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Kansas Shrine Bowl in Hutchinson this weekend

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Football game is just one of many activities organizers have planned

  • Clockwise from top left: Maur Hill's Andrew Schwinn, West Franklin's Cameron Wise, Topeka Hayden's Desmond Purnell, Garden City's Trey Nuzum, Hays High's Gaven Haselhorst and Wichita Northwest's Julius Bolden are just six of 72 all-star football players from across Kansas participating in this weekend's Kansas Shrine Bowl in Hutchinson.
    Clockwise from top left: Maur Hill's Andrew Schwinn, West Franklin's Cameron Wise, Topeka Hayden's Desmond Purnell, Garden City's Trey Nuzum, Hays High's Gaven Haselhorst and Wichita Northwest's Julius Bolden are just six of 72 all-star football players from across Kansas participating in this weekend's Kansas Shrine Bowl in Hutchinson.

The 48th annual Kansas Shrine Bowl is upon us, and after an event hamstrung by COVID in 2020, it is back in a big way with approximately 450 kids taking part in the festivities in one way or another. 

Hutchinson will host for the first time in the game’s history, with Hutchinson Community College’s Gowans Stadium the site for the football game, which kicks off at 7 p.m., Saturday, June 26th.

While football is the most well-known event of the weekend, it is far from the only activity on the schedule.

Leading up to the game will be a trove of exciting events including the Kansas Shrine Bowl Golf Tournament followed by a banquet for the multitude of participants on Friday. Saturday then begins with the Mine Run 5K, the Kansas Shrine Bowl Parade, the Shrine Bowl/Sports in Kansas High School Combine, the #FortheKids Youth Cheer Clinic, and the Junior All-Star Challenge. And if that’s not enough, 140 marching band musicians will perform during the halftime show.

Besides the traditional options, at least one new event for the public will begin this year according to Shrine Bowl Director BJ Harris.

“A new feature this year is our Fan Fest,” Harris said. “Which is a tailgating event where we’re going to have some vendors handing out some free food and free ice cream to the first few hundred people that show up.”

For a more detailed list of events, click this link: Events - KANSAS SHRINE BOWL

Harris lauded all those who contributed to the Herculean effort leading up to the week’s activities - from year-round team members, to corporate sponsors, to the host city, and beyond - the list of selfless individuals and entities are seemingly endless.

“It's really a team effort,” Harris said. “What's great is it's almost entirely volunteer based, you know, Shriners pitch in and even our board travels all across Kansas and buy their own meals and buy their own hotel rooms. They know what it's for and so those guys and all the volunteers that make our game happen is a big part of it and then we’re fortunate, we have some staff and people that live it every day and communicate with our athletes. That's one of the biggest parts with the participants is that they have enough information they need to come to camp.”

Harris continued praising those involved.

“The Hutchinson community has been tremendous,” Harris said. “Josh Gooch, HCC, Holly Leiker, and VisitHutch have been tremendous partners who have allowed us to basically have the key to the city and do what we need to do to have a successful event and ultimately that host community and how well they show up and how well they support our event is what makes it successful and we’ve already got that in Hutchinson, so I have no doubt we will be successful.”

On Monday, the East and West football teams began their crash-courses in what are new offensive and defensive schemes for a majority of the players. Given the noteworthy talent on the field and pacing the sidelines, it is likely to be a relatively smooth undertaking.

“Well, we plan to be organized and prepare in a way that will allow the players to grasp what we want to do,'' West coach Lucas Melvin said. “The nice part is, many of these players understand the game well and they will be able to pick up on things quickly.”

Melvin, the head coach at Norton High School for the last 14 seasons, received the nod as the head coach for the West team. The Bluejays finished 4-3 in 2020, and are traditional winners, going 106-50 under Melvin and finishing as state runner-up as recently as 2019. 

“It is a huge honor to get to work with some of the best football players in the state and also some of the best coaches in the state,” Melvin said.

St. Francis’ Shadyron Blanka, one of the top 8-Man players in the state and a 2021 greyshirt for K-State football, was full of enthusiasm when talking about the opportunity to take part in the game.

“It means a lot to be picked coming from such a small town community,” Blanka said. “And it will be a lot of fun getting to be with guys with so much talent and getting to learn from each other and play the game we love!”

Coaching the East squad is De Soto’s Brian King, who helped lead De Soto to an 8-2 record and the state quarterfinals in 2020. Both of De Soto’s losses came to eventual 5A state champions Mill Valley, who won the title for a second consecutive year and the fourth time in the past six seasons.

Too many big names from the 2020 football season in Kansas will be suiting up to name them all, but a few to keep an eye on, besides Blanka, include Wichita Northwest human highlight-reel Julius “Juice” Bolden (West team, Northern Illinois commit), Sabetha’s Drew Schmelzle (East team, North Dakota commit), Norton’s Christien Hawks (West team, Air Force commit), Hays High’s Gavin Haselhorst (West team, Kansas State) and playing in what might be his last organized football game before embarking further on his basketball career, Hoxie’s 7-footer Harlan Obioha (West team, Rocky Mountain Sports Academy) will also be taking part in the game.

The West has won the last two matchups in the series and dominated it overall, holding a 29-16-1 all-time lead. Last year’s contest was a defensive showdown, with the final score being 14-9.

The East’s Ethan Kremer, a standout lineman for the back-to-back 5A state champs, summed up his feelings about taking part in the game, and made a point to mention what the Shrine Bowl truly means beyond football and fun.

“It is an honor to be selected to represent Mill Valley in the Shrine Bowl,” Kremer said. “I’m looking forward to meeting and coming together as a team with the top athletes from the east side of the state and also meeting some of the families that Shriners help serve.”

With 22 hospitals benefiting directly from the events, not to mention the positive impact of the exciting events for the students and the good an event like this does for a city like Hutchinson, Kremer is only reaching the tip of the iceberg in what the Shrine Bowl does for Kansas, and more importantly, children desperately in-need of specialized medical treatment.

“What's great about our event is that it's the primary fundraiser for Shriners Hospitals for Children for Shriners in Kansas and what's cool about it is the five Shrine Centers came together to do a big fundraiser,” Harris said. “A lot will do one for each community or Shrine Center, but ours is a combination of five entities spread throughout Kansas and you get tremendous perspective on the needs of kids and what the needs are for hospitals and we have some pretty good stories because we cover the entire state.”

Harris went on.

“Our ultimate goal that drives us is the impact the Shriner Hospital makes on the lives of children that don’t have to pay anything,” Harris said. “When you come to get services and its best in the world, state of the art service, you get it for free. You don’t have to pay to get there, you don’t have to pay for lodging, that's all covered under the funds that we raise and it's pretty neat and pretty cool and we’re trying to be a part of that impact.” 

Given the fantastic cause, hard work that went into it, top notch football, and variety of fun events surrounding the upcoming weekend, there are few better ways to spend your time in late June.