EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack River tragedy: Five years later

December 12, 2007

Drowning survivor, Francis Spraus, turns his young life around


Francis is a competitive player who hates to lose a game or miss a basket. Even when coaches are yelling at him during practice, he just wants to work harder.

“Then I know the guy cares,” Francis said. “I would rather have him scream than not notice.”

His eighth-grade coach, Steve Kelly, said Francis was someone who never missed a practice, someone the other students loved to play with, because he worked so hard.

Kelly said Francis worked hard at school, too, despite struggling to catch up after falling behind in his fourth-grade year, the year his friends drowned.

Students have to keep their grades up to play for the Boys and Girls Club.

“He was the first one at study hour to get his books out," Kelly said. "Other kids saw him and thought that’s the way it’s done.”

Francis wasn’t always so serious about school.

When he was in fifth grade, he used to ask for a bathroom pass during school, then wander the halls.

Lauren Godbout was teaching and saw him making faces outside her classroom one day.

“It's Francis,” the kids told her. When she opened the door, he froze and ran away.

She had him the next year in her reading class, where he struggled. He was stubborn and emotional. He wasn’t going to do his work if he didn’t want to. She wondered how he would make it through sixth grade.

But then he gained focus.

He voluntarily went to summer school before seventh grade to get his grades up.

"He did a 180 in seventh grade," Godbout said. "He stayed after school every day with me to do his homework because he said he wanted to go to college."

She described him as the type of kid with the determination to do anything once he wants it. He hated mornings so much he would sometimes come to school in his slippers.

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