Faces in KS: Sarah Van Petten

Sarah Van Petten is the Exectuive Director of the Kansas Shrine Bowl. (photo: KS Shrine Bowl)
By: Sports in Kansas - Chet Kuplen
Apr 2, 2015

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The Kansas Shrine Bowl has been around since 1974. Many may think it’s just a game over the summer ever year in Kansas, but it is much more than that and a lot goes into it all year round. That is definitely something the executive director of this event can tell you.

Sarah Van Petten, who is the executive director of the Kansas Shrine Bowl, grew up in Wamego. Wamego, until this fall, was the office headquarters of the Kansas Shrine Bowl until its recent move to Lenexa. Van Petten, who has worked with the Shrine Bowl since she was 12 because of her hometown, now has her dream job as the director of this huge event every summer in Kansas.

“I had the opportunity to start helping out when I was 12, once I learned the purpose of the game I wanted to get more involved,” Van Petten said. “Im a huge sports person and getting to incorporate that with such an amazing philanthropy is a dream job."

So back to the part about it being much more than the state’s best football players playing in one game over the summer every year in Kansas. All proceeds of the game go to benefit the 22 Shriners Hospitals and it’s a year round process in raising the money for the game to happen.

“There is a lot that goes into our weekend of putting the game on and each year we work very hard to make the experience bigger and better for not only the athletes and spectators but also for the children receiving treatment at Shriners Hospitals for Children” Van Petten said.

The executive director, who has a staff of just two other full-time people, wears a lot of hats as the primary planner, fundraiser and keeping everything on schedule. But it's not all Van Petten and she is the first to admit it. It takes a lot of contributions from everywhere to make this game possible. It wouldn’t be possible without all the volunteers and all the people who help out financially.

“The Kansas Shrine Bowl needs as many contributors as we can get, it takes a lot of hands on game day to make sure everything is covered. We wouldn’t survive without all of our awesome volunteers they put in a lot of hours on Saturday and it is very hot out! If we had to hire all those positions to run our game we wouldn’t be able to send near as much money to the Hospitals.” Van Petten said.

Not only does this game help benefit the children at these hospitals, it can also change anyone involved with its life, especially football players coming into the event unaware of this great cause.

“Year after year I hear players and coaches say that it gives so much more meaning to the game that they love. All of the participants have the opportunity to meet and interact with patient ambassadors from the St Louis Hospital on Thursday before the game- some of these patients were born without an arm or a leg and are the most positive and inspirational people you will meet. I think it really puts life into perspective for some of these 18 year olds and its amazing to watch it happen.”

For now it’s planning and fundraising mode for Van Petten, who will be putting on her second Shrine Bowl this summer in Hays. This years event, which is the 42nd annual since it began in 1974, is scheduled for Saturday July 25th at Fort Hays State University. In Van Pettens first year, which was last years game at Pittsburg State, the event was able to raise $77,000 to donate to the Shriners Hosptials.

"We had a lot of success last year in Pittsburg and working with everyone there made my first year a breeze. I'm really looking forward to Hays this year and sending a bigger check."

We caught up with Sarah below to figure out what exactly goes into making the Kansas Shrine Bowl an event in the latest Faces in Kansas.

Q&A w/ Van Petten.

What led you to work for the Kansas Shrine Bowl?

The Kansas Shrine Bowl office was located in my home town and I had the opportunity to get involved and start helping out when I was just 12 years old, once I learned the purpose of the game I just wanted to get more and more involved! I’m a huge sports person and getting to incorporate that with such an amazing philanthropy is a dream job!

How is the selection process handled?

Players are first nominated by their high school coach, and then KS media has the opportunity to send in a ballot for their top 22 team (out of nominated players), after media selections there is a final selection committee that selects the top 22 players for each team based on the media votes. After the media has completed each Coach is able to pick up 2 players from their size classification to assist in rounding out their team depending on offense and defense they plan to run. The Head coach is the only exception and he is allowed to pick up two players from any size classification.

Coaches are selected based on how they finish in the state playoffs. There is an East and a West coaching representative from 6A, 5A, 4A, 3A, and 1-2A. A coach is only allowed to coach once in a 5 year period. This year with 4A splitting to two brackets we do not have a representative from each bracket but instead will have a representative from 4A-1 in odd numbered years and 4A-2 in even number years.

Head coach is selected from the previous year’s assistant coaches.

The Shrine Bowl is much more than one weekend in July, just how crazy can the planning be for this event?

There is a lot that goes into our weekend and each year we work very hard to make the experience bigger and better for not only the athletes and spectators but also for the children receiving treatment at Shriners Hospitals for Children. We receive a lot of assistance from our hosting towns each year which makes a huge impact, they already know where, who and what will work best! The CVB and University Staff is a huge help to our game!

What are the primary benefits of having this game?

I believe that this game has many benefits, all in the same place you are able to showcase some of the best talent in Kansas, while you are raising money for Shriners Hospitals for Children and educating thousands of people on what the Shriners are truly about- helping kids receive the treatment they deserve, regardless of the families ability to pay.

How can playing or coaching in this game really change your life?

Year after year I hear players and coaches say that it gives so much more meaning to the game that they love. All of the participants have the opportunity to meet and interact with patient ambassadors from the St Louis Hospital on Thursday before the game- some of these patients were born without an arm or a leg and are the most positive and inspirational people you will meet. I think it really puts life into perspective for some of these 18 year olds and its amazing to watch it happen.

To a fan that has never been to this event, what is the primary selling point to get them to come?

The Kansas Shrine Bowl is sometimes the last time to watch these outstanding football players that have been excelling in the State of Kansas for so long and now they are playing alongside 67 other football players one last time at that same all-star level, makes for a great game that last weekend of July- kind of a kick off to football season. Plus when you buy a ticket you are helping us raise money to send to Shriners Hospitals for Children to help local children receive the specialty care they need.

What are the biggest challenges as executive director of the Kansas Shrine Bowl?

We have a lot of great ideas and talents in the State of Kansas and we try to incorporate as many people as we can but we are limited to one weekend and to give everyone the time they would deserve is tough! We are obviously always trying to grow our event but unfortunately we also have limitations on number of participants for those events!

What is the most rewarding thing in your job?

Meeting and interacting with kids that have been treated or are being treated at Shriners Hospitals makes my job the most rewarding job every day. To hear their stories and know how much they appreciate Shriners and events like the Kansas Shrine Bowl makes every day at work easy!

With this being your second year, have you added anything new or changed anything up since you've taken over?

There has actually been a lot of changes since I have started, but I will not take credit for everything I work under a Board of Directors of 15 men representing the five Shrine Centers in Kansas and I think we make a pretty good team! This year we relocated our office to Lenexa, hoping to help the Shrine Bowl get a little more exposure, we changed our logo, so we are in the middle of kind of rebranding for a fresh look! This year we have also changed up a few events and added some- this will also be our second year for a golf tournament which will be Friday morning, instead of having a two mile race we are going to have a 5K and a one mile fun walk Saturday morning, and as an opportunity to get the younger kids involved we are going to host a Junior All-Star challenge Saturday afternoon and recognize them at the game Saturday evening! We hope to have events that really cater to everyone!

Why is it so important to have as many contributors (financially or volunteers) for this event?

The Kansas Shrine Bowl needs as many contributors as we can get, it takes a lot of hands on game day to make sure everything is covered! We wouldn’t survive without all of our awesome volunteers they put in a lot of hours on Saturday and it is VERY hot out! If we had to hire all those positions to run our game we wouldn’t be able to send near as much money to the Hospitals! Also as far as financial contributors they are really helping us host this game and take away from any additional costs we may face. Again just like everyone else- they more support we can receive from companies the more money we can send to Shriners Hospitals for Children after our game!

If you could explain your job in a couple sentences, how would you do it? 

As the Executive Director I work directly with the Universities on bids, contracts and scheduling for game week. Also I work with Sponsors and finds ways not only that they can help us but how we can benefit them to make a lasting relationship between their company and the Kansas Shrine Bowl. I am in charge of the Public Relations and do my best to share the true meaning of the Kansas Shrine Bowl, as it is so much more than a game.

How did you feel the Shrine Bowl turned out in your first year at Pittsburg last summer?

I think we had an amazing year at Pittsburg in 2014- Pittsburg is an amazing town to host our game the whole community really support us when we come, the University is amazing to work with and they really made my first year as Director a breeze! We were able to donate over $77,000 to Shriners Hospitals Last year and I am really looking forward to this year in Hays and sending an even bigger check at the end of the year!