LEWISTON — The annual Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic team meeting at the Kora Shrine always serves as the motivational pregame pep talk for players and cheerleaders selected to participate in the state’s premier showcase in July.

Emily Williams of Auburn and patient ambassador for Shriners Hospitals Alec Cabacungan were the equivalent of mini-Knute Rockne on Sunday, delivering a powerful message to 90 players and 44 cheerleaders who will represent schools from across the state for the 29th edition of the game, which will be held July 21 at Thornton Academy to benefit 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children in North America.

“We need your strong legs to run so that we may walk,” said Cabacungan, a 15-year-old from Chicago who has osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic bone disorder that has caused more than 60 broken bones in his lifetime.

The face of the Shriners Hospitals recent national ad campaign and an aspiring sportscaster, Cabacungan has played on national champion wheelchair basketball and softball teams and said he has had many other doors opened to him because of the care he’s received.

“There are many times in my life that I’ve felt like an outsider,” said Cabacungan, whose grandfather was an engineer for Bath Iron Works. “I love sports more than anything, and learned at a young age that I would only be watching from the sideline. But I have received exceptional medical care. I would not be here without those many surgeries. I would not be able to walk without my physical therapy. I would not have the confidence to speak here without the support of my new family of doctors, nurses, staff, Shriners and all of the people that I have met on this journey.”

Participants also heard from Williams and her father, Randy, about the difference Shriners Hospitals can make for children with traumatic injuries. Emily was paralyzed from the waist down in a 2013 auto accident. After receiving treatment at the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia, she can walk with the aid of crutches and has some feeling and movement in her toes.

Randy Williams said his daughter, who is now 7, likely never would have made the gains she has in the last four-plus years without the treatment and equipment the Shriners provided.

“When we went to Philadelphia, the knowledge the doctors had and the equipment they had was over and above anything Maine ever had,” he said.

The senior football players and cheerleaders selected for the Lobster Bowl usually know about the game and the prestige of the selection, but often have limited knowledge of the cause behind the game.

Ellsworth offensive lineman Ethan Kane has first-hand knowledge, having undergone skin graft surgery at Shriners Boston after suffering third degree burns on his arm several months ago.

“Mine was obviously extremely minor compared to all of the other kids that were there,” he said. “Some of them have been there for over a year. I’m all healed up and the graft took 100 percent. (The Shriners) were fantastic. Anything I needed, they did it.”

Hearing from those directly impacted by Shriners Hospitals drove the Lobster Bowl’s meaning for Mountain Valley’s Curtis Gauvin, who will be playing for the West.

“It was awesome. I wasn’t really expecting it,” Gauvin said. “It was breathtaking to see someone like that to be able to go play basketball and softball like that is pretty cool.”

Players and cheerleaders are required to raise money as part of the game’s fundraising, which Mt. Blue’s Brianna Jackson, an East cheerleader, was excited to start right away.

“It was motivational and it was inspiring,” she said. “I really didn’t know much about the Shriners. Now I do, and I think it’s a great opportunity to raise money for the hospital.”

Participants will begin fundraising in their home towns immediately and continue until the start of training camp, which begins July 15 at Foxcroft Academy. All net proceeds benefit the Shriners Hospitals for Children.

Retired Lisbon coach Dick Mynahan will coach the West. Brunswick coach Dan Cooper will coach the East. The West leads the series all-time, 19-9, including a 55-18 win last year.

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