By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
Spencer Bernhardt said he knows the most important reason he is spending the week preparing to suit up for one final game of high school football on Saturday is helping the kids of the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
But he also knows he and his East teammates have an important goal — stopping the West’s seven-year stretch of success in the Kansas Shrine Bowl.
The two squads meet Saturday at 7 p.m. at Washburn’s Yager Stadium.
“First and foremost this is all for the kids,” said Bernhardt, a Pittsburg High School graduate. “But we wouldn’t be practicing 14 or 15 times in 100-degree heat if we didn’t want to win.
“All we’ve heard about since we got here is ending the streak. Every time we go to an event, Shriners are asking if we’re going to end the streak. Shoot, when I was selected to play they were asking me in the meeting if we were going to end the streak.”
The West started its streak with a 10-9 win in 2006 and has survived a few close calls during its duration. The West won 29-28 in 2008 and has twice came out on top 14-7, including in last year’s game.
“We’re excited about the game,” Bernhardt said. “It’s what we signed up for. Everybody is working real hard. It’s fun to be out here with the best in the state, working together and building friendships.”
Bernhardt was a two-time Kansas Class 5A All-State player at Pittsburg, earning honorable mention nods at quarterback and punter.
He signed with Pittsburg State in February and is joining four other Gorilla signees in Topeka.
On the East squad with him are Oswego’s Ethan Spore and Topeka Hayden’s Andy Otting. David Cardinal, from Hays, and Kellen Sims, from Derby, are the Pitt State signees on the West squad.
“I had met a couple of the guys before at the Spring Game, but now seeing how they can play first-hand has me excited about next year,” Bernhardt said. “I knew we had a great recruiting class, but seeing these guys play I can see how good it is.”
The Shrine Bowl has been played annually since 1974. Bernhardt will be the 52nd Pittsburg High player to play in the game. Only Wichita Southeast (59) and Manhattan (56) have more career Shrine Bowl players than PHS going into this week’s game.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced,” Bernhardt said. “There’s nothing like working out and playing with guys who had been your rival. You think you hate these guys and then all of the sudden you’re on the same team and building friendships.”
And while most of the focus of the week revolves around football, Bernhardt said it’s clear what the main goal is: raising money and awareness for the word done by Shriners Hospitals.
The teams will visit Shriners patients later this week, a tradition attached to the game.
“I’ve talked to some guys who have played in the past and they said the hospital visit is the coolest experience of the week,” Bernhardt said. “Through all the parades and dinners and the game, we see what we’re out here working for. It’s exciting.”