FREEPORT, Maine — It was an emotional night at the Freeport High School turf field, as people from around the Greater Portland community gathered to remember someone they loved.
17-year-old Steel Crawford passed away unexpectedly on Friday, August 9. He was swimming with his friends at a popular location in Buxton when he jumped off of a rope swing, landing "awkwardly" on the water, and never surfaced.
"I went 100 miles an hour there," Dominic Spina, a close friend of Crawford, remembered after finding out about the accident. "I showed up and ran to where the rope swing was, and I came over the hill and saw all my friends crying."
Ryan Baker was equally as upset and told NEWS CENTER Maine that he was having a hard time sleeping after losing his friend.
"Steel and I got to know each other pretty close over the years. Probably three years ago, we met through playing lacrosse against each other," Baker explained. "We had the same friend group, so it was kind of hard not to be friends with him, but instantly we were just like the same person."
On Sunday, August 18, Baker decided to honor Crawford with that passion they had in common and that had first brought them together. He organized a benefit game, encouraging anyone from around the community to come join if they were interested.
That number started at 30 players -- and then climbed to more than 100.
"There’s no words for this," Baker commented about the sizable crowds of players and spectators. "It’s just an amazing and unbelievable turnout. (We) couldn’t have asked for anything better."
Ashling Flaherty, another friend of Crawford, was by Baker's side for the entire experience -- and she says Sunday's event is exactly what the former lacrosse star would have wanted.
"Steel always wanted a big party. He loved being with his friends. He loved the game of lacrosse -- so all of it has been brought together to honor Steel."
Steel's former lacrosse coach at Freeport High School, Geoff Arris, said he was touched by the range of people who showed up on the field and in the stands.
"The number of helmets today -- the variety...it’s overwhelming," Arris told NEWS CENTER Maine. "It’s amazing how many schools and how many humans Steel touched."
Arris was one of them. He said the teenager stood out on his team.
"He was so dynamic," Arris explained. "He was a huge fan of making everyone around him better, and so that involved him making that pass he didn’t necessarily want to make until that kid caught it and they grew confidence."
Phil Cawley, President of Back Bay Lacrosse in Portland, says he didn't know Crawford personally, but he wasn't surprised by how supportive the community has been.
"I like to say in Maine lacrosse, we're all a family. I’ve coached other youth sports, and I feel that the connection with lacrosse families is so tight -- not even within the town but with other towns."
The game tonight last only a few hours -- but Crawford's friends and mentors plan on making sure #SteelStrong lives on.
"I believe that this is something that we’re going to continue pursuing in the coming years," Arris said. "We're going to make tournaments out of this, and I think it’s going to be very special."
"It makes me feel very good because I know that he was loved," Spina emoted. "I hope that we can continue to do this for years to come. You know, just bring the community back together -- bring hope and happiness to their family and our friend group and just make sure that he feels that he was loved."
Spina started a GoFundMe page for Crawford's family. As of Sunday night, the account had exceeded its $25,00 goal at $27,486.