BANGOR — When Graham Safford’s father passed away on Christmas Day this winter, the basketball court became a source of healing for the Hampden Academy senior guard.
While it was tough for Safford to return to the floor after that tragedy, he knew his father would want him to be on the floor with his teammates.
“I knew he was with me, so I could sense a bit of release,” Safford said.
That courage and Safford’s leadership on and off the court led him to be rewarded with the Joshua Titus Eastern Maine Spirit of the Game award at Friday’s Maine McDonald’s Senior All-Star Banquet at Husson University.
Mound Desert Island senior Kyle McKim was Eastern Maine’s other recipient, while Sarah Assante of Bonny Eagle of Buxton was presented with the West’s Patrick Thibodeau award.
The Spirit of the Game award honors seniors who embody the spirit of the game of basketball, showcase good sportsmanship, show abilities to overcome adversity, and provide support and inspiration to their teammates and coaching staff.
Thibodeau and Titus were the first recipients of the honor in 2009, and the awards were renamed in their honor last winter.
Thibodeau and Titus were team managers at Greely High in Cumberland Center and Edward Little of Auburn, respectively, who got a chance to play in their team’s final regular-season game as a senior.
MDI’s McKim has played basketball most of his life despite a prosthetic left leg, which he has had since he was young.
“I was 10 months old (and) I was missing my shinbone, so they amputated from just below my knee,” explained McKim.
He was certainly humbled by the award.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m glad my coach nominated me,” said McKim, who has some advice for any player in a similar situation.
“It’s really easy to overcome, all you’ve got to do is think positive,” he said.
Thibodeau and Titus presented the awards after the crowd of coaches, players, families and friends were shown a documentary on their stories that aired during the NCAA Men’s Final Four last year.
“It’s very humbling to even be mentioned in the same sentence as the other recipients and the people who even made the award possible,” McKim said.
McKim’s prosthetic leg does hamper him on the court somewhat, but it doesn’t slow his work ethic any.
“It’s difficult to backpedal,” he said. “It’s kind of hard sliding to the left, but it’s nothing I haven’t been able to handle.”
Safford has had an outstanding four-year career at Hampden and Camden Hills of Rockport prior to joining the Broncos as a junior, and the Mr. Basketball finalist knew his dad would’ve been proud.
“He loved to help people,” said Safford. “I was not expecting it.”
Safford returned to the court for Hampden three days after his father’s death, leading the Broncos to a win over Mount Ararat of Topsham. Two days after the funeral, he powered Hampden to a victory over Edward Little.
Safford helped lead the Broncos to Eastern Maine Class A semifinal appearances the last two seasons.
Assante has been a four-year starter at Bonny Eagle in Buxton, playing point guard for the Scots, and she never missed a varsity game.
Those efforts are extraordinary considering she came back for her senior campaign following surgery on a torn anterior cruciate ligament during the offseason.
Assante, who also plays on the MBNation squad, has also been active in coaching youth and middle school teams in the Buxton area.