Game week gives athletes chance to see why they play
Four area athletes spent what one described as “one of the best weeks of my life” preparing for the Shrine Bowl. Joseph Krause and PJ Schaben of Seward and Jack Hirschfeld and Quinn Butzke of Centennial were members of the South team at the annual football all-star game.
Although the North beat the South 32-10 June 1, none of the four focused on that.
“The week was truly awesome,” Hirschfeld said. “It was one of the best of my life.”
“It was an awesome experience,” Schaben said. “I’ll never forget it.”
“It was one of the funnest weeks of my life,” Krause said.
The four talked about forging lifelong friendships with their South teammates, despite spending just a week with them.
“That was one of the coolest parts,” Hirschfeld said. “We all got so close. It was really fun to play with all of them.”
“It’s surprising how close you can become in a week,” Krause said.
The Beyond the Field event May 28 was a highlight for all four. The day was an opportunity to meet some of the Shrine Hospital patients, youngsters with physical disabilities.
“You cold tell they were so happy to be there,” Krause said.
Krause said the team was split into groups and heard from some of the kids about what their lives are like. Some of the players got to physically see what the kids go through, attempting to tie shoes one handed, write with their wrists and other tasks.
“We were able to put ourselves in their shoes a tiny bit,” Krause said.
“It was fascinating how we think our problems are tough, but then you see what they do,” Butzke said. “You really learn it’s more than a game. It was a good experience.”
“To see how mentally strong they are – you think your life is hard until you see them,” Schaben said.
They were able to play a variety of games with the kids, as well.
Krause said the day gave him a new perspective.
“No matter how bad it is for me,” he said, “some people have it worse.”
Hirschfeld was impressed with the kids’ positive attitudes and outlooks.
“We were able to play with them and have fun and understand why we’re doing this,” Hirschfeld said. “It’s really awesome to feel like a small part of the big Shrine machine. It was a really special day.”
The South team spent the week at Doane University in Crete, practicing and getting to know each other.
“There was a lot of practice, but it was worth it,” Butzke said.
“Practices were not terrible,” Schaben said. “I could do it again.”
Hirschfeld said getting to know his teammates was one of the coolest parts of the week for him.
“I met some really cool dudes,” he said.
In addition to practices, the teams had chances to bond. One night the South team went bowling after a planned trip to the Lincoln Saltdogs was rained out, Krause said.
“I made some very good friends,” he said.
Butzke said they also watched a couple movies to help pass the time.
On May 31, the team left Doane for the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where the Shrine Bowl was played. After a walk-through Friday, the evening was spent at the annual banquet.
“All week long, the food was awesome. They really spoiled us,” Krause said.
At the banquet, the teams’ honorary captains spoke, as did members of the Shrine.
Game day was almost perfect weather, with sun, temperatures in the 70s and a light breeze.
“You couldn’t ask for a better day,” Krause said.
After breakfast and a pregame meal, Butzke said, they headed to Cope Stadium at UNK to get taped, wrapped and dressed for the game.
“It was just like any other game,” Hirschfeld said. “To put the pads on again was super exciting. It was fun to be out there.”
The offense was somewhat similar to what Centennial runs, Butzke said, but there were a lot more plays – 35 for CHS compared to 130 for the Shrine Bowl. He said the coaches were easy to work with and made the week fun.
“They didn’t try to make us miserable. They made it fun,” he said.
Hirschfeld said the offense wasn’t hard to learn, but it was different from what he was accustomed to at Centennial. The Shrine Bowl scheme featured more power running plays, he said, where CHS had more passing options.
Schaben said the concept was similar to Seward High’s, with the same blocking schemes, but different terms took some getting used to.
Krause was voted one of the captains for the South team.
“That was a great honor,” he said. “For the best in the state to vote for me, that meant a lot.”
The game itself didn’t go as well as the South team would have liked. The North was able to get the win 32-10. But that wasn’t important, the players said.
“Win or lose doesn’t matter,” Krause said. “We raised money for what actually mattered.”
“The game is what everybody gets to see, but it’s not the highlight of the week,” Hirschfeld said.
Krause said he takes a lot of good friends and memories with him from his experience. Being able to play one more high school game with Schaben and Coach Jamie Opfer on the sideline was a great experience.
“I’m happy it all worked out,” Krause said. “It was awesome. You can never have too much football.”
“It was a long week, but it was worth it for the kids,” Butzke said. “It was awesome to play one last game.”
All four were excited to play with their South teammates, some of whom they’d heard about but hadn’t gotten to play with or against. Schaben said getting to know everyone was a highlight for him.
“To play with Joe Krause and Jack – that was much more special,” Butzke said.
Hirschfeld said he was excited to play with Krause.
“It was fun to play with him and be on the same field,” he said. “I’ve never played with a bad quarterback.”
Hirschfeld was also pleased to play with his future college roommate Cade Reichardt of Aurora and Garrett Snodgrass, a good friend from York. During practices, Hirschfeld was the holder for Gabe Heins, who will kick at UNL.
Schaben said playing with Krause again was awesome, but he was also pleased to play with Hirschfeld and Butzke, who was next to him on the offensive line.
“I’ve always heard of them, so to get to play with them was cool,” he said.
He said lining up against Class A defensive linemen will probably help him at Northwest Missouri State.
“They’ll be just as good,” he said.
Hirschfeld said he wanted to see how he stacked up against guys who play at bigger schools.
“You compete against the best in the state,” he said. “I was really honored. It’s the mecca for high school football. I’m glad I got to do it.”
Krause and Schaben will report to Northwest Missouri State University for football on July 7. Krause said they’d spend the rest of the summer in the weight room, playing 7-on-7 and learning the Bearcats’ offense.
“We’ll go down, work hard and see what the coaches say,” he said.
Butzke hung up the cleats for the final time after the Shrine Bowl. He plans to attend Southeast Community College in Lincoln.
“It was a little painful to take the pads off one last time,” he said. “It put the finishing touch on the year. I was very thankful I got to go to it.”
Hirschfeld also hung up the football cleats after the game. He will play basketball at Concordia University.
“I forgot how exciting it all was,” he said. “To experience it one more time – I will miss football a lot, so it was good to play one last time.”
But he’s looking forward to basketball. He’ll play in the Striv all-star game Saturday, June 8, and the Nebraska Coaches Association all-star game at the end of July.
“It’ll be fun,” he said of the Striv game. “The NCA will be fun. It’s the Shrine Bowl of basketball. It’s an honor to get to go to that.”