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Harris, McNeal, Roach rep Union at Shrine Bowl

July 25, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Dysart Reporter

Three Union Knights took part in the 2019 Shrine Bowl at the UNI Dome on the University of Northern Iowa campus on Saturday, July 20 to help raise money for the Shriner's Hospitals For Children.

The event splits the state into two football teams-the North and the South-each with 46 graduating seniors on each roster representing every corner of Iowa possible. Though not initially selected, Union standout Kaleb Roach was invited to play as a cornerback for the North.

Roach and his teammates took part in a mini-camp to prepare for the game and meet with the hospital children they were raising money for. Children at the hospitals have disabilities or pre-existing conditions the athletes learn more about and see their daily lives up close and personal, developing bonds with them.

Article Photos

Union's Emma Harris, Kaleb Roach and Carlie McNeal with a new friend from the Shriner's Hospitals. Photo submitted.

"I thought it would be a great opportunity to be able to play football one last time and meet a bunch of new people for a great cause," Roach said. "The whole week was dedicated to the kids and they made it clear this whole experience was for them."

60 cheerleaders across the state are also selected to cheer at the game, with Union juniors Carlie McNeal of Dysart and Emma Harris of La Porte City representing the Knights. Cheerleaders are nominated by their schools and must attend a tryout, which is held in January. Professional trainers, who are judges, assist in the selection of who will be invited to attend camp, which was the case for both girls. Once in Cedar Falls on Tuesday, the cheerleaders practice twice a day for three to four hours to learn their routines and grow together as a team. Each also interacts with the kids during the mini-camp held on Friday, same as the players.

"Being around the kids just brought the biggest smile to my face to see all of them having fun with us," McNeal said. "We cheered with them and the boys threw around footballs with them. The most important thing I took away from spending time with the kids is they aren't different from us, they just want to have fun with us."

Cheerleaders and players were treated to special events such as a trip to Lost Island Waterpark, a cookout in Cedar Falls, an honor banquet and made friendships with new friends, but the memories that stuck with Harris closest revolved around spending time with the kids.

"Being able to hold a mini camp for the kids and hearing their stories and what they've been through at such young ages makes me so much more grateful for what I have," Harris said. "All of the kids were so sweet and seeing them laughing and smiling warmed my heart. I was able to make a special connection with a 15 year old girl, Chloe, who was the queen of the shrine bowl last year. Her father asked me to help push her upstairs in the elevator so she could get some food. I learned that she was also a cheerleader and just talking to her about different things was amazing."

As Saturday came, the Shriners, players and cheerleaders paraded down Cedar Falls before one final practice and then the big game. The North would prevail 24-13 over the South, Roach notes the experience was far bigger than the game itself. Supporting the kids and making friendships with others athletes was the main thing the La Porte native took away.

"We had a reason for being out there competing," Roach said. "I enjoyed meeting a lot of new friends and hanging with the kids. "This was a great experience to end my high school career."

According to McNeal, anyone who donates, is a sponsor, or buys a ticket, is giving money to the Shriner hospitals. Though cheering on Roach and the other players was a fun experience, the rewarding part revolved around the people she met.

"I love my cheer team, they are some of the best people I have met in my life, McNeal said. "Spending all day with them all week just brought us closer together. hanging out with the kids and seeing them smile and laugh with you just makes you feel like your helping them in many ways."

Harris spent her 17th birthday cheering at the Shrine Bowl, surrounded by people only a week ago she had never met. The cheerleading squad took on a tough routine, but grew close in a short amount of time through their work.

"Right before our routine many girls were very nervous because our warm up wasn't very good earlier that day," Harris said. "Our coach told us to go out there and do our best and just remember to have fun. We went out onto the field and did something we had done so many times before. Before we knew it we were done and we had hit the routine. I loved working with everyone throughout the week."

As juniors, both McNeal and Harris have the opportunity to return if selected, which Harris promises is definitely on her list of goals heading into her final year at Union.

"I would highly recommend this experience to anyone who wants to help people and kids," Harris said. "It's a selfless act of kindness and to know that I was doing something I love while making new friends and also helping kids is such an amazing feeling."

To learn more about the Shrine Bowl, check out their Facebook page.



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