The family of Freeport teenager Steel Crawford, who died earlier this month in the Saco River in Buxton, lead players onto the field for a fundraising lacrosse game Sunday, Aug. 18, at Freeport High School. They are mother Melanie, left, sisters Natalie, Emma and Vivian, and father Ben. Carl D. Walsh / Portland Press Herald

FREEPORT — Lacrosse players from around New England on Aug. 18 honored the memory of a teenager who drowned earlier this month by playing the game he loved – one originated by Native Americans as a way to honor those who have died.

A 2018-2019 yearbook photo provided by Freeport High School shows Steel Crawford, a 17-year-old Freeport lacrosse player who drowned Aug. 9 in Buxton. Portland Press Herald

Steel Crawford was a 17-year-old rising senior at Freeport High School, where he was known as an avid member of the lacrosse team. He died in the Saco River in Buxton Aug. 9.

The Aug. 18 event was organized by Ryan Baker, a North Yarmouth Academy student who became friends with Steel through lacrosse.

“Steel and I started as competitors,” Baker said in a telephone interview Aug. 16. “I went to North Yarmouth Academy and we connected through friends. When I met him, we ended up hitting it off and became good buddies.”

Baker, who graduated from North Yarmouth Academy this spring, came up with the idea for a lacrosse game days after Crawford died.

“I woke up on Sunday and started planning,” he said. “I needed to do something.”

Bill Flaherty, coordinator of media relations for the event, described Crawford as “an outstanding athlete who was admired and drawn to all by his smile, his simple good nature, his joy for life and for being a respectable young man with a future of gold ahead of him.”

According to Flaherty, the lacrosse tournament raised $18,000, which will be used to offset funeral expenses and to go toward a scholarship fund in Crawford’s memory.

As of Aug. 20, Baker more than $45,000 had been raised between the charity game and the online fundraiser. He said he hopes to make this an annual event and has already started planning the next game.

Baker originally expected about 30 players to fill the roster for the game, with 100 spectators. But he had a roster of 100 players within hours of the announcement. Players ranged in age from high school to collegiate level, from schools and universities throughout New England. High schools represented at the event included Scarborough, Portland, Brunswick, South Portland, Falmouth and Gray-New Gloucester.

“It’s really awesome that we can all get together and honor a great athlete and an even better person,” Baker said during his halftime remarks at the game.

Baker had help organizing the event from Crawford’s friends at various high schools throughout greater Portland, including Cheverus, Scarborough and Morse.

The game was held at Freeport High School on the new turf field. Admission was by donation and merchandise that read “SteelStrong” was sold.

Baker noted during his remarks that the sport was started by Native Americans as a way to honor the dead and play for those in the spirit world.

“We are playing for Steel and I know he’s laxing it hard up there,” he said.

“Everyone loved that kid,” said Baker, who also scored the game’s first goal. “It’s so insane and awesome to see all of the support that we have received. It means so much to myself and the Crawford family.”

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