Donations from well-wishers near $35,000

The #JoshStrong theme is resonating with many people who have never met Columbus North’s Josh Speidel but want to reach out to help the senior and his family.

In just three days, donations to help the critically injured teen and his family were nearing $35,000 as of midafternoon Wednesday and showed no sign of slowing down.

From $5 and $10 donations from kids and classmates to a stunning $10,000 donation from an Indianapolis businessman Wednesday, Speidel’s story is touching hearts.

Speidel, who is North’s all-time leading scorer in boys basketball, has been in a medically induced coma since Sunday night, when he suffered a skull fracture and a broken jaw in a car accident near Taylorsville. Having undergone a procedure to reduce pressure on his brain, Speidel is listed in critical but stable condition in the intensive care unit at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

Fundraising efforts for the Speidel family began just hours after the accident, when Columbus North senior Kierston White set up a gofundme.com site to help pay Speidel’s medical expenses.

“I thought how his family was paying for everything, and I know that Josh will make it through this,” she said. “So I put it up online at about 11 p.m. Sunday.

At first, donations trickled in — $5 here, $10 there — along with wishes that Speidel would stay strong and recover.

But then the site went viral, after WFNI Indianapolis radio show host and former Indiana University basketball player and coach Dan Dakich mentioned it on the air Monday and again Tuesday.

WFNI program director Greg Rakestraw described it as a spur-of-the-moment thing, with Dakich doing his show from Madison, Wisconsin, where the Badgers were hosting Indiana in men’s basketball. Dakich’s son Andrew, a sophomore from Zionsville on the Michigan basketball squad, played for Indiana Elite in AAU basketball, as Speidel did.

By Tuesday, Dan Dakich was telling listeners, “Let’s raise some money.”

Dakich was auctioning tickets to accompany him to an IU game, a chance to play basketball with former Pacers center Rik Smits on his home gym court, a round of golf with former IU basketball player Steve Risley and tickets to Friday’s Indiana Pacers game against the Cavaliers.

The last half of Dakich’s show turned into a pledge telethon, with Dakich saying he would mention the names of everyone who donated to the #JoshStrong site on the air and proceeded to recite 50 names.

Donations by the hundreds poured in on the site, leading White to tweet Dakich to thank him.

“I told him we needed more people like him,” she said. Dakich tweeted back, thanking her for starting the fund.

This was the lead-in to Tuesday night’s fundraising efforts at Columbus North, where a pasta dinner raised $8,601 for the family.

North fans were particularly touched when Hamilton Southeastern’s basketball team, North’s opponent Tuesday night, bought “#JoshStrong” T-shirts for the entire team and wore them as warmups before the game.

Before the game started, Hamilton Southeastern’s senior captain Tyler Janney presented $500 to help the Speidel family, raised among Hamilton Southeastern basketball parents just hours before the game.

“This touches everybody,” Hamilton Southeastern co-athletic director Greg Habegger said. “These parents all have kids who drive.”

Habegger mentioned that Janney’s presentation was particularly poignant in that Janney has played AAU on competing teams with Speidel since the two were in fourth or fifth grade.

“We just hope to hear good things soon about Josh,” Habegger said.

The “#JoshStrong” T-shirts being sold by North’s athletics department sold out at Tuesday night’s game and raised several thousand dollars for the Speidel family.

At Community Church of Columbus, Pastor Chuck Coleman said about a dozen gasoline gift cards have been donated in various denominations, and he continues to take them to the hospital to give to the family.

“I hope they will see these donations as an encouragement,” Coleman said.

Donations began picking up speed on the gofundme site, including a $250 donation from a high school basketball referee who challenged all referees in Indiana to support Speidel’s family.

As social media continued to buzz with information about Speidel and the fundraising efforts, White’s gofundme site for Speidel’s family took a huge jump with a $10,000 donation late Wednesday morning.

Bill Warren, 73, who owns DirectEmployers Association in Indianapolis, made the donation with the notation, “I wish for a total recovery for Josh.”

Warren, who lives in Avon, said he doesn’t know Josh Speidel or his family.

“I was just touched by it,” he said. “I can’t imagine what his parents are going through. It just touched my heart.”

Saying he had a son himself, he added that the circumstances the Speidels face had to be rough on the family.

“I would have given more if I could,” he said.

How to help

If you are interested in donating online to the #joshstrong site, go to gofundme.com and type in Josh Speidel in the search area. The site will appear at the top of the list.

Community Church of Columbus, 3850 N. Marr Road, is collecting gasoline gift cards for the Speidel family to ease the cost of traveling to and from Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. The gift cards may be dropped off at the church between 8 a.m. and noon and 1 and 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 8 a.m. and noon Fridays. For more information, call 812-376-9478.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.