The Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic won’t be quite the same this year, but game officials hope a revised event in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic will provide its participants a sense of closure to their high school football careers.
Instead of the typical East vs. West battle of Maine’s top recently graduated football players at Thornton Academy in Saco, limitations related to the coronavirus that forced the cancelation of the 2020 game has prompted organizers to plan an eight-team, 7-on-7 tournament to be held July 17 at Lewiston High School.
“It works out well where it’s a central location and we thought we’d have more participation from both the north and the south,” Lobster Bowl president Joe Hersom said. “We want to get as many people involved as possible.”
This year’s event will be conducted over one day rather than the teams spending a week before the game at a training camp, which was most recently held in 2019 at Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft.
Under this year’s format, round-robin games in two four-team pools will start at 1 p.m., with a break then leading into each team being seeded within its pool and then playing down to a pool champion beginning at 4 p.m.
An award and recognition ceremony follows at 6:45 p.m., with the championship game at 7:30 p.m.
After last year’s game was canceled, Lobster Bowl and Maine Football Coaches Association officials hoped for a return to a typical tackle football contest this year. They were buoyed initially by the potential for a late spring high school football season after last fall’s schedule was canceled because the sport was considered high risk, according to community sports guidelines employed by the state at the time.
When the football committee of the Maine Principals’ Association voted on Jan. 29 not to offer spring football because it remained a high-risk activity by the community sports guidelines at that point, Lobster Bowl organizers began considering other options.
“We were really hoping for that spring season because I think if we had the spring season they would have come out of that ready to go,” Hersom said. “We would have had an abbreviated training camp to give them a break, but we thought the game probably was going to be one of the best ones we’ve seen because they were going to come out of their season and right into the game. We were disappointed when that news came.”
The state retired its community sports guidelines in late May, but that was too late for Lobster Bowl organizers to set up pregame training camps they felt would have been particularly important since none of the participants had played tackle football since 2019.
“We didn’t want these kids coming to the Lobster Bowl and getting hurt and not being able to continue on with whatever they want to do in the next chapter of their lives,” Hersom said. “We thought this might pose more of an issue than just going with the 7 on 7. But we’re happy to be doing something for them. I know it means a lot to them and their families, and we hope it gives them something to remember.”
Hersom said rosters for the eight 7-on-7 teams are about 90 percent filled, but this pass-oriented style of football limits the number of linemen who can participate.
“What we are going to do is once we finish confirming all of the teams, the skill players plus the two linemen on each team, is to reach out to all the linemen,” Hersom said. “We’d love to recognize them at the event, they’d get all the same swag as everybody else gets, and if they would like to help out that would be great, too. Unfortunately we don’t have enough spots to get them all into a game.”
Head coaches for the 7-on-7 teams are Alex Rotsko (Marshwood High School of South Berwick), Mike Hathaway and Bill County (Leavitt High of Turner Center), Chad Stowell (Oak Hill of Wales), Mark Soehren (Oxford Hills of South Paris), Pat Munzing (Gardiner), Chris Kates (Lisbon) and Devin Roberts (Mountain Valley of Rumford).
The Lobster Bowl also serves a fundraising mission, with participants typically asked to raise at least $500 each and net proceeds presented to the Shriners’ Hospitals for Children in Boston and Springfield, Massachusetts.
Last year, more than $75,000 was raised despite the game being canceled.
“It gave us an even greater appreciation for what this game means to the kids,” Hersom said.
This year there’s no individual fundraising requirement, but participants are encouraged to raise funds for the hospitals during the three weeks leading up to the Lobster Bowl tournament.
“We’ve just tried to stress that even though there is no requirement we need it, the hospital needs it, the patients need it,” Hersom said. “We’ll take what we can get and be happy with it for this year, and I think we’ll be surprised at how well they do.”