BIDDEFORD — Sam Baker gets it.

In a three minute interview at Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl practice on Tuesday morning, Baker mentioned the reason for the all-star football game three times. A Skowhegan Area High School graduate, Baker knows the Lobster Bowl is his final football game, and he couldn’t be happier.

“Being here for the kids, that’s something special,” Baker, a tight end on the East squad, said. “I’ll know the last thing I did was for a good cause and for the kids.”

For 27 years, the Lobster Bowl has raised money for the Shriner’s hospitals for children. “Strong legs run so that weak legs may walk” is the motto of the Lobster Bowl, and all the Shrine football games across the country. Winning the game and playing well are important, but those are minor goals when compared to the ultimate goal of helping a child take a step, or recover from devastating burns.

Baker’s brother Alex Baker played in the Lobster Bowl three years ago. According to Skowhegan head coach Matt Friedman, who played in the inaugural Lobster Bowl in 1990 after his senior year at Jay High School, the Baker brothers have combined to raise more than $8,500 for Shriner’s hospitals.

If Alex didn’t make sure his brother was focused on the main goal of the Lobster Bowl, Friedman certainly would. Friedman gave Sam Baker the same advice he’s given to each player he’s had selected to play in the game.

“The first thing I tell them is to remember what the game is about. Raising money and more importantly, raising awareness for the Shriner’s hospitals and the amazing work done there,” Friedman said. “I tell them to make sure they remember that they represent their teammates, their school, and their community. Lastly, I tell them to enjoy the experience, because it is truly one of a kind.”

To the credit of all the players, cheerleaders and coaches involved with the Lobster Bowl, Baker’s attitude is the norm. The players and cheerleaders now have seen the Lobster Bowl payed their entire lives. To them, the Lobster Bowl is a summer tradition.

“We have 25, 26 years of this now. These kids grew up with the Lobster Bowl. They’re talking to past participants,” Tim Luttrell, one of the longtime directors of the game, said.

I have high school buddies who played in the Maple Sugar Bowl, the annual Shrine football game featuring players from Vermont against players from New Hampshire. Back then, the players took a day off from practice to visit patients in the Shrine hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts. That’s what they remember most about the experience. Details from the game get sketchy over time, but the few hours spent with the children remain as clear as fresh memories.

Changes in patient privacy laws, the distance to Springfield, and the fact that so many patients are treated as outpatients make it more difficult to visit the hospital these days, but players and cheerleaders selected for the Lobster Bowl still learn what they’re playing for at the initial team meetings in the spring. There, they hear from patients, hear their stories. Players and cheerleaders are asked to raise $450, which primarily offsets the cost of training camp. It’s not unusual for players, like the Baker brothers, for example, to raise much more.

“The spring meeting. It really jumps them off, with the patient presentations. We’ve been very blessed,” Luttrell said. “I heard this morning that one kid raised more than $8,000, another brought in more than $4,000. When you have kids like that overachieving, that’s a pretty sound statement.

“You think about it. This is their senior year of high school. They just graduated. They’re getting ready to go to college, a large portion of them. It’s their last summer, and they still take the time to do this. They’re a special bunch of kids, no question.”

Over the years, the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl has raised approximately $700,000 for Shriner’s hospitals, Luttrell sad. Now it’s an institution. An entire generation gets it.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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</URL>Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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