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A world of support rallies behind Jabby

01/05/2012, 10:39pm CST
By Kelly Smith, Star Tribune

Around the globe, supporters wore white for hockey player Jack Jablonski as sobering extent of his injuries became clear.


Two Benilde-St. Margaret's students hugged in the hallway Thursday in front of signs that students made.

High school hallways were a sea of white on Thursday from Minnetonka to Hibbing. Students from Louisiana to Massachusetts and Ohio all reported online that they, too, were wearing white.

It was part of a nationwide and global outpouring of support for high school hockey player Jack Jablonski, 16, who learned this week that doctors don't think he will ever walk or skate again.

Following the lead of his school, Benilde-St. Margaret's, students wore white shirts Thursday to honor "Jabby." Thousands of supporters -- some from as far away as England and Australia -- left messages on Twitter and Facebook, or changed their profile photo to an icon with his jersey No. 13.

As of Thursday evening, more than 38,000 people had liked his Facebook page; his CaringBridge site has had more than 200,000 views. "Never seen anything take over Facebook," read one message.

"It's so amazing to see our community come together for this one kid," said Orono High School junior Allie Hirschberg, who doesn't know Jablonski but was moved to organize a T-shirt and wristband fundraiser at her school.

"He must be an amazing person."

At his St. Louis Park school, the record of callers offering to help have filled 10 pages in a notebook. One call came from a Twin Cities family who said all they could afford to send was $50. Another was a New Mexico teen wanting to express his sadness and hope.

"If it's bringing us to tears you have to imagine what it's done for the family. It's really something," Benilde spokeswoman Melenie Soucheray said.

A T-shirt fundraiser is scheduled for this weekend, and organizers hope a pond hockey tournament Jan. 14 will also help the family's medical costs. The Minneapolis Storm hockey association has also created "Jack's Pledge" stickers that players will wear as commitments to safer play.

Jablonski was injured Dec. 30 during a junior varsity tournament game against Wayzata when he was checked from behind and crashed head first into the boards. After surgery on Wednesday, his doctors said it's "very unlikely" that he'll have use of his hands and that he will be unable to walk or use his legs.

Zack Hale, a close friend of Jablonski's and fellow Benilde hockey player, said the national and global outreach will help not just him but his teammates who are also struggling with the tragedy.

"I hope he sees the impact he's making," Hale said. "It's going to be a long road for him."

'Jabs is my hero'

Thursday's so-called whiteout started at Benilde, where students flooded the hallways wearing white T-shirts painted in red with messages such as "Stay strong" and "Jabs is my hero." Classmates hugged in the hallway around a canvas banner also painted in the red and white school colors by an art class and filled with signatures of students and staff.

Some students drew Jablonski's No. 13 on their car windows.

And, the two students organizing the pond hockey tournament on Lake Minnetonka for next weekend hope they will raise more than $10,000 for the family.

"I'm so proud of the community," Benilde President Bob Tift said.

While the tragedy has made the school atmosphere somber, they said it's also strengthened and united Benilde, the larger hockey community -- and beyond.

It brought 2011 Benilde grad Carter Rodman back to his alma mater, drawn to help the teen he didn't know by getting a jersey signed by the hockey team at Minnesota State University, Mankato and videotaping messages from Benilde classmates for Jablonski as he recovers in his hospital room. He said he also plans to organize a benefit concert featuring local bands and hip hop groups.

"Jack has brought us closer together," he said. "That could be your next door neighbor, that could be your son."

A community rallies

It was that point that hit home for hockey dad Paul Sharp of Wayzata. He said his son's youth-league team planned to sell 300 T-shirts this weekend at a youth hockey tournament in Owatonna. But then word spread. Another 250 shirts were ordered and now, they're planning for thousands more.

"Our goal is to get every hockey player in the state wearing these shirts," Sharp said. "It's close to home what happened to Jack. This could happen to anybody."

Among the well-wishers who stopped by Jablonski's room at Hennepin County Medical Center on Thursday was University of Minnesota police officer Brett Solei, who played goalie at Elk River High School and for the Gophers from 2004 to 2008. Jablonski was resting, so Solei left a note and a U police patch.

"The hockey community is such a small community and everybody knows what's going on and everybody's friends with each other," Solei said. "When something happens in our little community, everybody is touched and I wanted to go over and let the family know we're all thinking about Jack."

Staff writer Curt Brown contributed to this report. kelly.smith@startribune.com • 612-673-4141

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