More than just the game: West team ready for all-star showdown at Kansas Shrine Bowl 2021

Billy Watson
The Hutchinson News
Haven's Darby Roper sits back and defends a receiving while playing cornerback during practice Tuesday, June 22, 2021, at Bethany College in Lindsborg.

LINGSBORG – On Saturday, the state of Kansas' best senior high school football players will gather at Hutchinson Community College's Gowans Stadium for a 7 p.m. kickoff for the 48th Kansas Shrine Bowl.

From Reno County and the surrounding area, five athletes will participate in the game: Buhler's Jarrett Christenson, Inman's Carter Brown, Little River's Jayden Garrison, Haven's Darby Roper, and Hutchinson's Jack Hawver. Garrison and Roper will be attending HCC in the fall. Garrison will join the first-year head coach Tommy DeSalme's basketball team while Roper puts pads on again, this time for the spring 2021 national champion football team.

But before anyone goes anywhere for college, not only will a traditional all-star game be played at Gowans Stadium. The week will include extraordinary activities, including a hospital experience at the Cosmosphere.

All players will be representing their high school, the Kansas Shrine Bowl and, most importantly, the Shriners Hospitals for Children and their patients. All proceeds from the game go to benefit the network of 22 hospitals, the Kansas Shrine Bowl website said.

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All of the players involved think it will be a unique experience. Buhler's Christenson said it was awesome they get to do this for the kids and for a good cause along with playing with some of the best graduating players in Kansas.

"Getting to meet the Shrine kids," he said, "It's better than just a high school game. This is for a good cause.

"It's pretty awesome we get to do this for kids. Kids from all over the state come together a make a team, play together, so we can become a family, and just help out the kids that have problems."

Little River's Jayden Garrison attempts to grab a catch during practice Tuesday, June 22, 2021, at Bethany College in Lindsborg.

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Hutchinson's Hawver loves the community aspect of the week with visiting with the Shriners kids.

"You really realize in the Shrine Bowl that you're really lucky to be able to do it," Hawver said. "Just to see what they're going through, honestly your life's not hard, you know? It's just an awesome experience."

Turning to Saturday's game, for Haven's Roper, he will be playing on what will be his future home field with the Blue Dragons. Roper said the players he will be playing with on Saturday are the best of the best.

"It's a wake-up call," Roper said. "These guys, they can play. 

"It's also nice being at Gowans too. It'll be like a little bit of a practice to see how it is playing out there. Playing with this level of talent will definitely be nice considering we'll be playing another level of higher competition."

Norton coach Lucas Melvin will be heading the West all-star team. Melvin is a former Blue Dragon who played football. He said he is excited to come back to the place where he went to school.

"To go back to the place I first played in college, it's special," Melvin said. "I was fortunate enough to play with coach (Rion Rhoades). We were together at Hutch in JUCO."

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Norton coach and West all-stars head coach Lucas Melvin talks to players in the huddle following practice Tuesday, June 23, 2021, at Bethany College in Lindsborg.

In last year's Shrine Bowl, the West held on to win a low-scoring game 14-9. This year looks to be another hard-fought game in front of what might be a bigger crowd than last year, due to the pandemic limiting attendance. Melvin said he and the kids are excited to get out there Saturday and hope to execute.

"We want to have fun out here," Melvin said. "These guys are awesome, awesome young men. Our hope offensively is to move the ball, and our hope defensively is to get a lot of three-and-outs, at least slow down (the East all-star's) offense. It's going to be tough. East has a lot of talented kids. It's going to be tough, but it'll be fun."

Saturday's festivities include a parade that will begin at Main Street and Avenue B starting at 10 a.m. The path will continue on Main to 12th Street. The parade will feature famous and infamous Shrine Units and Shrine Clubs from across Kansas, the all-star football teams, the Kansas masonic all-state marching band, and the Shrine Bowl all-star cheer squad.