Ethan Kane of Ellsworth High School Credit: Courtesy of Foxcroft Academy

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — The motivation for nearly 90 recent high school graduates to sacrifice a midsummer week to participate in the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic takes on several forms.

The most common is the chance for most of these football standouts to don the pads one final time before they move on to the next stage of their lives.

For a smaller number, there’s the opportunity to get a head start on their preparation for the jump to college football just weeks away.

The game, scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday at Hill Stadium in Saco, also serves as a major annual fundraiser for the Shriners Hospitals for Children. Providing support for that effort and other health-related causes often emerges as an extra source of energy for individual players.

Ethan Kane, an offensive lineman from Surry and Ellsworth High School, has first-hand knowledge of how the Shriners Hospitals help youngsters. He was treated at the Boston facility earlier this year for burns suffered in a welding accident.

Kane’s East team comrade, linebacker Tyler Beem of Dexter, was motivated to raise a Lobster Bowl-record $12,004.25 this year in great part by the trials of a friend and high school football teammate who is battling cancer.

“These kids all really seem to understand why they’re here and the importance of the game they’re playing,” East coach Dan Cooper of Brunswick said late Tuesday morning during a break in Lobster Bowl training camp at Foxcroft Academy.

The comeback kid

Kane’s senior season of football at Ellsworth was shortened by a broken left forearm suffered during the Eagles’ first game.

Despite undergoing surgery he was able to return to the gridiron in time for his team’s season-ending 34-20 Class D North playoff loss to Beem’s Dexter team. The Lobster Bowl was to give Kane one more taste of football before he begins studies this fall at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor.

That plan suddenly became jeopardized last winter due to burns he suffered near his left wrist while taking a school welding class. Kane was rushed to a Bangor hospital, but by the next day he was being treated at the Shriners Hospital in Boston.

“They met me at the door and within a few minutes I was receiving care,” Kane recalled. “They were phenomenal; the entire staff was incredible.”

While Kane was at the Shriners Hospital for nearly a week, he was stunned by the health challenges other patients were experiencing.

“I saw a lot of the kids and what they’ve been going through, the hell they faced,” he said. “A lot of them were a lot worse off than I was with the loss of limbs and just being completely burned.”

Even as he was being treated, Kane already knew he was going to represent his school at this year’s Lobster Bowl if healthy.

“My coach (Duane Crawford) told me pretty early, and I was excited to play,” he said. “I was worried about this affecting me, but the Shriners did a great job. I had a skin graft done and the care was phenomenal.”

The Lobster Bowl’s connection with the Shriners Hospitals also made for some unique conversation for Kane during his stay in Boston.

“I talked to a few of the nurses and the doctor about me playing in this game, and they thought that was pretty cool,” he said. “I wish I hadn’t been there, but it was a pretty good chance to see what they’re all about and how phenomenal their care is.

“I don’t think a lot of kids that spend a lot of time there get to play in a game like this, so it’s pretty cool to be able to represent the Shriners this way.”

Kane has made several follow-up visits to Boston for doctors to monitor his skin graft, most recently two weeks ago, and is scheduled for another checkup next winter.

They just like to check everything and make sure it’s healing good,” Kane said. “It’s kind of driven me, since I had been there and seen the care, to want to raise more money through the Lobster Bowl, and help the kids who are there and what they’re going through. I tried to raise as much as I possibly could to help them out.”

Tribute to a friend

Beem has been one of the focal points of a recent football resurgence in Dexter, often defying his 5-foot-10, 160-pound frame to deliver punishing licks either running the football or tackling opposing ballcarriers.

But when one of his friends and football teammates, Matthew Simpson, was diagnosed with cancer last fall, Beem’s personal plans for the Lobster Bowl took a new direction.

“Sim didn’t go down to the Shriners Hospital, but he did go down to Portland and was in the children’s ward because he has cancer,” Beem said. “Me and a couple of friends went down to see him right after football season ended and there was this little girl two rooms down from him, and she was doing Christmas in November because she wasn’t going to make it.”

Beem soon set an ambitious fundraising goal for the Lobster Bowl — $10,000 — but he went on to break the individual record of $11,615 set last year by Colby Furrow of Mount View High School in Thorndike.

“A big part of it was my dad (Robert),” Beem said. “I set the goal and he said, ‘All right, if you’re going to go for it we’re going to go for it.’ So pretty much every Saturday and Sunday we were driving around Bangor, Newport, Dover, Dexter and dropping off the (informational) papers they (Shriners) gave us.

“We were going to businesses, we were going to family members’ friends and we were asking for donations. Some businesses gave $500 or $250 … it added up pretty quickly.”

Simpson’s health has been failing recently, but Beem hopes to visit his friend — who now lives in Rhode Island — after representing both of them and the rest of their Dexter teammates Saturday.

“Sim’s a really close friend, and it sucks that he’s not doing so well,” said Beem, who plans to join the Air Force Reserve with an eye toward a career in the military police.

“But seeing him the way he is and seeing so many kids the way they are made me think maybe there are other kids that have it even worse and maybe I can help them. That’s a big reason I pushed myself so much.”

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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...