GREENVILLE, S.C.-This Saturday, the North Carolina and South Carolina teams will compete in the 69th annual Shrine Bowl. The event, like many others of its kind, is a fundraiser. On Sunday afternoon, the gridiron stars found out the exact cause they will be raising money for when the players paid a visit to the Shriners Hospital for Children.
The Greenville hospital is one of 22 (20 in the United States and one each in Canada and Mexico) of its kind. The hospitals provide expert orthopedic and burn care to children absolutely free of charge.
The Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, which pits the top high school football prospects from North Carolina against those from South Carolina, serves as a fundraiser for the Greenville campus, which serves children in the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Alabama. The 69th annual game kicks off at 1 p.m. Saturday at Gibbs Stadium on the campus of Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C.
"The Shrine Bowl activities once a year provide the opportunity for us to tell our story," Greenville hospital administrator Gary Fraley said. "It helps us to get our name out into the community and it allows the community to realize what an asset the community has in the hospital with the things we do to help our children.
"Unfortunately, the Shriners Hospital is one of the best kept secrets in the world."
Players from both teams toured the facilities Sunday, visiting with patients and learning about the hospital's operations.
"It's a great event and the kids look forward to it because like anyone, these are all-star high school football players," hospital administrator Gary Fraley said. "I think it works both ways. I think it's great for the children, also great for the players."
Rivals100 lineman Clifton Geathers of the South Carolina squad enjoyed the experience. The massive 6-foot-8, 275-pounder interacted with several patients and signed autographs.
"Man, it's crazy," Geathers said. "It really makes you appreciate things. I didn't expect anything like that. It's something I am really glad that I got to do.
"Some of those kids can't even get up and walk around."
Since the first hospital opened in 1922, approximately 770,000 children have been helped by the free medical care provided at the hospitals. Though there is no charge, Fraley says that the doctors at his facility are world-class.
"These guys could be making a lot more money than what I am paying them," he said.
Though it has been open since 1989, the current Greenville campus doesn't look more than a few years old. It also is adjacent to Greenville Memorial Hospital, which is a positive according to Fraley.
"We've upgraded our facility so it allows us to take on more complex cases than we did before," he said. "Being close to the Greenville Hospital System allows us to do even more things."
Cerro Gordo (N.C.) West Columbus defensive tackle Ricardo Crawford, a Georgia verbal commitment, was just getting back from his official visit to Athens when he toured the facility.
"It was good," Crawford said. "A lot of those kids will never get the chance to play football."
Charlotte Independence wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and Wendell (N.C.) East Wake defensive lineman Aleric Mullins both added that the experience was eye-opening and "what the game was all about."