By Jane White
From the start of Shrine Bowl football camp May 29, South Head Coach Doug Goltz had two goals in mind:
First, like he has so many times at Falls City Sacred Heart, Goltz was looking to win a football game. He had 35 of the best players in the state of Nebraska to work with and a coaching staff that nearly outnumbered the personnel had puts on the field for eight-man games with the Irish.
That first goal was achieved Saturday, when the South team defeated the North, 31-26, in the 57th annual Nebraska Shrine Football Classic on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus.
Goltz, just the third eight-man coach to lead a Shrine Bowl team into battle, also became the third eight-man coach to earn a win in the game.
But, for Goltz, equally as important as winning the game was making sure his South players knew why they were spending eight days of their summer break in camp at Doane College in Crete. Why they were playing – and who they were playing for.
As head coach, one of Goltz’ duties was to take his team to Chicago last Wednesday (June 3) and help them discover the reason behind the football contest they were going to be playing.
“It was certainly a long day, but I liked the timing of it, because our kids were starting to drag a little bit and needed a break from the physical side of football,” Goltz said.
The South team boarded a charter bus in Crete at 7 a.m. and headed for Eppley Airfield in Omaha.
After arriving in Omaha, the Shriners had a boxed lunch ready for the players, which they ate around 9 a.m. and then boarded the plan at 10:20.
“We got off the plane (at Midway Airport in Chicago) and was on another bus by noon,” Goltz said.
The team arrived at the hospital by 1 p.m., where the players and coaches were provided with (another) lunch.
“The next couple hours was spent touring the hospital and learning more about what they do,” Goltz said. “They showed us all the things the hospital does for children.”
South players then had some time to interact and “play” with the patients, Goltz said.
After the hospital visit it was back to the airport for the return flight to Omaha, which arrived at Eppley about 8 p.m. The team was fed at the Tangiers Shrine Temple in Omaha and returned to Crete by charter bus about 11.
A long day, but good day.
“It was a great day,” Goltz said. “It’s a great day for the guys to see what the game is really about.”
Goltz said he talked to the team about the reason behind the game on their first day in camp.
“The game really isn’t for us (players and coaches),” Goltz said. We’re just part of the whole big picture.”
The reason for the game is the 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children in North America, which provide orthopaedic surgery and services, burn treatment, procedures for cleft lip and palate and spinal cord injury rehabilitation regardless of ability to pay to young people needing care.
“During the week, they (the players) were learning what the meaning of the game really is, but during the hospital visit is where they get to see what the game does for the hospitals and what the hospitals do for these kids,” Goltz said.
A former Shrine Bowl assistant in 1997, Goltz traveled with the South team that year to the hospital in Minneapolis. This was his first trip to the Chicago facility.
Goltz said no matter the location, the hospitals are impressive.
“You see such a huge staff of doctors and nurses and all they are trying to do to help kids,” Goltz said. “Then you think about a family which has a child needing care, to have the Shriners picking that up to really help a family that’s in need, that’s what impresses me most is they do this and there’s a lot of families that need it.
“It’s just a great thing that the Shriners do.”
Back in 1997, he said he was just trying to take the whole experience in. The second time around, Goltz said he learned more. The trip also allows the coaches to learn more about their players as young men.
“We have a group of 35 guys who are not just good football players, but they’re good people,” Goltz said “You could see that. A lot of them are outgoing and had no trouble jumping right in and playing a game with a patient.”
Along with interacting with hospital patients at the hospital, both Shrine Bowl teams had special game-day captains, who are Shriners “kids.”
The South team’s honorary captain was Carson Schnitzler, 11, and a sixth grader at Lindsay Holy Family school.
Born with spina bifida or an open spine, Schnitzler has been going to the Shriners Hospital in Minneapolis since he was 18 months old.
“Without Shriners, they make my braces, and without my braces I would not walk,” Schnitzler said. “So without Shriners I would not walk.”
Schnitzler’s braces, which he wears on both legs, currently support a military-style camouflage motif.
“I chose these for my cousin in the military,” Schnitzler said.
Even at 11, Schnitzler has a solid grasp of what Shriners Hospital do and he knew what he was doing as serving as a game captain was important.
“It means a lot that I was nominated to do this to help raise money for a hospital I go to pretty often,” Schnitzler said. “It means a lot.”
Schnitzler said he had a lot of fun during Shrine Bowl week with the South team players.
“These guys have really influenced me, “Schnitzler said. “They’re great kids and it’s been a lot of fun hanging out with them.”
But, along with having fun, Schnitzler also wanted to help the players understand how important their playing in the Shrine Bowl was.
“I just want them to know there are diseases and things that can go wrong with people and that’s what going to the hospital can show them,” Schnitzler said.
“That’s what they’re playing for — is to help these people with diseases and disabilities.”