet wasn’t too popular, so I remember waking up nice and early and going outside to grab the newspaper that used to be delivered to my parents’ house and I was extremely excited and honored to see my picture on the front of the sports page,” said Butte’s Colt Anderson, a 2004 Shrine Game alum. “It was a cool experience and something I’ll always remember.”
“So I wasn’t really aware of when they released (the rosters). I found out on Christmas morning from Devin Jeffries, who played over at Kalispell Glacier,” said Helena Capital graduate Levi Dawes, who played in the 2013 Shrine Game. “He said, ‘Congrats on making the Shrine Game roster,’ and I said ‘How in the world did you find out about that?’ He shared the link with me and it was kind of cool, that little interaction and that we would be playing together in the Shrine Game.”
“I actually woke up Christmas morning for the Shrine Game roster to find out I was an alternate. I didn’t even for sure make it,” recalled Missoula Big Sky graduate Jordan Tripp, a linebacker in the 2009 Shrine Game. “I found out a couple guys, I think somebody withdrew, so at a later date I found out I made it. Nonetheless when I did find out, it was awesome because I knew some of the guys who had played in it previously and ultimately what (the Shrine Game) represented. It was a tremendous honor.”
“To be honest, I was actually very blindsided by making the team. That made it that much more special for me,” said 2013 Shrine Game participant Drew Schleeman of Butte. “I was actually out in Nebraska with some family, spending Christmas out there, woke up to about five text messages saying congratulations. It truly was the best gift you could really ask for as a senior in high school, a young man making that next step and being able to play for a great cause. Coming out of Butte, I truly know the tradition behind it and all the ones that came before us, so it definitely was a great honor.”
“I didn’t have a phone back then and I wasn’t great with emails, messengers or MySpace at that point, but I remember waking up and my dad was reading the paper and had the sports page open and there were the Shrine Game rosters,” said Havre’s Gary Wagner, a quarterback in the 2005 Shrine Game. “I saw myself on there and thought that was pretty neat, it was a special moment. As a high school kid you think you had a good season, you had a good career and you made the Shrine Game, but looking back on it, it’s pretty impactful. I know a lot of kids put a lot of time into their high school careers and being able to showcase their talent on a stage like that, the longest-standing football games in the history of the sport, it’s pretty neat to see your name on those rosters.”
Every summer Montana’s best football players collide in this East-West Shrine Game, pitting the players from the East against those from the West. We’ve seen plenty of great players, some who play all the way to the National Football League, suit up in that game. When it comes down to remembering their favorite plays, biggest hits or the comebacks, maybe just bonding with teammates, for the Shrine players past, it was all a good time.
“Being down 28-0 at the end of the first quarter,” recalled Dawes of the 2013 game. “Our quarterback, (Manhattan’s) Quinn McQueary, he ended up getting bounced into the rock wall at Naranche Stadium and we almost had an all-out brawl. It turned the tide of the game and we ended up coming back and winning 31-28. Our competitiveness came into play, but at the end of the day, you’re playing for that great cause.”
“Levi touched on it, we were down 28 points and ended up coming back late, the last-second interception, it was really unbelievable,” added Schleeman. “The atmosphere in Naranche Stadium, being in Butte, getting to know the guys, putting on a great game for the people in the stands was something that I’ll always take away from that game.”
“The greatest memory I have from the Shrine, it’s all locker rooms,” said Fletcher. “The game is fun, but I think we were there for a week-and-a-half, two weeks, it’s all in the dorms in Butte, it’s all those memories that stay behind the hidden doors.”
“We had a pretty solid roster and it was neat to have a good chunk of our high school staff coach us. It was a familiar offense for me that way, so it made things easier,” said Wagner. “You think of some of the guys you played with there and I think seven or eight of them had opportunities in the NFL, a couple of them really good stints in the NFL. My memories, I always thought that Class A football we could only play Class A football, but it was nice to see Class C kids come up and dominate the game. We were mixing it up with the Class AA kids, too, so it was fun to see the mixed talent and there were some kids in small areas that get to come out and shrine and mix it up with the best of them.”
“You show up Day 1 and there are a lot of kids that you know from around the state, but at the end of the week they become your good buddies. I’m still good buddies with them to this day,” said Guldseth. “My four best friends, there was a house of five here (when we went to Montana Tech), all from different schools and different towns, we lived together for four years and the first thing we did when we moved in was hang up our Shrine Game jerseys. The last thing we did when we moved out was took them down, so you build friendships for life and it’s a great experience for whoever plays. It’s a lot of fun and you meet a lot of great people. … My jersey is still hanging, I don’t live around here anymore, but it will always be hanging wherever I’m at. It’s something I’m very proud of and a lot of people will enjoy that experience, they want to play in the game, so to be able to wear that red was definitely a dream come true.”
“My favorite memory was definitely winning the game, but also getting to know all the guys across the rest of the state,” said Tripp. “To this day you stay in touch with those guys, creating different types of friendships, different relationships, it was a lot of fun.”
“Not specifically anything on the field, but off the field, getting to know the guys and talking about where they’re from, what they did for fun in the small towns,” said Anderson. “I grew up in Butte and there were a lot of things different here in Butte than up on the Hi-Line, so to speak.”
Don’t forget to visit www.MontanaSports.com at 12:01 a.m. hours from now for the unveiling of the 73rd annual Montana East-West Shrine Game rosters. Athletes from across Montana receiving one of the great gifts on Christmas morning. The 2019 Shrine Game will kick off July 20, 2019 in Butte and will once again be broadcast live across Montana by the Montana Television Network and MTN Sports.