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BILLINGS – As this year’s East-West Shrine football all-stars practice for Saturday’s showdown, at least one player likely wouldn’t have been born without the help of Shriners Children’s Hospital just over 100 years ago.

Maddox Roberts is a defensive end for Billings Central. His great-grandmother, Irene, survived the polio epidemic of the 1920s thanks to the organization Maddox will play for on Saturday – Shriners Hospitals for Children (now Shriners Children’s).

“She couldn’t really use the right side of her body, her right arm and her right leg,” Maddox told MTN Sports, recalling Irene’s complications from the disease. “She lived to be 104 years old and that, especially with polio… she really inspires me.”

Maddox’s brother Maverick and his father John are also inspired. All three will have played a part in the Shrine affair, which provides additional inspiration for a family tree that might not exist without the hospital’s involvement.

“She went to the Shriners in 1923 when she was six years old, and as you know, many children who got polio did not fare well,” John said.

John grew up in Helena and was very close to his grandmother.

“She remembered stories about how it was actually a gathering of little children – all with polio because it was almost a quarantine situation – and she talked about playing with them,” he recalled.

John stayed close to home and played football at Carroll College, where, ironically, he and Irene shared professors.

“When she was over 80 and over 90 years old, she attended these courses as a guest student, and I ended up attending a theology course with her,” he said with a smile.

The homework had to be typed. Since Irene could no longer use her right arm due to polio, she wrote with her left hand and leaned on her grandson while typing.

“And she sent me back to the dorm with trays full of cookies,” John recalled the informal exchange.

John eventually married Tara Thelen and the story of Shrine Hospital became more widely known. Tara’s father, Jim, was treated there for clubfoot. He died at age 66 before Maddox and Maverick were born, but they hear stories of his athletic achievements in football, basketball and track.

“Mom talks about it, you know… because he had a club foot, he had really small calves, but he was still super fast,” Maverick said.

You get the feeling Grandpa Jim and great-grandma Irene will be watching Saturday as Maddox takes on the Shrine family legacy. It’s an all-star game for which Montana alone has donated more than $1 million to the hospital — over the past decade — more than any other East-West Shrine Game in the entire country, according to the group’s website.

The 77th Montana East-West Shrine Game on Saturday will be broadcast and streamed live on the Montana Television Network platforms.

Meanwhile, Maddox will be pulling on his yellow jersey that night and trying to repeat Mavericks’ win in the East five years ago. Dad won his game in 1993 when he played for the West – wearing red. So what happens when John nostalgically pulls out his red jersey for that game?

“I don’t care because I know he’ll always be on my side,” Maddox said with a confident smile. “Take yellow.”

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