The football players who will play in the Shrine Bowl Saturday night wore shorts with the hashtag "#morethanagame" written on the back.
After an afternoon visit with the Shriners on the Butler Community College campus, it's easy to see why they've gained that appreciation.
Dallin Marlnee, a linebacker who graduated from Augusta High School this past school year, is one of dozens of players and cheerleaders who listened to stories and testimonies from Shriners, those kids who have been given treatment for health conditions of several kinds. The football players toured several rooms with different speakers and some with demonstration activities to give the high schoolers a little taste of what it's been like to deal with their illness.
"It's crazy to think about. It makes you realize how blessed you truly are to be in spot the spot you're in," Marlnee said. "It makes you think things differently and look at things differently."
Marlnee's mother works in a similar field, so he's learned to help kids deal with these types of things before. But when he steps onto the field Saturday, his perspective will be quite different, and he will be fully supportive.
"This is kind of a different thing. Kids are born with it. There's nothing they can do about it," Marlnee said. "You take it all in and realize how blessed you are to be in the position you're in. Makes you want to help everyone and try to make an impact. Just knowing that this is all more than just a game. The football game doesn't really matter at the end of the day. We (the football players) all know what we're here for."
In one room, 18-year-old Rachael Brady told her story about how she dealt with scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine. She passed around x-rays to all the high schoolers to see how bad her situation was. For two years, Brady wore a huge brace around her core pretty much all day.
She had a big surgery along the way, but now she's out of the cast as her spine has realigned. She was able to participate in activities in high school, such as cheerleading, just like her friends. The cast was successful enough that she didn't need physical therapy, a rare victory for those who've dealt with scoliosis.
The story that resonated most with Marlnee was that of 17-year-old Clayton Miller, who had two surgeries within the first 17 months of his life and several more since then.
"Just the thing about how he's only a year younger than me, and how he does everything he wants to do,” Marlnee said. “It's hard to think about and realize how much different our life is compared to what he does and the things he has to overcome with his circumstances."
Miller, 11-year-old Teagan and 7-year-old Mackenzie were in a room with a couple dummy props lying on operating tables along with the board game “Operation.” With the amount of operations the three have dealt with, they wanted to give a a feel for what’s it like in that tense moment. A few volunteers came up and played the game operation and went through procedures of checking a patient on the table.
In another room, 17-year-old Elliot Huels and 11-year-old Keira Cromwell gave testimonies of what it’s like to have prosthetics. Huels even told some light-hearted stories of learning what his parameters were with a prosthetic arm the hard way as he explained a time when it got a little bent the wrong direction.
In another room, two girls told their story of dealing with issues involving the overcorrection of tibias when they get too twisted, making it difficult to walk, or other issues that force the use of a wheelchair. One girl said she’s had 56 surgeries in her life.
No matter the health problem, the high schoolers were happy to give their support. And on Saturday at the game, a whole community of people from around the state will do likewise as it is all for supporting those from the Shriners Hospital in St. Louis, Mo.