Shrine Bowl more than just a game
Everyone involved knew it, from the fans to the coaches, players to the two little children in the wheelchairs admiring the game from field level.
It's an afternoon where penalties that would often be taken during the regular season are declined out of sportsmanship. Players on opposing teams help each other up off of the carpet (something that, fortunately, happens a lot in North Dakota football anyway) and extra points go very lightly contested.
The Shrine Bowl, in short, is to football what the Japanese are to baseball.
A tie, in other words, would be acceptable, not a crime pulled off by the commissioner at the all-star baseball game.
Last year, the North Dakota Shrine bowl raised more than 15 grand in cash for the Shrine Hospital and for the local transportation fund that helps send kids from this area to the regional center in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
There, they receive services from a network of pediatric hospitals, founded by Shrine organizations throughout the country. And it's all free of charge.
So was Saturday's game for many, as friends and family of the players in the 11-man and 9-man contests escaped 101-degree temps and enjoyed the comforts of air conditioning at the Fargodome.
Two West Fargo kids were the honorees at halftime, as Drew Patzner and Caroline Vetter served as the events prince and princess, watching the contest from their kid-size wheelchairs in the northeast corner of the field.
Two West Fargo kids had the chance to display their wares on the field, too. Tom Bishoff served as the kicker for the East team, while his teammate from the Packers, Gavin Schmidt, played defense and special teams.
The game was the icing on the proverbial cake for all four involved Saturday. For Patzner and Vetter, it was a week of special attention from a group of men and women involved in this event, as well as the dozens of players. For Bishoff and Schmidt, it was one last chance to lace it up on the surface of the Fargodome, where they had enjoyed a state championship run just three years ago.
For the two players, the week had its fun moments, and its poignant ones. There were team meals and workouts each day of the week. One proved unfortunate for Bishoff, who was admittedly "out of football shape" heading into the week and pulled a groin muscle. He kicked anyway, converting three extra points and four kickoffs. Most were inside the 20.
On the fun side, the team took in the FM RedHawks game on Thursday, had the chance to go to a movie together, and spent time around town. They were fed well, including a banquet on Saturday morning and another last Tuesday night that featured former NDSU and Buffalo Bill standout Phil Hansen.
But on Wednesday, it was a trip to the Twin Cities that sent the message home. This game had a bigger purpose, one beyond most all-star contests.
"It was cool," Bishoff said of visiting the Children's Hospital. "The kids really appreciate it."
Every team member heads to the Cities for the trip, and no doubt every one is touched by what they see. Since 1973, this event has served that dual purpose of recognizing outstanding achievement on the gridiron, and raising money for this special cause.
By the way, Schmidt and Bishoff performed well, representing West Fargo. Schmidt assisted on several tackles and had three of his own, while Bishoff booted away, stocking footed. And the East squad won, 21-9.
But the highlight of the game came at the half, as Vetter and Patzner, to their delight, were given footballs autographed by each player, and wheeled out to midfield to receive a round of applause from hundreds of fans.