◆ Coach McKay Young, Ballard Johnson and Tyrel Clove part of staff.
Coach McKay Young and the Star Valley connection were on display for much of the 50th year of the Wyoming Shrine Bowl. That was evident from the first play as a double pass that started in the hands of Taft McClure wound up as a 74-yard touchdown and an early South lead. McClure put up amazing numbers in the contest, going 21 of 24 for 274 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also was picked off twice by the North All-Stars. Chase Stewart had a rush and a reception and Jacob Hodges had a catch as well. Derek Astle blocked a key field goal attempt to help seal the game and Brandon Beck teamed up with Astle to lead the team in tackles.
Cokeville’s two players, Landon Walker and Jesus Bencomo, also had big impacts on the game as the latter came out on top more often than not against two-time Wyoming Gatorade Player of the Year, Colson Coon. The Montana State signee had a tough go against the pair of Panthers all game long.
“I felt like our kids embraced the underdog role throughout the week,” Young answered. “I think our ability to come out and score a couple times early; I don’t know that North ever really recovered how we were able to jump out on them. The Lincoln County boys all really repre- sented. All the SV boys played really well and played a significant role as well as the Cokeville boys. It was fun to see them and their role in the outcome.”
Garrett Schlabs of Cheyenne East was named the Offensive Player of the Game while Cody’s Luke Talich had a special exemption from the University of Notre Dame to play in the contest. He was named the Defensive Player of the Game.
The Wyoming Shrine Bowl is an All-Star game highlighting recently graduating seniors from all different classifications and raises money for the Shriners Hospital in Salt Lake City. Over the course of the last 50 years, the game has donated more than $800,000 to the hospital which treats patients regardless of their ability to pay. Due to COVID-19 the game was canceled in 2020 and then access to the hospital for the players was canceled in 2021.
Creating a game plan to get all of the players involved is a challenge that starts months in advance extends almost all the way up to kickoff.
“We watch a ton of film over the course of the winter and spring,” Young said. “A lot of us have seen them play but you really don’t know until you get them there and we did some work and tried to put things together. It doesn’t end up like you think it will. Even two or three days into the week we were moving guys around and trying to find opportunities for kids to play and have every kid get as good of an experience as we could make it. It’s a fast process to try and evaluate them and put them together.
Getting to visit the hospital and the patients is one of the highlights of the week.
“It’s an incredible thing that the Shriners do,” Young added. “They are letting a bunch of young men play football but much bigger than that is what the game is about and they have the opportunity to go to the hospital in Salt Lake and get with some Wyoming families and what the Shriners do for them. I just think you can’t participate without becoming a better person with increased empathy and understanding and gratitude that you leave with.”
In addition to the experience of visiting with the patients and families aided by the Shrine Bowl, the players often gain new friends from former rivals and often those new friendships endure.
“One big thing is the relationships they make with kids they never would have met or even have seen as enemies and it’s fun to see how those rivalries melt away,” Young continued. “I treasure the relationships I was able to build. They were all signing each other’s jerseys after the game and they made friendships that are hard to make any other way.”
Game Notes: Joining Young on the South staff was Ballard Johnson and Tyrel Clove from SVHS. Johnson was honored by the Shrine Bowl committee as a player in the first Shrine Bowl 50 years ago and his journey came full circle as a coach in the South win.