More than a game. Rotary all-star football game raises $50,000 for scholarships.

Many former local high school football players donated some of their time Tuesday to help sort food at the Merced County Food Bank.

Players from Merced, Golden Valley, Atwater, Buhach Colony, El Capitan and Stone Ridge Christian were all wearing their North blue all-star jerseys as they sorted canned goods and boxes of food. They will all suit up for the North in Saturday’s 34th annual North/South Rotary Bob Green Football Classic, which will be played at Veterans Stadium on the campus of Golden Valley at 7:30 p.m.

The players were donating their time on Tuesday as a way to thank the Merced County Food Bank, which donated $5,000 toward the scholarship fund associated with the rotary all-star game. The South players will donate some of their day on Wednesday at the Madera County Food Bank.

On Friday night, $50,000 in scholarship money will be awarded at the all-star banquet at Golden Valley High. Fifty students from across the Central Valley will be awarded $1,000 scholarships.

“It’s big,” said game director Bob Green. “That’s the job and we do it. We raise a lot of money and then we give it away.”

Former Golden Valley football player Davon Johnson, 45, donated some of his time, along with some of his South teammates to help sort food at the Merced County Food Bank on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2019. Shawn Jansen

Green started the all-star game 34 years ago as a way to give players from smaller schools a showcase event. He felt many of those athletes were overlooked at some of the other all-star games.

While he’s proud the game has continued to grow with 62 high schools participating in the game this year, he also takes great pride in the scholarship money this game has helped generate over the years.

Green and his game committee work with 34 Rotary Clubs throughout the valley and he says most of them come up with $1,000 each year to sponsor a scholarship. The Merced Sunrise Rotary Club donated $4,000 this year.

Green says local businessman Thomas Thompson, who owns multiple Carl’s Jr. restaurants in the valley, has donated $60,000 to the scholarship fund over the years.

Former Buhach Colony football player Brendan Ekizian helps sort food at the Merced County Food Bank on Tuesday, June 18, 2019. Ekizian is one of the 50 graduating seniors who will receive a $1,000 scholarship at a banquet prior to the 34th annual North/South Rotary All-Star Football Game in Merced. Shawn Jansen

Students were able to apply for the scholarships online. They filled out a form, wrote an essay and turned in a letter of reference. According to Green, there were 145 applicants this year.

Green has put together a committee that goes through the applicants and awards the scholarships.

“My wife has read some of the essays,” Green said. “Some of these kids, what they’ve been through and how they made it through, is unbelievable.”

Green first started handing out scholarships in 1992. He started with $9,000. The all-star game has handed out $384,000 in scholarship money since then.

The scholarships are open to all seniors, not just football players. Buhach Colony football players Mason Reel and Brendan Ekizian are two of the scholarship winners.

Reel is headed to Washington State University and plans to major in sports management. He had a 4.16 GPA at Buhach Colony.

“My essay was about the importance of being truthful and helping people out,” Reel said.

Reel hasn’t decided whether he’ll continue playing football. He is looking forward to playing one final time with his Thunder teammates.

Former Buhach Colony football player Brendan Ekizian (5)tosses a bag of food to be sorted to Mason Reel (58) at the Merced County Food Bank on Tuesday, June 18, 2019. Shawn Jansen

“It’s a chance to do something I enjoy,” Reel said.

Ekizian is headed to Fresno State and plans to go into real estate.

“The scholarship will help a ton,” he said. “Anything helps. I chose to write my essay about goodwill and friendship. With me going into real estate, those are two good qualities to have.”

Ekizian maintained a 4.13 GPA at Buhach Colony while playing football and baseball all four years.

“This is it for me,” Ekizian said. “It’s my last chance to play some ball.”