The Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl has been a midsummer tradition since its 1990 inception. The annual all-star football game, which features the top recently graduated seniors in the state, benefits Shriners hospitals for children and routinely draws a crowd in the thousands.

This year, there will be no game, after the Lobster Bowl’s board of governors made the difficult decision to cancel it because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Anybody’s initial thought is, you’re upset, but you understand,” said Zeb Tibbetts, a linebacker on the East squad from Skowhegan. “This is something I’ve been excited for since I first knew there was a Lobster Bowl.”

The West team takes the field prior to the 30th annual Lobster Bowl in Saco last summer. The annual all-star football game has been canceled this season. Sun Journal file photo

Added Maranacook quarterback/receiver Garit Laliberte, who was to play on the West team: “It wasn’t a huge letdown for me. I was expecting the call.”

The Lobster Bowl was scheduled for July 18 at Thornton Academy in Saco.

“I was quite disappointed, but I had a feeling this would happen,” said Mt. Ararat captain Riley Morin, who led his team to the first eight-man state title in Maine history last fall. “I wasn’t disappointed in anyone, just disappointed we couldn’t play. I would’ve really liked to play with Garit (Laliberte). We went back and forth three times in the season and it would’ve been great to be his teammate for a game.”

Joe Hersom, the President of the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl, said the board of governors discussed for months the feasibility of playing the game this summer. They reached out to state health officials, the Maine Principals’ Association, and Shriners International for guidance as they weighed all factors, Hersom said.

“We felt at this time, based on information we received, now was the best time to make a decision on the game,” Hersom said.

Brunswick ball carrier Owen Richardson, right, outruns Lawrence defender Andrew Trombley before scoring a touchdown during the Pine Tree Conference Class B last season in Brunswick. Morning Sentinel file photo Buy this Photo

One issue was the continued presence of foreign students at Foxcroft Academy, site of the football training camp, and at Thomas College, site of the cheerleaders training camp. With those students unable to go home, there was a risk of an asymptomatic Lobster Bowl participant unknowingly bringing the coronavirus on campus. Thornton Academy, the host of the game, is closed, Hersom said.

The 14-day quarantine the state requires for out-of-state visitors also factored into the decision. That two-week isolation would make it for difficult for Shriners from outside the state, as well as friends and family from other parts of the country, to attend the game.

Not everyone agreed with the decision to cancel. Brunswick coach Dan Cooper said he was disappointed a decision had to be made this week.

“To cancel it now, I think it’s a little overkill,” he said. “What’s the rush? It’s not even June yet. I was hoping that maybe the game could’ve got pushed into August. To take this away from the kids, it’s just too bad. It’s a shame they can’t get to play. A lot of them have already lost their spring sport season. It’s too bad.”

Brunswick had three players — Treyvon MacKenzie, Owen Richardson and Noah Goddard – on the East squad. Tibbetts said he’s been in contact with MacKenzie, one of the former opponents with which he was looking forward to being teammates.

After catching a pass, Skowhegan receiver Zeb Tibbetts runs away from a Gardiner linebacker en route to the end zone during a Pine Tree Conference B game last season in Gardiner. Kennebec Journal file photo Buy this Photo

“We wait this long for our senior year and all this stuff, and none of it happens,” Tibbetts said.

Lisbon coach Chris Kates, who was going to coach the West squad, said the Shriners were in a tough spot.

“They were going to get criticized either way,” he said. “But a decision had to be made quick. Foxcroft Academy was getting ready to host 100 kids and some staffers. They had to get ready to order food so a decision had to be made. It’s too bad it won’t be played. I know I look forward to this game every year, whether I’m involved with it or just as a fan.”

Lisbon, the defending Class D state champ, had three players on the West team — Seth Leeman, Colin Houle and Hunter Mason.

Players and cheerleaders are encouraged to continue fundraising, Hersom said, and net proceeds raised will go to the Shriners Hospitals for Children in the name of the participants of the 2020 Lobster Bowl. Participants are asked to raise $500. Those who raise the $500 will be mailed the gear they would have been given when they arrived at training camp, Hersom said.

“The kids have done an outstanding job (fundraising) so far, and that makes (canceling) harder,” Hersom said.

Lisbon quarterback Seth Leeman drops back to pass during the Class D South championship game last season in Lewiston. Kennebec Journal file photo Buy this Photo

Laliberte said he raised $1,900.

“That shows there’s a lot of people who care,” Laliberte said.

A semifinalist for the Fitzpatrick Trophy, awarded each year to the state’s top senior football player, Laliberte was one of six players from the inaugural eight-man football league on the Lobster Bowl rosters.

“I wanted to try to represent (eight-man) and show that we’re not different or lesser,” said Laliberte, who plans to continue his football career as a slot receiver at the University of Maine.

While Laliberte plans to continue playing football beyond high school, many Lobster Bowl participants look at the game as one last chance to put on the pads. Tibbetts, who plans to attend Southern Maine Community College and pursue a degree in nursing, saw his football career cut one game short by the cancelation.

“This was going to be my last game, ever,” Tibbetts said.

Hersom said the board of governors consulted with organizers of other Shrine football games across the country. Some are still hoping to play, while others have been canceled. The Maple Sugar Bowl, featuring players from Vermont taking on their counterparts from New Hampshire, is the Lobster Bowl’s closest cousin and is still tentatively scheduled for Aug. 1. Maple Sugar Bowl officials will make a decision on the game in early June.

Sports editor Bill Stewart contributed to this report.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 


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