Friends, family and mentors remembered Steel Crawford, the 17-year-old Freeport boy who drowned in Buxton on Friday, as an avid lacrosse player and an infectious booster of Freeport High School sports.

Steel Crawford in a Freeport High School yearbook photo. Courtesy photo

Crawford died after jumping from a rope swing into the Saco River at Pleasant Point Park. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, whose divers recovered his body that night, said he landed awkwardly in deep water and never surfaced.

In an interview Saturday afternoon, his father, Ben Crawford, said family members always used the same words to describe him.

“Steel was good, clean, happy fun,” he said.

Crawford took to lacrosse at an early age, spending hours in the backyard practicing trick shots and bouncing balls off a rebounder.

Later, when he wasn’t making plays as varsity captain, he was cheering on his classmates from the sidelines – no matter the sport. In the 2019 Freeport High School yearbook, Crawford appears on page after page, surrounded by a gaggle of his pep rally friends. His face painted, grinning and mugging for the camera.

Crawford also loved to fish, his father said – “anywhere the stripers are.”

As he neared the end of high school, Crawford was preparing highlight videos of his play to attract college recruiters.

Steel Crawford, center, cheers with classmates at a soccer game, in a yearbook photo provided by Freeport High School. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

For the rising star, that was “an extremely achievable goal,” said Geoff Arris, who coaches boys’ varsity lacrosse at Freeport High School. “He’s definitely one of the higher-caliber players in the state.”

Crawford, who became co-captain of the team this year, was a “quiet leader,” Arris said. Without being asked, he took new players aside to offer support and advice.

On the field, he was a dynamic player who could score “at will,” Arris said. But instead of racking up his own total, he would often feed goals to younger teammates.

Getting an assist from someone they looked up to “made those kids’ day,” the coach said. Crawford had a knack for making his peers feel as if they were a part of something.

“I love the kid,” Arris said. “I really do. I truly love him from the bottom of my heart.”

In response to the tragedy, Buxton Police Chief Troy Cline said Friday afternoon that he would like to remove rope swings from the river, though he said he expected kids to put them up again.

Though rope swing safety hasn’t been the subject of much scientific scholarship, researchers in Mississippi studied them from 2002-06 for an article that appeared in 2008 in the Southern Medical Journal.

The study found that there were 73 injuries in Mississippi “directly related to falls from river tree rope swings” and estimated that in the United States there are 700 such injuries each year. Finger fractures were the most common injury, but others included drownings, leg fractures, concussions and spinal cord injuries.

Spencer Moore, 13, of Yarmouth tests a rope swing while swimming at the Royal River on Saturday. He decided the swing was unsafe and didn’t use it. One study estimated that 700 injuries each year in the U.S. are “directly related to falls from river tree rope swings.” Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Scores of community members came to Freeport High School on Saturday to remember Crawford and offer support. They gathered in the cafeteria, some hugging, some crying, some sitting in stunned silence.

Her eyes red-rimmed, Principal Jennifer Gulko said she had known Crawford well. She drew a blank when it came to listing his interests outside of lacrosse.

“Lacrosse was really his passion,” she said. “That was his main focus.”

Up until a few days ago, Coach Arris and his co-captain were in touch by text, poking fun at each other and strategizing about the state championship in 2020.

In the 2019 yearbook, junior class members shared their hopes for senior year. Crawford’s were simple and to the point.

“I want to make it deep into the playoffs for lacrosse,” he said.

Staff Writer Joe Lawlor contributed to this report.

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