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Lobster Bowl: Football players and cheerleaders learn the purpose behind the game

Apr. 7—LEWISTON — The 95 student-athletes chosen to participate in the 2024 Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic in July met Sunday at the Kora Temple to learn about the deeper meaning behind the annual football all-star game.

High school seniors from all over the state were selected earlier this year to play or cheer for either the East or West football teams. Since it was first played in 1990, the Lobster Bowl has raised money to help the Shriners Children's hospitals provide "advanced care for children with orthopedic conditions, burns or spinal cord injuries regardless of their family's ability to pay," according to the Lobster Bowl's website.

After an introduction by the Maine Shriner's board about the importance of this event, the significant achievement of being selected to participate and the good that fundraising does for the hospitals, the athletes and their families heard from four Shriner's patients who have benefitted from the Shriners Children's hospitals.

Andrew Bennett is 11 years old and will be singing the National Anthem before this year's Lobster Bowl, which will be held July 20 at Lewiston High School. He's also a patient at Shriners Children's New England in Springfield, Massachusetts. Two years ago, he was diagnosed with Trevor disease, a rare condition that causes abnormal bone growth, usually in the lower extremities.

"After several years of pain and discomfort after being on my left ankle for long periods of time, and receiving no real answer from my primary care doctor, my parents decided to bring me to the Shriners," Bennett said. "The entire process, Shriners was incredible, everybody was so welcoming and nice."

Bennett shared that life after his ankle surgery to correct dysplasia has been full of relief and has allowed him to return to singing, dancing, theater and acting.

"We are all so lucky at Shriners Children's Hospital, and I'm so happy to be here to share my story with all of you guys," Bennett said. "And, just thank you everybody in this room for donating to Shriners, to be able to give the best care ever, and I'll see you guys in July when I sing the National Anthem."

Ava Adams, a senior at Poland Regional High School, has been chosen as a cheerleader for the West team. She said hearing from children like Bennett made her even more proud to represent herself and her school at the game.

"It was really heartwarming, watching everything," Adams said. "When I started this, I loved everything it stood for. I was super excited and just seeing all the people that it's helping really just gives me the drive to do it."

Isaac Ramsdell, another Poland senior who will be a safety on the West team, said that he already knew the Lobster Bowl raised money for a good cause, but it was not until he heard Sunday's speakers that he realized the true impact of the entire experience.

"It means a lot," Ramsdell said about being chosen to play. "Obviously, it's a popular game, but there's a bigger meaning to it than most people know. I learned way more about what the game means, the people and the actual families that the proceeds are going to. It was cool getting an insight on what it means to them and how it helps them."

Another Shriners patient, Nick Richards, spoke to the audience about his experience at the hospital after contracting meningitis when he was 6 years old, which resulted in Richards' arms being amputated below the elbow and his legs amputated below the knee.

Twenty-one years later, Richards said that his family never paid a dime to Shriners for medical expenses, thanks to the generosity and fundraising efforts of others.

"You're playing a game, an important one, and you're an athlete, a good one," Richards said. "That's why you're here. You're going to go put on a show for people — they'll pay money to see you, pay money to eat the food they provide there, and when they see your name on a program, they'll pay money for that program. My hope is that you all embrace this experience, and you use it to grow."

Each athlete chosen for the Lobster Bowl is required to raise at least $500. Last year's top fundraisers were Old Town's Jordan Craft ($10,200) and York's Matt Charpentier ($9,000), who now plays football at Bates College and competes on the school's track and field team.

Winthrop's Avry Jones said hearing from Sunday's speakers gave him a sense of pride from knowing that his efforts will make a difference in Shriners patients' lives.

Jones also said the intense training camp that includes three practices per day the week leading up to the Lobster Bowl sounds "a bit heavy," but he's still excited to get started and finish out his high school football career on the defensive line for the West team.

Mountain Valley High School's Kirstynn Blouin, who will be cheering for the East team, said the presentations made her emotional and caused her to tear up multiple times. Seeing the purpose behind the production made representing Mountain Valley at the Lobster Bowl much more important to her.

Leavitt Area High School lineman Jace Negley said being selected for this year's West roster means a lot, knowing the legacy and honor that the Lobster Bowl holds.

"Growing up, we'd always go to the games and see previous Leavitt players playing in the games," Negley said. "It's a great cause, thinking about what all the money's going to, so it feels great to be a part of all that. It makes you feel awesome, because you want to give every one of those kids an opportunity to have better quality life."

Negley is one of three Leavitt players, along with Will Keach and Noah Carpenter, on the West team. He said the trio plans to reach out to local businesses, friends and family to raise money for the Shriners hospitals. He also said they plan to host a breakfast at Leavitt to raise funds.

The East team had an extra fan in the crowd, Carter Clark, who is undergoing treatment for spastic hemiplegia — a type of cerebral palsy — at Shriners. Carter sported a red East jersey at Sunday's event as his father, Mo Clark, shared his diagnosis journey with the audience, and how Shriners has allowed Carter to live a fuller life.

"I want to personally thank each and every one of you for taking the time to raise money for Shriners Children's (hospitals) and the 10s of 1000s of children like Carter that are getting a better quality of life because of it," Mo Clark said.

Photos: Noah Carpenter hosts Youth Sports Day