HEBRON, Maine — As Eddie Warren booted some field goals for a television crew Tuesday, his coaches, his teammates and even his opponents for the 21st annual Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic broke up their various conversations to take a look.
Not that they haven’t seen someone kicking 30-yard field goals before — just not someone like Warren.
A recent graduate of Sacopee Valley High School in South Hiram, Warren earned the chance to represent his school in this all-star contest of the top senior football players of the previous year from Eastern and Western Maine through two solid seasons as a defensive end and kicker for the Hawks — one of the newer varsity programs in the state.
But that he is able to don a blue West jersey for the Lobster Bowl — which will be played at 4 p.m. Saturday at Waterhouse Field in Biddeford — is a credit to what this game is all about.
Born with two deformed legs, Warren and his family turned to the Shriners Hospital for Children for help. He endured multiple surgeries — including a double amputation — during his early childhood, but today he lives normally and competes athletically with the aid of prosthetic legs.
“The doctors tried to straighten them out but they couldn’t so they had to amputate them, but here I am,” said Warren. “I’ve been with the Shriners since I was 2, and they’ve really helped me out. Without the prosthetics they’ve given me I wouldn’t be able to play.”
Warren’s example reinforces the deeper meaning of the Lobster Bowl for those players and coaches selected to participate in the game each year. All net proceeds from the game, including money raised by each player and cheerleader in advance of the contest, benefit the 22 Shrine Hospitals for Children across the United States, Canada and Mexico.
It also reinforces the validity of the game’s motto: “Strong legs run so that weak legs may walk.”
Or in Warren’s case, kick.
“For Eddie to come out and give the effort that he does in practice is just great to see,” said West coach Kevin Cooper of Bonny Eagle of Standish. “It’s a great example for all of us, and it shows you that through the work the Shriners do to help kids in need there’s a tremendous positive outcome for all of us involved in this game this year that is real to see.”
Warren first took up football in the third grade at the urging of friends, and says his prosthetics — one of his legs ends just above the ankle, the other a few inches below the knee — have been no detriment to his development in the sport.
“It probably was a lot easier growing up with a disability than it would be to grow up without it and then have a disability,” said Warren. “It was a lot easier to learn to walk with prosthetic legs when I was 2 because I didn’t know anything different back then.”
Occasionally one of Warren’s legs has fallen off during competition because he relies on his own weight to keep the prosthetics in place instead of buckles or clips.
And during his junior season of football with Sacopee Valley after transferring from Portland High School, he was told he needed to add padding to the outside of his prosthetics to prevent injuries to other players.
“The officials told me they had to be padded because they were too hard and they didn’t want any injuries,” said Warren. “But I couldn’t understand how it would be any different than being hit with a helmet. I did it for a while, but this year I didn’t bother.”
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Warren also played basketball at Sacopee Valley, ranking second on the varsity basketball team in rebounding last winter, and he joined the Hawks’ baseball team this spring.
As a senior, he co-captained all three sports at Sacopee Valley, which comes as no surprise to his Lobster Bowl coach.
“The first thing I would say about Eddie is that he’s a great kid,” said Cooper. “He’ll talk to you, he’ll look you in the eye, and he’ll talk to you on a mature, adult level. He’s very impressive that way.
“And then he comes out as a football player. He’s going to be our kicker on Saturday, and when he lines up for a kick, ‘bam,’ that thing goes a long way. Last night when we were practicing our kickoff returns he was putting the ball inside the 5, so he’s got some skills as a kicker.”
The 18-year-old Warren, who plans to attend the University of Southern Maine this fall to study physical education and computer engineering, is looking forward to what likely will be his final game of competitive football for several reasons.
There’s the chance to bond with some of the other top players in the state. There’s the chance to celebrate out one more victory — and there’s the chance to give something back.
“For me, I wouldn’t change anything for the world,” said Warren. “I wouldn’t change anything about my disability. I don’t know what it’s like to have real legs, so I wouldn’t change it at all.
“But it means a lot to me to raise some money for the Shriners. The kids down at the Shriners hospital, they deserve some help. I’ve gotten that help from the Shriners, and now it’s their turn.”