ELLSWORTH — June was already a month to remember for Charlie Hughes. That was before he got one last chance to put on an Ellsworth football helmet.
On June 14, Hughes was rewarded for four years of hard work in the classroom when he walked across the Charlie Katsiaficas Gymnasium stage as a graduate of Ellsworth High School. The very next day, he got to sport a gold medal around his neck and hoist the Gold Glove as a member of the state title-winning Ellsworth baseball team.
Then, just days later, Hughes learned that the state championship baseball game wouldn’t be his last time in an Eagle uniform. That moment would instead come Saturday evening as Hughes represented Ellsworth in the Shrine Lobster Bowl at Thornton Academy in Saco.
“This has been one of the greatest months of my entire life,” Hughes said. “Between getting to help the patients at the hospitals, play with some of the best athletes in the Lobster Bowl, win a state championship and everything else, I’m very grateful.”
The Lobster Bowl, which functions as an all-star game of sorts for the state’s outgoing senior football players, pits East against West with each of Maine’s high school football teams choosing at least one player to participate. The game’s primary purpose, though, is to raise money for Shriners Hospitals. Each player is required to raise $500 or more to participate.
Ellsworth head coach Duane Crawford originally selected Javon Williams, one of the Little Ten Conference’s top skill-position players, to represent the Eagles in the Lobster Bowl. Yet when the Colby College-bound standout decided shortly after graduation to nurse an ailing back, Ellsworth’s spot went to Hughes, who had his former teammate’s full support.
“It was a bit tough because my mom and I had been talking about the Lobster Bowl since my freshman year, but I knew Charlie was a guy who was going to relish that opportunity,” Williams said. “He’s the type of teammate who will run for a wall for you and always comes ready to hit somebody in the mouth.”
As an Eagle, Hughes was part of a 2019 class of football players that won multiple games each season to help Ellsworth emerge as a competitive team in Class D North. After not winning a game in 2012, 2013 or 2014, the Eagles notched 14 victories from 2015-18 and clinched their first-ever playoff appearance in the process.
“I don’t think people understand the work everyone did to get this program to where it is,” Hughes said. “We had to build up our own foundation for ourselves, and we came every day ready to work and left everything out there.”
Hughes was on the field Sept. 12, 2015, when the Eagles beat Washington Academy 22-8 for their first win in 57 years. He had another big moment against the Raiders a year later when he stripped the opposing quarterback and took the ball all the way to the 5-yard line to set up a game-tying touchdown. Ellsworth, which had trailed 22-0 that evening, won 34-28 in overtime to complete the largest comeback in team history.
As a junior in 2017, Hughes helped Ellsworth to a playoff berth with his consistent play at running back and linebacker. He even stepped in along the offensive line during his senior year this past season as the Eagles won three games and came within mere percentage points of their second straight playoff appearance. Hughes was a team captain both years.
“Charlie has been there for this team from the start of his freshman year,” Crawford said. “He works hard, and he’s a team-first player who’s willing to whatever is asked of him to help his team win.”
The Lobster Bowl came on the hottest day of the year in Maine as turf-level temperatures soared as high as 123 degrees prior to kickoff, according to the Kennebec Journal. Yet with quarters shortened from 15 minutes to 12 and numerous trainers on hand to ensure players remained in good health, Hughes and his teammates were ready to go.
“The heat was brutal, but the trainers and coaching staff made sure to keep us hydrated and cool,” Hughes said. “They made sure to keep an eye on anyone showing signs of heat strokes and unhealthy patterns. Thankfully, no one was in danger because of the precautionary steps everyone took.”
Even though the game didn’t produce quite the result the East team wanted — the West set a Lobster Bowl record for points scored in a 60-14 victory — Hughes’ play was one of the bright spots. Playing linebacker, he registered one solo tackle and four assisted tackles to anchor the East defense.
Despite the tough loss in the massive heat, the experience was, in Hughes’ own words, “completely worth it.” Even as he moves on to Husson University, where he hopes to continue his playing career at the college level this fall, his last appearance in a maroon helmet was one he won’t soon forget.
“Getting to play for a good cause and put on my helmet to represent my school and my teammates is what really matters in the end,” Hughes said. “[Our East team] wasn’t just a team; we were a family. I wouldn’t want to lose like that with anyone else.”