Brunswick’s Brooke Bryant drills the ball down the field during a Drive Out Cancer preseason tournament in Topsham. Eric Maxim/The Times Record

TOPSHAM — High school athletic teams across the Midcoast are busy competing in an array of preseason events in anticipation of the regular season.

But some preseason events are bigger than others.

On Saturday, the Mt. Ararat High School field hockey program hosted its ninth annual Drive Out Cancer preseason tournament, which drew several Midcoast teams as well as Oak Hill of Wales.

The tournament provided players another opportunity to hone their skills, but more importantly, as well as come together for an important cause.

“Most everyone has been touched by cancer. For those who may have not been as closely connected with someone with cancer, they got to hear the stories of those who have been impacted, as well as the incredible work the Maine Children’s Cancer Program does here in our state,” said Mt. Ararat head coach Krista Chase, who spearheads the initiative. “You hear the stories and get a better understanding of the importance of raising awareness and raising money.”

Added Lisbon field hockey coach Julie Petrie: “It’s such a great cause to come together as a field hockey community and to create awareness and raise funds for something so important. Events like these are so much more than the game and helps teach the kids that the sport can teach life lessons. Kudos to Krista and her team for hosting such a wonderful event.”

The tournament Saturday raised more than $10,000, with the money going to the Pediatric Oncology program at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland. Chase said the tournament has raised more than $87,000 in the last nine years.

Teams played 20-minute games with the opportunity from the morning and into the afternoon.

Bailey Cloutier, a 2020 Mt. Ararat High School graduate, speaks to the crowd during Saturday’s Drive Out Cancer tournament Saturday in Topsham. Eric Maxim/The Times Record

Midway through the event, teams sat on the track along the front of the bleachers while fans filled the seats. Players from each team spoke the impact of cancer. A pair of guests shared their own stories, as well.

“I never thought I’d be coming back to my old high school, speaking at the Drive Out Cancer tournament,” said Bailey Cloutier, a 2020 graduate of Mt. Ararat. “From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all for being here today and for caring for some child with cancer. This matters because some kids can’t play today and are fighting to play alongside you.”

Cloutier was diagnosed last May with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, which is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

“It became a surreal moment for the reason I came back,” said Cloutier, a senior at the University of New Hampshire who is studying human development and childhood studies. “I’m still processing my diagnosis. When I thought of cancer, I didn’t think of someone my age getting it. The average age of AML is 65 years old. I got an adult version of a childhood cancer.”

That’s when the Maine Children’s Cancer Program stepped in. While Cloutier was considered an adult, the MCCP provided her the support given to children in the program.

“It was cool talking to people my age, talk to people I can relate to,” said Cloutier who stated during her speech that her hospital room was “the party room” for everyone who came to see her. “The support system that laughed, cried, and walked with me around the halls. Seeing everyone come in to take the time to see me was truly a blessing.”

According to the MCCP, approximately 50-60 children are diagnosed with cancer each year in Maine. Furthermore, an average of 200 children are on active treatment at any given time.

Oak Hill assistant coach Abby Fuller, who has been cancer-free for eight years, also spoke Saturday.

Brunswick’s Kiki Dinsmore dribbles the ball down the field during a Drive Out Cancer preseason tournament Saturday at Mt. Ararat High School. Eric Maxim/The Times Record

“Just being able to share my message and offer the support and be positive to some people who might not have that in their life,” said Fuller.

Cloutier and Fuller said they felt it was important to speak Saturday, and to urge everyone to not anything for granted.

“It’s a big deal to be at this tournament because it shows how much people really care and that’s what we need,” said Fuller. “For the younger girls coming in, they don’t know what to expect and the time they take for the presentations is beneficial to everyone.”

“Never take this time for granted,” added Cloutier, who added she was “joyfully in remission.”

“I never listened; it sounded so cliche, being hooked up to 24-hour chemo,” she continued. “I took for granted like just being able to get out of the bed, going for coffee, or driving myself somewhere. Sometimes I don’t think you fully understand it until you’re tested. It was really cool being here. High school is one of those ages when you’re doing something right now, it’s the most important thing, (like) sports, having a boyfriend, whatever. When something like cancer changes things, all of that doesn’t matter.”

Chase also said it takes a strong community to help get the point across.

“It’s the communities that make the event happen,” she said. “Everyone contributes to make (Saturday) happen. The coaches, players, athletic directors and families of the community that make this. The best thing about this event is getting athletes understanding that sports are important, but sports are not the most important thing. When you can use sports to do good in the world, it’s a beautiful thing.”

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