You couldn’t ask for a better setting. Biddeford’s Waterhouse Field is the Sistine Chapel of Maine football fields.

You couldn’t ask for more talent. The best of the best from the 2006 high school football season are going to be there – Jared Turcotte, Aaron Champagne, Chris Treister, just to name the Fitzpatrick Trophy finalists.

And you couldn’t ask for a better cause. The Shriners Children’s Hospitals and Burn Institutes have saved the lives of thousands of kids and made it possible not only for them to grow into adulthood but pursue their dreams.

The Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic has all these and more, including many imitators in other sports.

Depending on whom you ask, the Lobster Bowl signals either the beginning of the 2007 football season or the end of the 2006 season. Some think it also signals the shifting balance of West vs. East football power in the state. For the first 10 years, it seemed like the East hardly stood a chance against the big, bad West. The second decade of the game has been much more competitive.

It has always been emotional. No matter how hard the commissioners in pro sports try to make them care or how hard the announcers try to convince us that they do care, most All-Stars just don’t give a damn whether they win or lose an exhibition.

Believe me, these kids do care. Some of the most physical football games I’ve seen have been played in the Lobster Bowl.

Regional pride still counts for something to these guys. There is a legitimate East vs. West rivalry. There is also a sense of urgency. For all of the players, this is their last chance to bask in the high school football atmosphere. And for many of them, this is the last football game they’ll ever play.

Two of the last three games have been decided by one point, and the overall quality of the football has been pretty good considering the coaches and players have only had five days to get to know one another.

If you can make it down to Biddeford tonight (gates open at 5:30 p.m., kickoff is at 7:30), you won’t be disappointed. If not, at least give a pat on the back to the young men and women (46 cheerleaders) in your community who have given a week of their summer to this cause the next time you see them. The locals include Frank Sawyer, Josh Leger and Jared Turcotte of Lewiston, Charley Cray, Staci Cushman, Tiffany Davis, Kristi Hall, Austri Silver, Ethan Sutton and Ron Packard of Oxford Hills, Joey Gilbert of Oak Hill, Kylan Pierce, Kyle Youland and Tyler Millett of Leavitt, Jon Demers and Scott Daigle of Edward Little, Justin Lowe of Mt. Blue, Corey Allen of Maranacook, Mark O’Shea and Mike Durrell of Livermore Falls, Ashley Doughty, Trevor McCourt of Jay, Dan Willis of Lisbon, Josh Daley of Dirigo, Kerri Patneaude, Thaddeus Bennett and Kyle Dow of Mountain Valley, Kyle Bowden of Winthrop, Whitney Cross of Poland, and Nate Chamberlain of Fryeburg.

And don’t forget to thank coaches Deborah Loveless of Oxford Hills, Mike Hathaway of Leavitt, Bill County of Lewiston and Jim “Fuzzy” Thurston of Fryeburg for donating their time, too.

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