That’s the word JC Shelton used to describe his Kansas Shrine Bowl experience.
A recently-graduated senior from Galena High School, Shelton suited up for the East squad at the prestigious Kansas Shrine Bowl on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Dodge City.
“Playing one more game with the ‘G’ on my helmet was great,” Shelton said. “It was nice to get to know a bunch of guys from different schools and it was great to meet the kids from the Shriners Hospital. The whole experience was just incredible.”
Shelton played outside linebacker for the East squad, which suffered a 26-7 loss to the West in the 46th annual high school all-star football game that features the top seniors from the Sunflower State.
“I was super nervous before the game,” said the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Shelton. “It was nerve-racking. I felt like a freshman going up against seniors. It seemed like everybody in the game was either going (NCAA) Division I or D-II. I just wanted to go out there and prove that I belonged and that I can play at that level, too.”
Shelton was credited with seven tackles and a pass break-up.
“I played the whole game on defense and my first tackle was for a 5-yard loss,” Shelton said, noting he was pleased with how he performed.
Shelton had a familiar face during the week’s activities, as Galena coach Beau Sarwinski was an assistant coach for the East squad.
“Beau Sarwinski is one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever had and I respect him so much,” Shelton said. “Having one more game with him was great.”
Sarwinski felt the same.
“It was nice to be able to see JC play his last high school game,” Sarwinski said. “He played extremely well on Saturday night. I felt like he was as good as anyone out there. He played extremely hard and represented us well.”
Other athletes from Southeast Kansas who were selected to play for the East were Pittsburg’s Dylan White, Frontenac’s Brendan Ishimura, Labette County’s Caleb Hentzen, Fort Scott’s Matt Campbell and Humboldt’s Dagen Goodner.
The East team practiced at Ottawa University early in the week before heading to Dodge City for the event’s final festivities, including a banquet and parade.
The players and coaches had the opportunity to visit with patients from the St. Louis Shriners Hospital for Children on Wednesday.
With that, the athletes were able to see what the game is really about.
“Those kids were inspirational,” Shelton said. “Getting to meet the kids showed me how lucky I am. It made me feel that I really do have it pretty good. I had an idea what the game was all about, but it’s still way different when you meet those kids.”
Sarwinski noted he definitely enjoyed the entire Shrine Bowl experience as well.
“It’s quite an honor and a privilege to be a part of the Shrine Bowl,” Sarwinski said. “It’s a great thing what the Shriners do for kids across the nation and you meet a lot of great individuals. And any time you can bring together the best players from the state of Kansas to play a game it’s pretty neat.”
It was the third straight year Galena has had an athlete selected to the game, as Trevor Little participated last year and P.J. Sarwinski suited up in ’17.
With Shelton playing a key role, Galena went 11-1 last fall, advancing to the state semifinals.
An all-league and all-state performer at quarterback and defensive back, Shelton passed for 1,052 yards, ran for 854 and scored 27 touchdowns as a senior. He also recorded 71 tackles.
Of course, Shelton also stood out in basketball, baseball and track and field during his prep career.
“I made so many great memories with my best friends,” Shelton said. “I’ll never forget the amazing times and the community that helped me become the person I am today.”
With his final prep game officially in the books, Shelton will soon be heading to Newton, Kansas, where he’ll continue his athletic and academic career at Bethel College.
Shelton expects to play quarterback at the NAIA school.
“I feel like I can show my talents and maybe start at quarterback right away,” he said.
If that happens, Sarwinski won’t be surprised.
“It’s been neat to see him grow up into a young man and now I’m excited to see what he can do at the next level,” Sarwinski said.