Riley Bilstein and Carter Brotsky have been buddies for a while, which makes their Shrine Bowl connection even more special for the West Holt football player and patient.
Six-year-old Carter and his family have known the Bilsteins for some time now, with both families attending the same church. However, Carter and Riley really began to get to know each other more after a senior-kindergarten group picture that the school began doing this past school year.
Carter certainly looked up to Bilstein, being a young kindergartener watching the well-known athlete do great things on the football field and basketball court. But it was Bilstein that gained a large amount of respect for the young student.
That’s because Carter was born with spina bifida, a birth defect where the bones and membranes of the spinal cord do not completely close before birth.
The condition has left Carter in need of constant medical assistance, he has to use a wheelchair part-time, and he has no sensation from his knees down. He has braces and is able to walk on his own but tires easily and needs to rest until his muscles are ready to go again.
After working with local pediatricians for a few years, Carter’s parents decided to take him to the Twin Cities Shriners Hospital for more specialized care. The family was familiar with the hospital because his mom, Ruth Brotsky, was a patient there herself as a young child while she dealt with severe scoliosis.
Now a registered nurse, Ruth knew that Shriner’s would be able to help the family out with not only specialized treatments, but also financially.
“They have never billed us for anything,” Ruth said.
Riley, a recent West Holt graduate, is spending the summer participating in various all-star games across the state in both football and basketball. He led the Huskies to a state playoff appearance after a 6-0 start this past football season.
He received many accolades along the way, including being named a first team all-district selection, second team all-area by the Norfolk Daily News, Academic All-State and earning an all-state honorable mention by The Associated Press.
His greatest accomplishment; however, is putting a kindergarten student on his shoulders during a picture.
“Carter is a very funny kid,” Riley said. “I hope they can make it Saturday, so Carter is there.”
According to their website, Shriners Hospitals for Children is one of the largest pediatric sub-specialty health care systems in the world, providing specialized care to children with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate. They strive to give the best care to any child, regardless of the family’s ability to pay.
That has made the week that much more special for both Carter and Bilstein. As the participants do each year, the Shrine Bowl selections spent Tuesday with patients from a nearby Shriners hospital. This year, patients from the Twin Cities location traveled to Lincoln to meet the players, and Carter was in attendance.
He quickly found Bilstein and spent the afternoon with him.
“We hung out during lunch,” said Bilstein. “There were lots of games around, but we mainly played frisbee.”
It was a joy for both Carter and his mother to get to see Riley. The Brotsky family is very excited to see him perform this weekend.
“It’s been great to see him get chosen for the Shrine Bowl,” Ruth said. “It’s been special for us too, already being with Shriners.”
The Brotskys are very grateful for not only Riley, but the entire West Holt student body. Ruth mentioned that everyone is very good to Carter and that Riley always goes out of his way to speak with him.
Saturday's Big Game
It’s been a fun week for the players, including three-a-day practices, team bowling, and a day sponsored by the Nebraska National Guard where the players could play different games. There was even an obstacle course competition.
“I didn’t win,” Riley admitted.
He has spent much of his week making new friends, including his roommate, Christian Ellsworth of Grand Island Northwest, Jake Bos of Columbus Scotus, and Keaton Henry of Boone Central/Newman Grove. He admitted is was a bit awkward at the beginning of the week, but after a few days everybody knows everybody.
Riley said he only wants have fun in the game Saturday. He will be taking the field as a safety for the north squad and has enjoyed learning all the new coverage schemes.
After the game, he will go on to Concordia University as a safety, with the potential to grow in to a linebacker for the Bulldogs. He admitted he is not the fastest, but he is smart on the field and fits well in run defense. He is looking to continue his pass coverage as he learns more technique.
No matter what he does in his future, Riley will always remember his time spent with not only Carter, but all the Shriners patients on Tuesday.
“They took their disabilities and just do life like anyone else,” he said. “We can’t imagine being disabled, but it doesn’t bother them at all.”
Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. Tickets are available at the gate - $12 for adults and $7 for students.