By Tim Lima
---- — AMESBURY — Casey Surgent missed his junior basketball season to undergo heart surgery, only to return to game action this year. His commitment to the Indians and perseverance through difficult times has earned him the 2014 James Young Courage Award.
“James Young is a fellow from Merrimac who had both arms amputated in a horrible accident while working for the utility company,” said Tom Connelly, a high school referee and Surgent’s neighbor, who nominated him for the award. “Jim was a ref and he was working with high voltage electricity and suffered a horrific accident where he lost both arms. The award is named after him.”
In a nomination letter to the head of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials (IAABO), Connelly wrote that Surgent is a “great kid, hard worker and has overcome some huge obstacles to play the game he really loves.”
Surgent underwent a heart surgery that was not only planned for years, but was expected since his birth. Born with aortic stenosis of the heart, or a valve disease that narrows the passage of the heart, Surgent was operated on immediately after his birth. He knew that a second surgery was imminent, though was unsure of when.
“I had it since I was born and in July of 2012 I had my second open heart surgery,” Surgent said. “It had to be done. When I was younger I was supposed to get it done, but the doctor said I could keep putting it off while the valve was working properly. Finally, they said I had to get it done with, so I did.”
Surgent spent six days at Boston’s Children’s Hospital, including 14 hours in intensive care following the procedure.
“We were nervous as hell the day of his surgery,” said his father, Mark Surgent.
“It was supposed to be at noon, so we got there at 9 a.m., but they had complications and didn’t even take him in until 5 p.m. He hadn’t eaten anything all day, but he never complained; he sat on his tablet and played computer games all night while he waited. Nothing fazes him.
“He gives 110 percent on everything that he does, is a member of the National Honor Society and the Tri-M Music Honor Society and we are very proud of him.”
While the surgery was difficult to endure, losing a year of high school basketball was tougher to handle for a kid who lived on the court.
“It wasn’t easy,” Surgent said.
“I wanted to keep on going and playing, but I knew that my heart wasn’t fully recovered, so I couldn’t. I still went to the games, though, and supported the team.”
His dedication to the sport and Amesbury, despite being kept off the court, was a focal point in his nomination for the award.
“He never complains,” Connelly’s nomination letter continued.
“He’s always at practice and games, and is the true embodiment of the phrase ‘team player.’”
While Surgent exhibited strong courage while fighting through the tough times, they didn’t cease upon his exit from the hospital. In fact, they were just beginning.
Playing basketball this year presented him with an array of emotional challenges: managing his heart condition while also playing with the intensity and fearlessness that varsity basketball demands.
“He played a little scared and nervous because he had all of that hanging over his head,” said Amesbury head coach Tom Comeau. “A funny story from this year came when one of our (junior varsity) kids was filming one of our games and doing commentary. Casey took a pretty good hit and the kid said, ‘Ah, don’t worry about it; he’s tough. He has a bionic heart now.’”
Though timid at first, Surgent worked to ensure that he was doing his part as well as he could.
His presence alone was something that the Amesbury program had missed.
“It was great to have him back,” Comeau said.
“He’s a competitive kid and that’s what you look for. You look for kids who want to play. When you see a kid like that competing every day, it really brings the whole team up.
“He competed in practice every day despite being the smallest kid on the team and he went out and fought every single night. He was our backup point guard so he played behind Pat Halloran, which was a tough spot to be in, but he pushed Pat the whole year in practice. Pat was a better player because of it. Casey served his role well.”
When Connelly informed Surgent’s parents of his nomination, it was kept a secret.
“Both of my parents text messaged me the day (Connelly) told them I got the award, but they wouldn’t tell me what it was for,” Surgent said.
“Tom came over and told me face-to-face what it was and they sat there with us when he told me. They were really happy about it.”
Surgent will accept his award at the IAABO banquet, which is scheduled for March 25 at the Danversport Yacht Club.
While his high school basketball career has ended, baseball is now just around the corner.
“I used to play first base, but I’m only 5 foot 4 inches tall, so they’re going to need someone a little taller,” he joked. “I typically play in the outfield.”
In terms of health, Surgent is fully healed and looking forward to what the coming years will bring.
“I am heading to college and want to major in accounting,” he said. “My top school that I want to go to is UMass Lowell.”