HONESDALE, Pa. -- A high school football team from Wayne County paid a visit to a children's hospital in Philadelphia for the first time since the team started playing in the annual Shrine Bowl 26 years ago.
Outside Honesdale High School, 20 tough kids boarded the bus headed for an experience you can't get in the classroom or on the gridiron.
With their coaches along for the bus ride to Philadelphia, these Hornet football players passed the time, and eventually, they pulled up to their destination: Shriners Hospital for Children.
The boys posed for photos then began to see what this hospital is all about.
For the past 26 years, Honesdale has played in the Wayne-Pike Shrine Bowl. The money raised at the game goes to the Shriners Hospitals, helping children facing all sorts of medical issues. In Philly, it's children with orthopedic conditions or injuries.
These athletes toured the hospital seeing firsthand how the donations pay for high-tech treatments and therapy for kids of all ages. It's all free to kids who can't afford it, from a motion analysis lab that tracks patients' movement to a stand-up body scanner.
Another season's in the books for the Hornets of Honesdale, but that doesn't mean that all the efforts on the field, especially for that Shrine Bowl game will be for naught.
One game raised $11,000, and they'll be right back at it next year in the Shrine Bowl, helping those kids who need it so much.
"It is extremely important. They take care of Jeffrey as if he were one of their own. Insurance or not, doesn't matter to Shriners Hospital," said Theresa Kelso of Tobyhanna.
The Hornets, including strong, tall Isaiah Sims, handed out footballs to some of the patients in the waiting room, finding Jeffrey Kelso and his family from Tobyhanna. Jeffrey will be six in January.
"He has 21 percent coverage of the spine scoliosis, so we come down here to get fitted for a back brace every six months," Kelso explained.
"Now I can say what I'm fighting for. I'm playing a game for them," Sims said.
These strong football players known for their toughness now realize just what toughness is in the form of the children helped by the Shriners Hospital for Children.
"They're really brave young kids going through all this," Sims said. "I couldn't imagine going through that. They're mentally and physically stronger than me."
"The things they've gone through, personally, I was lucky growing up. They're challenged and overcome some bigger challenges than I've ever faced," said sophomore Brady Carmody.
Coach Mike Jurkowski, a Shriner himself, wanted these boys to see firsthand the good work done at this hospital helped each year by the generosity shown during that Shrine Bowl. It's a valuable lesson to learn at any age.
"To let them realize the opportunities they have and how blessed they are to be able to play football and be injury free and see some of the things kids are going through," Jurkowski said.
"Seeing what it's all for, it's more than just a game. It helps out in a huge way for all these kids," said senior Ethan Dunn.
These football players take with them a feeling of how fortunate they are and how they can, together, help others win.