Thanks to a fortunate twist of fate, the high school football careers of two Lawrence products will end the same way they began tonight in Hays.
When Lawrence High graduate Nathan Padia and Free State grad Kyle Weinmaster step onto the field at Ft. Hays State for the final game of their high school careers, the two will be teammates for the first time in more than three years.
"We went from teammates to rivals and back to teammates again," Padia said. "It's kind of weird, but it's pretty cool, too. It's been a lot of fun."
After being nominated by their coaches in the fall of 2006, Padia and Weinmaster were chosen to represent the East All-Stars in tonight's 34th annual Kansas Shrine Bowl, and both have soaked up every ounce of the experience since reporting for practice July 20.
For Weinmaster, one of Free State's grittiest and toughest linemen from the best season in school history, playing in the game completes the trifecta for his family.
"I want to go out there and have fun, but I also want to win because my dad and brother both won their Shrine Bowls," Weinmaster said.
Weinmaster's brother, Phillip, represented Free State in the 2005 game, and his father, Kerry, played in the Nebraska Shrine Bowl during his high school days.
For Padia, the dazzling wideout and return man who turned in highlight after highlight for the Lions last season, being selected was an honor because of what the game represents.
"To play in a game so prestigious is a great opportunity," he said. "I've heard so many great stories about it, and now I get to create my own."
Although both are ecstatic about the chance to throw on pads and hit people in the middle of the summer, they recognize the importance of the event, as well. The Shrine Bowl is much more than just a football showcase. While the all-stars reported to camp more than a week before kickoff, the days in between weren't spent solely on football.
Last Saturday the athletes and coaches traveled to St. Louis to visit the Shriner's Hospital for Children, touring the facility and mingling with patients.
"I thought that was going to be one of the best parts about the experience, and it definitely was," Weinmaster said. "The kids loved it when we went in and played around with them. The money we raise from this game is going to help them a lot. It's great to be a part of such a great cause."
In addition, the all-stars were honored with a player appreciation banquet yesterday and were given time each day to hang out with teammates and enjoy the atmosphere.
The practices were grueling, the heat was stifling and the experience was unforgettable. The only thing left in the duo's whirlwind week is for them to strap on their helmets and play the game.
The West leads the all-time series, 18-12-1, but Padia and Weinmaster are hoping to help the East secure win No. 13 this evening.
"It's always competitive when you play football," Padia said. "And if we play the way we're capable of playing, I like our chances."
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast live on all Kansas PBS stations (Sunflower Broadband Channel 11).