By now you probably know that Saturday’s Kansas Shrine Bowl in Hays was won 21-0 by the East Squad. Since Pittsburg has hosted the events several times in recent years, you likely know that the Shriners are not just a bunch of guys with funny hats who drive around little cars during parades; and, the Shrine Bowl is the single largest fundraiser in Kansas to help support the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
But it is easy to forget the true impact the Kansas Shrine Bowl has. The 22 hospitals that make up the Shriners hospital network are currently serving more than 175,000 children with burns, cleft lip and palate, orthopedic and spinal cord problems – surgeries, therapy and even travel, free of charge to their families – at a rate of about $25 per second.
The spirit of the Shrine Bowl is captured by the slogans of this year’s winning team – “INAM”, “It’s Not About Me”, and the Kansas Masonic All-State High School Marching Band – “It’s for the kids.”
“It means that we aren’t playing for ourselves but for something much bigger, such as the kids and the Shrine Hospital,” said East Squad receiver and kicker, Ryan Rakestraw, a recent graduate of Southeast High School. “Also, it’s a character to have throughout life that will lead to success.”
“We’re not there for us, we are there for them (the kids) and to help keep the Shriner hospitals open so that the Shriners can continue to help these amazing kids without a single penny required from that family,” said Jamie Leeper, also a recent graduate of Southeast High School. “It means to save the kids whose family can’t afford any of the treatments that they need. It means that you are helping with something bigger than just you.”
“This whole week, we have been working hard for the kids who have been through more than any of us,” said Taylor Stanley, a senior at Southeast High School who was in her first year with the Shriners Band. “When we visited the kids, they were so passionate about telling us their stories and how the Shriner’s Hospitals has affected their lives. These kids were truly inspiring and gave me a whole new perspective.”
The game day program for the all-star program generates around $60,000 through advertising alone. Plus, there are the ticket and merchandise sales, as well as grants, donations and sponsorships. Expenses of the week’s events are offset by sponsorships to help make sure as much of the funds go to the hospital as possible.
But it’s not only about the money. This year’s Shrine Bowl brought together more than 220 high school band members and 70 football players from across the state to meet a few of the children who are helped by the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
Several months ago Ryan met with the only other student from USD 247 to participate in the Kansas Shrine Bowl. McCune’s Duane Davis was in the inaugural Kansas Shrine Bowl in 1974. He told Rakestraw that meeting the kids would be a memory that will stick him for the rest of his life.
According to Ryan’s mother, if the drive home is any indication, Mr. Davis was correct. Jamie Ball said while they were driving Ryan to Hutchinson Community College he was already looking through the photos taken and talking about the different things he had seen.
“I believe he had a true belief in the Mission of the Shriners,” Ball said. “He realizes that life should never be taken for granted. The interaction with the little boy and the young lady reaffirmed that there is no limits to life but only those that you put on yourself. He will remember this honor forever.”
“What stood out the must was the fact that every single patient we met and spoke with had a big smile on their faces and they were just loving life to the fullest,” Ryan said. “It was an eye opener that no matter what life throws at you, don’t get down about it and keep living life.”
“Everything that we have done this week was for the kids and not about us,” Taylor said. “They had disabilities and they were all happy and okay with it. And my favorite part about the whole thing was that everything was about the kids and knowing that we were helping people.”
Whether a band member or a football player, the Shrine Bowl provides another opportunity – a chance to be around some of the best performers in the state. While only graduating senior football players are invited, band members can come back multiple times.
This was Jamie Leeper’s second year in the band. His sister Morgan, a junior at Southeast, and Stanley, are both in their first year with the band. Jamie said by the end of their camp, being one of the 220 plus members of the Shrine Band provides a “family feeling”.
“What stood out to me the most is how fast the 225ish of us band kids put aside what side of the state we came from and that we all worked as one to learn the music and charts in pretty much four days,” Jamie said. “(By the last day) I feel like I’ve known them forever.”
And for Ryan, being able to play with some of the other players from the CNC, instead of against them, was a nice change.
“It was almost kind of a relief, because for once finally I didn’t have to go up against them,” Ryan said. “They’re all good football players and it was just nice to be able to be on the same team and use our talents together and come out victorious. (During camp) we just watched TV, played ping pong, and swam at the pool. After about the second day people starting coming out of their shell and we were able to make jokes and really just have a good time. I knew most of the SEK guys but we were not like ‘friend-friends’ with them until now, and now we are pretty good friends.”
Friendship. Purpose. Courage.
It’s not just a game with a final score and a bunch of statistics.
It’s for the kids.
If you know of a child in need, or would like to provide support yourself, call 800-237-5055 or visit ShrinersHospitalsForChildren.org
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Photos from the Banquet held July 24, 2015 at the Ellis County Fairgrounds:
Photos from the Parade held July 25, 2015 in Downtown Hays, Kansas:
Photos from the Pregame and Game held July 25, 2015 at Lewis Field on the campus of Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas: