"This week, to me, is all about helping the Shriners and raising some money for them," said Bozeman's Troy Purcell, the head coach for the West squad. "You get to play a great football game with a great group of kids and if you can do that and also raise some money...you are coming together for a great cause and you are coming together for the greatest sport in the nation, in the world. There's nothing better than this week."
Over the past 65 years, more than 3,300 Montana athletes have participated in the annual all-star game. Last year's contest - played in Butte after 63 years of being played at Memorial Stadium in Great Falls - helped raise $102,728 for the Shriner's Children's Hospital in Spokane, Wash. Last year's total was the largest in the history of the Montana game and represented the second-largest donation in the nation in 2010. During the past six-plus decades, the game has raised more than $1 million.
Bergeson said a new, fully equipped handicapped-capable van costs about $65,000.
The Shriners run 22 hospitals throughout America - 19 orthopedic hospitals and three burn institutes - and the cost to operate the facilities totals $726,000,000, or nearly $2 million a day.
This year's game will be played at the Laurel Sports Complex because Daylis Stadium in Billings is being used for this weekend's Big Sky State Games. After more than six decades at Memorial Stadium, the game will rotate venues in an effort to continue to raise the public's awareness of the Shriners' cause across the Treasure State.
"I think (the game rotating) is a wonderful thing, in fact I was on the vote to put this thing on the road," Bergeson said. "It was at the very least worth a try and we had a very, very good run in Butte. It was considerably more profitable than it was in Great Falls. It looks like we will have another good run in Billings. This year, too, we are doing something different by putting it live on TV state-wide on CBS, which should add another aspect to the exposure."
Purcell will coach five of his former Bozeman High School players during Saturday's game. Tanner Roderick, Heath Hunter, Justin Pierson, Marc Evans and Trevor Shellenberg will all suit up for the West. Roderick and Shellenberg spoke Wednesday of the honor they felt to be selected to the game and the bonding experience they've shared with teammates. The West coach said it was an honor individually to be invited to help out with what he thinks is a great cause.
"To be selected as one of the coaches for this game is a very humbling experience," Purcell said. "The Shriners do a tremendous job with helping people, especially kids, and to be a part of something like that is an honor and a privilege."