The Illinois High School Shrine Game brings top players from around the state together for one final All-Star showcase. But for many players including Rochelle graduates Greg Ricketts and Will Jandak, the events taking place away from the gridiron proved to be equally as memorable as their experiences on the field.
The 45th Annual Shrine Game kicked off at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Tucci Stadium this past Saturday, with Ricketts and Jandak representing the West All-Stars this year. The game was a fitting end to the high school careers of both players, who will each be competing collegiately next year. Jandak will be at North Central College in Naperville, while Ricketts plans to attend Central College in Pella, Iowa.
“It was a great honor, and I’m so grateful for coach [Kyle] Kissack for nominating me and the coaches for selecting me,” Ricketts said. “It was truly an honor and a week that I will never forget. I think this game could not have shown me a more accurate representation of college football… It was a great experience that has better prepared me for my next four years.”
“It was an amazing experience getting to meet a bunch of new friends from all over the state,” Jandak said. “I learned a lot on and off the field. I feel the whole week gave me a taste of what college football will be like. The football was faster and more exciting. It was nice to see that I could compete at that level.”
The Shrine Game events started with players arriving on campus Tuesday evening for Media Day and team practices. Wednesday brought players to the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Chicago, where players spent the day meeting with patients, who suffer from various specific medical conditions, and their families. One of the day’s events including playing wheelchair basketball with the children.
“It was cool to see the care the Shriners and doctors provide not only for the children, but their families as well,” Ricketts said. “They provide the families with rooms if they need to stay with their children, and they provide all the necessities that make it possible for the children to feel comfortable in the hospital.”
Thursday’s events included the annual cook-out for players with the Shriners of Illinois, as well as the Central Illinois Miracle League Baseball Game, where players competed alongside children with mental and physical disabilities. The annual event banquet took place Friday evening, with the Shrine Game kicking off Saturday morning at Tucci Stadium.
“The people at the hospital were very welcoming,” Jandak said. “It didn’t feel like a hospital, and the kids were awesome to hang out with. I really enjoyed the Miracle League game. Getting to help the kids have a good time was very rewarding.”
All proceeds from the Shrine Game, which resulted in the East defeating the West by a score of 36-26 this year, are put toward the Shriners Hospitals for Children. For Jandak and Ricketts, the special week created both new memories and friendships that will carry over from their high school careers and into their college years.
“Hanging out with my teammates and getting to know them was the best part of the week,” Ricketts said. “They were all good people and I had a lot of fun hearing about their experiences and what they want to do in the future.”