It was April when Dave MacDonald realized the 62nd annual Nebraska Shrine Bowl may not happen as originally scheduled. COVID-19 had canceled spring sports around the country and MacDonald, the executive director of the Shrine Bowl of Nebraska, didn’t know if the June 6 game could happen.
“That became pretty apparent to us pretty early into April, even the middle of April, that we just weren’t going to be able to make June 6 work timeline wise,” MacDonald told Hail Varsity. “Getting protocols, getting everybody that we needed to collaborate with and getting the approval from the health department [in place], so the board voted in April to postpone the game to July in order to try and give us that time needed.”
The Nebraska Shrine Bowl will now be played Saturday, July 11 in Kearney, Nebraska. The Shrine Bowl of Nebraska, a non-profit that produces annual activities to raise funds and awareness for the Shriners Hospitals for Children, did its best to what would happen with COVID-19 but that proved difficult. The board of directors took a number of phone calls and hosted quite a few Zoom meetings, working with the information they had at the time.
“Obviously, nobody at the Shrine Bowl was an expert in any of this,” MacDonald said. “So what we did was we just we sought the opinions and the expertise out on what things do you believe need to be in here. We talked collaboratively with a lot of groups. Then we took that information back to kind of our host sites. We worked with them and what their own protocols were for their business. We were kind of going back and forth on what is proper and what’s not proper.”
The experts that the board of directors leaned on were medical doctors and the Two Rivers Health Department. After the decision to postpone, the board of directors spent the rest of April and May compiling a list of protocols. That list was then approved by Two Rivers.
Even then, it wasn’t until June 9 that MacDonald officially knew the Shrine Bowl of Nebraska would be able to put the game on. The top question that had to be answered first was whether or not the event could happen safely. Once the safety hurdle was cleared, the game could officially be rescheduled.
But MacDonald and the board of directors didn’t just listen to experts. They also spoke with and received feeedback from the players and their parents. The overwhelming response was that they wanted the game to press forward if possible.
“Do everything you can. Exhaust kind of every avenue to be able to get the game in,” MacDonald said about the response. “The good thing is, it’s just reassuring for me as the executive director to hear from these players and these parents that a lot of these kids have grown up with a dream of playing in this game. And in high school it was kind of their ultimate goal . . . as a senior beyond a state championship to be selected to play in the Shrine Bowl.”
It’s been a difficult year for high school athletes who were unable to finish their school years and seasons the way they had hoped. The inability to take part in spring sports made it key to the Nebraska Shine Bowl board of directors to do all that they could to let the athletes go out on a high note with the annual game.
The game is also a representation of what the Shrine Bowl is all about. They get to educate 102 football players and coaches about what the Shriners Hospitals for Children does and why their work is important.
Being the first organized contact football game in the country wasn’t something that the board was thinking about back in February, March or April. Their only goal at the time was to hold another gream event that recognizes the best high school talent and coaches in the state, which also raising awareness around Shriners Hospitals for Children.
“We understand that we’re the first one and we’ve got a lot of eyes on us this week,” MacDonald said. “We know that we got to do the things that we said we were going to do from a protocol standpoint. The coaching staffs know that we’ve got to do that. Our medical staff knows that we’ve got to do that. The facilities that we’re using, they know that they have to. The stadium when we have 75% capacity or up to 75% capacity at the stadium, if we get that many people there that day, there are precautions that we have to take.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that we’re doing that for each event.”
For now, the Nebraska Shrine Bowl is taking it all one day at a time. The focus will be to move from one event to the next and following the protocols that are in place. They hope to be an example for other teams and sports on how to do something similar.
Doing things the right way and following what they’ve set out to do with no issues is the first step. MacDonald then hopes it can help open things up for others.
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.