MILO, Maine — Zak Mills couldn’t attend the benefit basketball game held in his honor last Friday night.

But thanks to technology, the 11-year-old sixth-grader from LaGrange got the chance to witness firsthand a considerable outpouring of support on his behalf.

Some 40 area high school coaches — peers of Zak’s dad, Penquis Valley High School boys basketball and soccer coach Jason Mills — converged on Oakes Gymnasium to play in a benefit game to help defray medical costs the family is facing while Zak Mills undergoes treatment for a cancerous tumor found in the radius near his right wrist late last year.

And while Zak is well known around the region as a fixture at Penquis Valley sporting events, few anticipated the degree of support that turned out for the benefit game on his behalf.

“I didn’t get there until about 10 of six because of stuff going on at the hospital, and when I pulled into the school the parking lot full. It was overwhelming seeing the amount of people there,” said Jason Mills. “The crowd was great, the band was playing. It was a tremendous atmosphere.”

The game generated more than $5,600 from admission sales alone, said Penquis Valley principal Jeremy Bousquet. Combined with concessions, raffles, T-shirt sales and donations from the likes of Tradewinds market and the school’s Student Council and Key Club, the total raised so far is more than $10,700.

“I’ve been at Penquis for eight years and this is the first time I’ve seen the gym so filled to capacity,” said Bosquet. “There were people from the immediate area and beyond, college students who came home. There were people with no connection to sports competition and people with a direct connection to sports competition.

“It was amazing to see.”

Coaches from throughout the geographically vast Penobscot Valley Conference participated in support of the Mills family, joining others from the educational community — both of Zak’s parents are teachers — and the community at large.

“There were a lot of people from our community there, but there were a lot of people from area towns [who] showed up, too,” said Mills. “I think every coach who played brought a fan or two. Howland had a big following there, there was support from everyone.”

Bousquet helped arrange a FaceTime video link between the gymnasium and Zak’s hospital room at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor so he could watch the game and see some of his friends in attendance.

Bousquet manned the FaceTime link during the first half before former Penquis basketball star Trevor Lyford, home from Brown University, took over after intermission.

“When [fellow LaGrange resident and Piscataquis of Guilford boys basketball coach] Jamie [Russell] set the game up originally, I looked up the schedule and knew Zak wouldn’t be able to be there because that was a hospital night for him,” said Mills, “so Jeremy and I started talking about doing that.

“Zak has been FaceTiming with some of his teachers when he’s been home to stay caught up with some of his schoolwork, so it worked out well for him.”

Zak came home Monday but was set to return to EMMC on Thursday for the second 72-hour cycle of his second round of chemotherapy since being diagnosed with osteosarcoma.

He’ll undergo a third 72-hour session next week, then eventually will have what’s left of the tumor removed before undergoing a follow-up round of chemotherapy.

Zak has said his plan is to be playing on his middle-school soccer team when school starts this fall.

Another event already is being planned to benefit him and his family on April 17. Local hairdressers will volunteer their time to come to the school and students and staff may make donations in order to have their heads shaved in an act of solidarity for the hair loss Zak will face as the result of chemotherapy.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...