Shrine Game gives Stewart a whole new outlook

By Bill Foley

Cole Stewart was looking forward to being part of the “best of the best” this week as he began practice for the 75th Montana East-West Shrine Game.

It was something he had been thinking about since learning he was selected to play in the All-Star football game on Christmas Morning.

Once camp opened Sunday, Stewart, who is widely known as “Stewie,” said he learned the true meaning of the game that raises money for the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital in Spokane.

“It’s just cool that we get to play for the kids,” Stewart said Monday after a practice at Naranche Stadium. “They always say, ‘Strong legs run so weak can walk,’ so that’s really cool.”

Stewart is representing Butte High and the Mining City on the West Side team, which is training in Butte this week before heading to Great Falls for Saturday’s showdown with the East Side. Fellow recent Butte High graduate Dylan Snyder is also playing for the West.

“This is awesome,” Stewart said. “Me and Dylan are having a blast.”

As of Monday afternoon, the West players heard from Shrine patient Sudah Davis, former Montana Grizzly coach Mick Delaney and former players Levi Dawes of Helena and Kale Guldseth of Butte

“They all gave good speeches,” Stewart said. “It kind of makes you play for something more than just yourself. It makes you think of someone else.

“When I first came in, I thought, ‘Ah, sweet, I get to play with the best players in the state.’ Then I was like, ‘Dang, we’re playing for something way bigger than ourselves.”

Stories of surgeries hit close to home for Stewart, who went under the knife to fix the shoulder he dislocated during his senior season at Butte High School.

Going through a surgery recovery, and having to sit out of action for months, is frustrating, Stewart said. However, he said the Shrine patients have to go through that, and worse, over and over again.

“Mine wasn’t as bad as what they all go through. But going through surgery is terrible,” Stewart said. “You kind of hit a low spot. It’s frustrating.

“They go through a lot worst stuff than me. I kind of felt what they did a little bit, but not as much. They’re going through way more than I ever will be.”

Stewart knows that the patients spend so much time in the hospital, doctors offices and waiting rooms. The former Bulldog star is actually known for a short hospital stay. A really short one.

He was taken to the emergency room at St. James Healthcare after suffering the injury in the first half of Butte High’s Oct. 1 loss to Helena Capital at Naranche Stadium.

After visiting with a doctor, Stewart ran out of the hospital hoping to get back into the game. He ended up watching the second half from the sideline while wearing a sling.

He would have played if the team’s athletic trainer would have allowed it.

Despite missing two and a half games with the injury, Stewart finished second on the Bulldogs with 70 total tackles. He returned to the team in time for the last regular-season game and Butte High’s playoff game.

Stewart registered 11 tackles in Butte High’s playoff loss to Kalispell Glacier.

Days after committing to play at Montana Tech in November, Stewart underwent surgery.

Now, Stewart is back to 100 percent. He is looking forward to playing safety for Montana Tech.

First, though, he will represent his half of the state in the most important game of his life. Stewart will wear No. 12, the same number he donned for the Bulldogs.

Shrine week has just begun, and Stewart said he is eagerly anticipating bonding with his new teammates.

“I’m looking forward to meeting everyone and getting to know them,” he said. “It’s going to be sweet to play with the best players in the state. We’re going against the best, but we’re also play with the best — guys you played against since you were a freshman.

“It’s nice to have them on my side.”