Nebraska Shrine Bowl Logo
Courtesy by Nebraska Shrine Bowl

It has been anything but a normal year when planning the 62nd annual Nebraska Shrine Bowl. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Shrine Bowl was postponed from its original June 6 date to Saturday, July 11 in Kearney.

The Nebraska Shrine Bowl all-star game has been played by graduating seniors since it was founded in 1958. The nonprofit program was put in place to help raise funds and awareness for the Shriners Hospitals for Children across the nation.

A board of directors, doctors, and physicians collaborated on new and approved Covid-19 policies and procedures for the 2020 Shrine Bowl to take place in state of Nebraska.

“We put in place, based on national and state guidelines, what we should do when the kids came to town, how we should handle them in camp daily, and how we’ll handle them in the game,” said Dr. Brad Rodgers, M.D. “We had a lot of pre-planning and things are in place to keep the athletes as safe as we can have them while they’re here. We also have plans through the University (Kearney), as far as spacing when people sit in the stadium.”

Rodgers, who is the game’s medical director, is a board certified family doctor and the team physician at the University of Nebraska – Kearney since 1997.

He confirmed that additional protocols were put into place when the athletes come to camp leading up to the Shrine Bowl.

“When everybody got to camp, they had to take a standard questionnaire to see if they had symptoms of cough, cold, fever, or loss of smell. Second, every single day they come their temperature is checked. If they’re over 100.2 – 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit then there’s a protocol they have that’s seen.”

The athletes are encouraged to bring their own water bottles. The team water coolers are not the safest option. Players are to room with other players and are ensured that they have the ability to separate their laundry and all personal items from their roommate.

The Shrine Bowl plans to allow spectators on game day. Attendees will be “family only”- 10 people per player.

The state of Nebraska is currently in Phase 3 of reopening, this means that sporting events are open for spectators and are not limited to household members only. However, the Shrine Bowl will stick to its plan.

“Tentatively, that’s what was in place,” Rodgers said. “That’s going to be the plan and there will be social distancing in the stadium for each family.”

Public Address announcements will be made throughout the game to help remind patrons of the protocols.

“The announcements are to reinforce the protocols of everything, like social distancing,” Rodgers said. “For example, all of our staff that have interaction with the players will all be wearing masks, we’ll practice the best we can social distancing, and there will be gloves available for us when we need to have physical contact with the athletes.”

Many of the athletes were unable to play out their spring seasons and take part in full training. The Shrine Bowl will be the first organized contact football game in the entire country dating back to March’s national shutdown.

“I think it was difficult to cancel the June game but based on risk factors it had to be done,” Rodgers said. “We are very excited that we get to play it now and do it as safely as we can. It’s good for the Shrine Bowl, they do a wonderful thing for kids and second, it’s good for the players to be recognized and play a special game.”

The athletes know this is more than just a game. Rodgers says the Shrine Bowl means more to him than just being a part of the medical staff.

“It just so happens that I played in the 1975 Shrine Bowl and came back again in 1976 because I was voted by my players on the South team, and I got the Bob Russell Trophy. I received that in 1976 at the Shrine Bowl on the 50 yard line with my parents,” he said.

This game offers an opportunity for players to get back on the field and play in front of a live crowd, a sense of normalcy surrounds the idea. How the players have spent the past few months, whether training or not, will be showcased on Saturday.

“They’ve had time to think about how important it is to them,” Rodgers said. “Because they might’ve thought at one point it wasn’t going to happen. Now it is, so you better be ready because the guy across the line is going to be ready.”

Brennan Merkle is a senior Sports Media and Communication major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who has a passion for the details and data analysis that coincides within the field of sports and the nonstop revolving discussion around it.