When I think of high school football, the phrase that immediately comes to mind is “Friday nights.” Packed parking lots, the smell of the concession stand, and bleachers full of people. The entire surrounding area showing up to support family or friends, to reminisce over their own time on the field, getting together with friends to share in an evening. Yet, post-COVID, that has waned and we’ve seen teams dwindle or even lose seasons. But not the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl.

I could easily be convinced that most of the state showed up to Lewiston Saturday afternoon to represent the graduating seniors from all over the state. There weren’t just players from all over the state, but people from all over the state to truly represent Maine and bring that nostalgia from the phrase Friday nights we collectively share.

Of course, the day is built around an all-star football game that didn’t fail to disappoint. The East won 28-23 in a game that came down to an onside kick. There were great individual performances that were more than just ceremonial. The players trash-talked, the fans chanted and booed, the game meant something to everyone. That alone would make it a special throwback to what high school athletics should represent, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The community of Maine gets together to watch and celebrate the outgoing seniors one more time, and it’s all for a great cause. That was front and center starting with 10-year-old Laney Gilman singing the national anthem. A brave little girl who has had multiple surgeries in a Shriner’s hospital is the representation of what the whole day is about and the great things that come from the community getting together. This year’s Lobster Bowl raised nearly $250,000 and will help others like Laney be able to see plenty of Lobster Bowls to come.

What I witnessed was truly a Maine tradition and what community coming together can accomplish. Honoring the best of Maine football, bringing a community to one place—all of it contributing to a great cause—is a win in every definition of the word. Maine has found something that the rest of the country should absolutely emulate.

Mike Violette, attendee of nearly every Lobster Bowl, described it best. “It’s Maine high school football’s version of the midsummer classic. Besides team goals, high school seniors strive to be in this game. It’s an incredible honor to play and to be coached by some of the best coaches ever in Maine. It means summer is rolling in and that two-a-days for high school football are close.”

All of that, all the celebration and support for a great cause, but it’s also a defining moment of summer while being the great precursor to the fall tradition of high school football. The Lobster Bowl is the great opening blowout to start a season while doing so many other great things. Several million dollars have been raised for Shriner hospitals and I look forward to the next 33 more Lobster Bowls.