BANGOR, Maine — When Brooks Spaulding took his recruiting visit to Husson University, he arrived with his arm around his mother, Sheri Fuller-Spaulding.
On her final trip to campus last fall, Fuller-Spaulding was again in the arms of her loving son, this time as he carried her from the Newman Gymnasium bleachers to a wheelchair.
“She was at every game until December of last year, didn’t miss a home game unless we were outside of the region,” said Husson men’s basketball head coach Warren Caruso.
This has been a sobering season for Brooks Spaulding. While he is a key contributor for the Eagles (17-2), the senior from Fairfield is playing with a heavy heart.
On Dec. 14, his mother died after a lengthy fight against cancer at the age of 56.
“She was a wonderful, amazing woman, and she and Brooks had a very close relationship,” Caruso said.
“It’s really hard,” Spaulding said. “For me, some days are better than others as far as dealing with it.”
Fuller-Spaulding often arrived at games with cookies or other treats for the basketball players. Spaulding said the desire to make people happy was part of his mother’s makeup.
“Even though she was going through what she went through, she always put other people first,” he said, citing the former New Balance employee’s charity work.
Spaulding, his father Bert Spaulding and their family had supported Fuller-Spaulding through three bouts with cancer dating back several years.
“No matter what challenges she had to face, every day she’d smile,” Brooks Spaulding said. “She was always a happy person, fun to be around.”
Apparently, the apple didn’t fall far from the proverbial tree.
“Brooks is probably the loudest, most outgoing person in the group,” said fellow senior co-captain Phil Leighton of Naples. “He’s always making people laugh.”
Spaulding admits that during his first two years at Husson, those qualities and some immaturity caused him some problems.
“I still joke around a lot, but there’s certain times when it’s appropriate,” he said, “not when we’re trying to get something done, and I’m taking away from everyone’s focus.”
The former Lawrence High School standout has demonstrated consistent improvement on the court and personal growth. Spaulding, a 6-foot-4 post player, is averaging 9.7 points per game, on 50 percent shooting, and 4.1 rebounds in 21.3 minutes per contest this winter.
This is his fifth season at Husson, as he was awarded an NCAA medical hardship waiver. As a junior in 2011-2012, a prostate infection sidelined him for six months.
“He has been integral in our success, particularly in the last two seasons,” Caruso said.
“His maturity has risen to the level where he’s a captain this year,” he added. “His growth has been tremendous in his time here.”
During his senior year of high school, Fuller-Spaulding informed her family that her cancer had returned. By last year, it had spread to her bones and spine.
In October, doctors determined the cancer could not be eradicated.
Fuller-Spaulding opted to forego more chemotherapy and “ride it out,” said Spaulding, who explained she decided they should celebrate Christmas early, on Dec. 15.
Spaulding visited his mother on Dec. 11, although she was groggy from pain medication. She reportedly had a “good” day on Dec. 13.
The Eagles were having breakfast on Dec. 14, the day after beating Green Mountain, prior to heading Castleton State in Vermont. Spaulding received a call from his father, who asked to meet him outside.
Bert Spaulding was there with Sheri’s sister Darlene Mansfield. Brooks Spaulding knew his mother was gone.
Spaulding returned to his room at the team hotel, where he was consoled by the coaching staff and his teammates.
“It was a very emotional day,” Caruso said. “We’re so proud of how Brooks and everybody handled it.”
Spaulding chose to play in the game. He had five points and five rebounds in 24 minutes.
“I was thinking before the game, she obviously would want to watch me play this game, especially since I came all the way down here,” he said. “It was a hard game to play.”
Husson prevailed when an “air ball” landed in the hands of Trevon Butler, who laid it in with 0.4 seconds left for an 86-85 victory.
“[Fuller-Spaulding] was there with us,” Caruso said.
Spaulding opted to return to Maine with the team and was dropped off in Fairfield.
“We decided we were going to celebrate Christmas anyway that next day, because that was what we had planned to do,” he said.
Spaulding admits his play has been inconsistent ever since.
Husson players honor Fuller-Spaulding’s memory by wearing pink socks during games. Brooks also sports pink laces and wristbands.
He is grateful for the love and support of his father, his girlfriend, Katelyn Cloutier, and the Husson community.
When the Eagles break a huddle, they say “family” in unison. It is a concept that has been reinforced by Spaulding’s loss.
“It really helped me and the rest of the guys gain perspective on what’s really important,” Leighton said.
“Brooks has really stayed strong through the whole process. I can’t even imagine what he must feel. It’s definitely made us a tighter group,” he added.
Spaulding, who will graduate in May with a degree in hospitality management, keeps his mother in his thoughts.
“I tell everybody she was probably one of the best role models I could have asked for, especially given the circumstances,” he said.
“Even though she was going through what she went through, she always put other people first.”