(Steven Lane/The Columbian)
Freedom Bowl Classic
What: High school football all-star game for recently graduated seniors from local schools.
When/where: 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Kiggins Bowl.
Tickets: $8; children 6 and under get in free.
Through the years, the Freedom Bowl Classic has been filled by all-star football players from high school playoff teams and non-playoff teams alike.
This week, a pair of Prairie Falcons will be able to say they are from a playoff program. It's the first time that has happened in the 10-year history of the summer showcase, which raises funds for Shrine charities.
Jesse Zalk and Austin Fuller are representing all the Falcons who won six games last fall, becoming the first Prairie team to have a winning season since 1997.
"That was always our dream, to be one of the better teams Prairie has had," said Fuller, a linebacker. "We were the best team Prairie has had in 15 years. We were all really happy about that."
"It was awesome to make it to the playoffs and have a winning season," Zalk added.
For Zalk and Fuller, though, it was more than results on the scoreboard.
"I'm just happy with all the relationships that we built," Zalk said. "Win or lose, it was awesome playing football with them."
"I wish all the other Prairie football players were still playing," Fuller said. "I wish I could play with them one last time."
The Freedom Bowl Classic, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Kiggins Bowl, is exclusive to recent graduates. It gives the athletes one final high school game before college or working life. Fuller and Zalk are two of six Prairie players who made the roster for the game. However, due to various circumstances, the other four had to decline their invitations.
Not that Fuller and Zalk feel lonely. The head coach of the East All-Stars is Terry Hyde, Prairie's coach. And the team practiced this week at Prairie High School.
"For me, to get this time with those seniors, to get one last opportunity for one more game, it's pretty special," Hyde said. "They are committed to football. With their high school football careers, they got everything out of them that they could get."
Hyde's Prairie teams are known for putting the ball in the air, which is always fun in an all-star game. That's just fine with Zalk.
Zalk made The Columbian's All-Region team as an all-purpose player. He excelled as a wide receiver, as a running back, on special teams, and on defense. He hopes to showcase many of his talents Saturday night.
"I think it's a cool opportunity. I always thought it would be fun to play with all the good players from the (Greater St. Helens League). It's going to be fun," Zalk said. "We're going to do what we did all season. We're going to pass the ball around. It's always fun to go to a game and see passing."
Fuller said it has been a goal of his to play in this game for some time. He cheered on former Prairie players at recent Freedom Bowl Classics, and now it's his turn.
The goal of the game is to raise money for charity, which also fits the personalities of both Prairie players.
"I want to be a nurse. I want to help people," Fuller said. "Doing this will help make money for the people at the hospital. That makes me feel good about myself."
Zalk recently returned from Mexico, where he and members of his church helped build a home and got a chance to meet several children when they taught at a bible school.
"We've been changed by God. He loved us, so we've got to love other people," Zalk said. "That's our mission, to love these people."
Raising money for a good cause, playing a game that they love — all part of a special week for Zalk and Fuller.
To be the first Prairie players in this exhibition to have playoff experience is a big bonus.