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Twelve years ago this week, Jarred Spencer was not raising money for the Shriners Hospitals for Children while representing Old Town High School in the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl.
He was bedridden in the Shriners Hospital in Boston — as a patient.
“I was 6 years old and out riding my bike on some freshly paved pavement when the tires sunk in. The first instinct is to catch your body,” Spencer said between workouts Tuesday at Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft for the annual contest featuring the state’s top recently graduated seniors from the previous high school football season.
The 30th annual Lobster Bowl is set for 4 p.m. Saturday at Thornton Academy in Saco, with net proceeds from the event benefiting the 22 Shrine Hospitals for Children in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
“So my hands, one forearm, both legs and a foot were all in the tar, and I was stuck,” Spencer said. “My 10-year brother [Damien] had to come pull me out.”
Spencer was hospitalized for two months, much of that time still wearing some of the tar that initially caused him so much pain.
“The tar was on me for a month,” Spencer said. “They had to fly in a specialist because she was the only person who at that time had removed tar from a living person.
“They eventually used mineral oil to remove the tar from my skin. I was very lucky.”
After being released from the Shriners Hospital, Spencer returned there every other weekend for the next four to six weeks to make sure his healing burns did not become infected.
“When I got back to school I still had all the bandages on and didn’t have much motivation. It took the wind out of my sails until about the third grade when I started playing football on the fifth- and sixth-grade team because of my size.
“I’ll never forget my coach telling me when I was in high school that when he saw me get up after making my first tackle as a third-grader against all those older kids I had sod filling my facemask and all he could see was a big grin,” he said.
The now 6-foot-4, 225-pound lineman has had plenty of reason to smile on the gridiron since then. A three-time Class C North all-star, two-year team captain and nominee for the state’s 2018 Gaziano lineman award under head coach Lance Cowan at Old Town High School, Spencer plans to continue his football career this fall as a freshman at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine.
But there may be no game that’s more important to Spencer than the one he will play Saturday when his East squad meets the West all-stars for bragging rights in a series that’s entering its third decade.
“I’ve been thinking about this probably since junior year,” he said. “I knew I had a shot to make it after I made all-conference my sophomore and junior years and I was just hoping I could get here because when you see first-hand what they do for you, you want to do as much as you can.”
East head coach Dan O’Connell of John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor, a 12-year veteran of the Lobster Bowl coaching staff, learned of Spencer’s previous experience with the Shriners Hospital shortly after the teams began their week of pre-game practices Sunday.
“When I watch the Shriners do what they do, that spirit, that giving, that camaraderie, that brother- and sisterhood is exactly what we stand for as football coaches so it lines up perfectly,” O’Connell said. “They do so many great things for so many people that once you get around it it’s infectious.
“Then you see somebody like Jarred be here playing 12 years to the week after a freak accident like he had, It’s so fulfilling to see him be able to do this.”
Spencer also shared his story with the other Lobster Bowl participants “so they could know someone who had been helped by the Shriners Hospitals.
“They rebuild kids,” he added. “They get them to where they want to be to the best of their ability, and that’s the reason I’m here playing.”