Varsity Football

Shrine Bowl offers emotional reunion after Andale figurehead’s death

Parker Bruce of Andale will play in Saturday’s Shrine Bowl in Pittsburg, Kan.
Parker Bruce of Andale will play in Saturday’s Shrine Bowl in Pittsburg, Kan. Photo courtesy of Mindy Bruce

Parker Bruce remembers hearing his mom on the phone, walking into the room and seeing her in tears.

He remembers the flashing blue and red lights of the ambulance.

He remembers moments from his dad’s death. Saturday, he will add another memory — a happier one.

Bruce’s dad, Kevin, died Jan. 18, 2006, a few days before Parker’s birthday, of a pulmonary embolism. Kevin was 39. Parker was 6 and doesn’t have many memories of the man who walked the path he now treads at the Kansas Shrine Bowl.

“For him to have gone through this experience, I feel like I’m living through him,” Parker said. “When you don’t have very much recollection of him, that’s all you can really do, is live those connections he had.”

Kevin was Andale’s football coach and athletic director when he died. Parker’s mom, Mindy, stayed in Andale and raised her three kids. Parker, the oldest, took on more responsibility, and Mindy did, too.

“Being the oldest, I had to grow up really fast, but luckily my mom was really strong and grew into both roles for me and my two younger siblings,” Parker said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better situation.”

Mindy is now the superintendent of USD 267, including Andale and Garden Plain high schools. Parker is on his way to Butler to continue his football career as a safety for the Grizzlies.

But first, he will play in a game that has a hint of destiny to it.

Kevin played in the Shrine Bowl in 1984. He was a gargantuan human, standing 6 feet, 5 inches and weighing about 300 pounds — in high school.

He represented Canton Galva at the Shrine Bowl, where he met his roommate, Dusty Trail. Trail met Kevin and was drawn to him.

“He was a big teddy bear,” Trail said of Kevin. “He would take a tense situation, and No. 1, he would calm everybody down. But No. 2, he would see the side that not everybody could see and turn it into a positive.”

Trail just finished his first season as the football coach at Kansas Class 5A champion Bishop Carroll. That earned him a spot on the 2018 Shrine Bowl coaching staff along with Goddard’s Steve Vang and Northwest’s Steve Martin, a man who probably wouldn’t even be coaching if not for Kevin Bruce.

Martin played for Bruce at Andale. Bruce was the reason Martin pursued coaching. Martin was just getting his career started at Troy High School north of Atchison when he got the news of Kevin’s death.

“I think I left work that day,” Martin said. “I went back that next day. I remember calling Mindy and having a talk with her.

“It wasn’t fun. It was not a good time.”

Now Trail and Martin link with the Bruce family again — a dozen years after Kevin’s funeral.

But that itself came with a twist.

Hunter Barbeau, Jeremy Jansen and Parker Bruce talk about the 2017 football season for the Andale Indians.

Parker wasn’t selected to the Shrine Bowl’s opening roster. His teammate Grant Fairchild was, and Shrine Bowl regulations say only one player from a school can play.

Unless one comes in as a replacement.

Jayden Price, Mulvane’s multi-sport star, suffered a knee injury after reporting to North Dakota State football practice. That opened the door for a reunion.

The West team coaches for the Shrine Bowl got together to decide who the substitute would be, and it ended with Vang giving Parker a call at 9 in the morning. Vang said, even through the phone, he could sense how much it meant.

“I didn’t know all this backstory, but it’s amazing,” Vang said. “As soon as I saw him running around on the field, I thought, ‘Why the hell did we not pick this kid up at the beginning?’ “

Parker said playing in the Shrine Bowl had always been a dream of his. He knew his dad played in it, and because he didn’t have many memories of him, Parker wanted to share that experience, he said.

He will at 7 p.m. Saturday in Pittsburg State’s Carnie Smith Stadium.

Parker said it’s hard to sum up his Shrine Bowl experience to this point. He has met some of Kansas’ best from some of the farthest reaches of the state, like Hanover and Smith Center.

Getting to know those players beyond Twitter and game tape has been an honor.

“You start talking about 8-man, 1A, 2A schools, you don’t know these guys outside of social media,” Parker said. “But you get to know them, and they’re amazing. Just great guys to be around.”

Parker said the Andale community has given him and his family so much over the years. Mindy set up a memorial golf tournament in Andale to raise money for the kids to go to college. After a few years, she shut it down. The community had raised enough money.

Parker said though growing up without a dad was hard at times, he was glad Andale and Indian athletics were there for him.

“Andale is one of those places where you don’t know how good you have it until you live through it,” Parker said. “I really hope I can raise my kids in a place like Andale.”

The Shrine Bowl has also given Parker the chance to get to know some of his Butler teammates. Campus’ Federico Harvey and Vang’s son, AJ, are all part of the Grizzlies’ 2018 recruiting class.

Vang is headed to El Dorado, too, as the high school athletic director. He was thrilled when he found out Parker would be his son’s teammate.

The Shrine Bowl, and Butler for that matter, isn’t the end of the line for Parker, he hopes. Parker said he wants to make it to Kansas State, where Kevin played in the late 1980s.

The father and son didn’t get enough time to get to know each other, but their paths are inching eerily close to intertwined.

“Even just in Parker’s smile, you can see his dad,” Martin said.