East squad prepares for Kansas Shrine Bowl

TOPEKA (KSNT) – For some it’s just another game, but for others, there’s a sense of pride and glory that comes with being selected for the Kansas Shrine Bowl. Not just to play in the game itself, but being able to help, and play, for the kids at Shriner’s Hospitals.

“I was real excited and glad that I was able to partake in this event,” said former Topeka High running back Austin Tillman.

“I was really honored to be in it,” said Hayden’s Xavi Ramos. “Especially because I have a little sister who has a classmate that went the the Shriner’s Hospital. So i’m real excited to play for him.”

Aside from showcasing the best football talent in the state, and representing their high school in the process, raising money for the Shrinter’s Hospitals for Children is the underlying message.

“That’s the most important thing about this football game,” said East’s head coach Chris Stewart (current head coach at McLouth). “We’re trying to get these kids to realize that what they’re doing for the Shriner’s Hospitals is for the kids.”

Since 2010, more than $2.5 million has been raised for the children, and those players representing the East squad are proud they can be a part of it.

“That’s one of the best feelings as well,” said Tillman. “That we’re doing this, not just for ourselves, but for a bigger cause.”

“It’s important to see what they go through, and see how they’re suffering,” said Shawnee Height’s Tyson Toelkes. “It’s heartbreaking.”

“All the little kids, they look up to you,” said Ramos. “You want to play for them, and just make them proud of you.”

The East trails the overall series 25-14 against the West with one tie back in 2001. The East had also lost seven straight against the West until last year’s 22-19 win.

“The competition is phenomenal here. Both teams will be ready to go,” said Stewart. “They’ll have jitters like any big game. And it will be full-out all four quarters just like it was last year. It’s going to be a lot of fun for everyone.”

“It’s going to come down to who’s got the best fundamentals, and who’s doing everything right,” said Silver Lake’s Dailin Kruger. “I think it’s going to be a defensive battle.”

“We just got to be more physical, and we just have to out play them,” said Tillman. “If we all can do our jobs, I have a very good feeling about this Saturday.”

The 41st Kansas Shrine Bowl kicks off at 7 PM on Saturday at Pittsburg State University.

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