The 65th Nebraska Shrine Bowl Game is on Saturday at 6:00 p.m. central time. You can watch on News Channel Nebraska TV.

KEARNEY, Neb. — The athletes at the Nebraska Shrine Bowl knew they were selected for an all-star football game, but they might not have immediately grasped the meaning of the entire event.

The South Team’s Carlos Collazo of Aurora says they’re learning quickly that the Shrine Bowl goes deeper than the gridiron.

“Yeah, the football game is going to be fun, it’s going to be hype, it’s going to be all that," Collazo said. "What really matters is the kids and just getting to know people from all across that’s going through the same things you are.”

On Monday, the teams participated in the Beyond the Field experience. They met kids who received treatment at Shriners Children’s, a network of medical facilities serving children with orthopedic conditions regardless of their ability to pay.

It was eye-opening for the South Team’s Jack Dahlgren of Kearney.

“It’s just really cool to see how hard these kids lives are and how strong they are, all the courage they have to come out and talk about it," Dahlgren said. "It’s just really impactful to my life.”

They competed in challenges like Shriner’s Trivia, one-handed shoe-tying… easily won by patient ambassador Poppy of Waverly, and a prosthetic arm test.

Then, it was off to lunch and yard games in the park, a moment that will stick with the North Team’s Nolan Eloe of Amherst.

“It made me realize that it’s not just a football game, it’s also about making them feel better about themselves," Eloe said. "We’re out here making their days.”

That’s what keeps Brody Linnell coming back. The 14-year-old from Omaha was an honorary team captain in 2019.

“It’s amazing. You know, (the players) are just like friends," Linnell said. "I might never see them again, but it’s really great to be with them right now, in the moment.”

Linnell has Fibular Hemimelia, which has required several surgeries to try to even out the length of his legs. Thanks in part to Shriners, he competes in basketball, track and cross country.

“I just can’t imagine my life without them. Sports is just kind of a lot of who I am," Linnell said. "So without Shriners, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”

Emberlyn Hemmer of Lincoln is the South Team honorary captain. Her legs stop at her upper thighs because of Caudal Regression Syndrome, but that didn’t stop her from winning the team push up contest.

It’s moments like that one that will stick players like Collazo.

“Once you start digging down into it, what really matters, it’s a special thing," Collazo said. "It’s a blessing that we are able to come out here and play football and raise money for (Shriners Children’s).”