The heart at home.

Photo from Columbus North High School Student Body President @Vince_Grana
Photo from Columbus North High School Student Body President @Vince_Grana

One of the best parts about my job as a journalist is being able to meet all kinds of different people; hear their stories; their struggles and triumphs. In the mix, I often end up in spots I wouldn’t normally be.

A few weeks ago, I was in a flower shop, talking to a man as he made corsages. He had a stack of “about 50” corsages and boutonnieres to make for a local school’s winter formal the following day. As I watched, I remembered my high school dances, my dates (very rare), and that oh-so-awkward moment of exchanging corsages and boutonnieres — I always made my mom pin it on the guy.

“I’ve kept all of my corsages,” I admitted. He gave me the one-eyebrow.

“Seriously?” he asked.

Yes, of course I had. Those were moments I treasured. Sometimes, thinking about the past really gets in my way. When I find myself drifting back, I attempt to put the thoughts away, and focus on the present. Don’t keep living in the past, right?

What’s interesting about my bouts of reminiscing, is that of course, I hated everything when it was happening. Growing up in Columbus, Indiana was so lame at the time — though I did enjoy cruising on country roads.

To me, to us, Columbus didn’t have a clue. There was a bigger world outside of “The Bus” and I was going to find it, conquer it, and never look at Columbus again. But when I moved to Louisiana, I quickly realized the things I took for granted.

At Columbus North High School, I got a fantastic education. One that would cost a Baton Rougean thousands of dollars (seriously). At a school where I felt like I didn’t really fit in, I got plenty of opportunities to express myself — through dance, through the school newspaper, and through freedom of dress.

When I moved, I quickly missed the comforts of Columbus’ chain restaurant diet — Steak n’ Shake and Red Lobster were top on my list. And did you know that more people cram themselves into the Columbus North gym to see the Bulldogs play ball than at Louisiana State University?

I wasn’t sure if it was just the corsages that brought on my memories; after all, I’ve thought a lot about what it was like to be “young” lately, perhaps it’s just my looming 30th birthday. But then I caught a glance of #JoshStrong on my Twitter feed.

From my trail of research, I gathered that one of our own, a Columbus North High School senior, Josh Speidel, was severely injured in a car crash. At the time of this writing, Speidel has been in the hospital for five days, asleep, as the doctors attempt to keep his brain from swelling.

Though there haven’t been many details released about the crash, or his injuries, I know that scenario all too well. As a Columbus North High School student, I got phone calls with bad news too many times.

During those times of loss or stress, pre-social media, we did anything possible to deal with our grief. We wrote on tree stumps and sidewalks. We wore matching t-shirts at the big game. We asked the announcer for moments of silence.

Facebook appeared when I was a freshman in college, and it changed my college experience. I have always wondered what it’s been like for youth in this social-media age. High school was tough enough without crafting status updates and posting Friday night photo albums.

But when I see #JoshStrong, a hashtag I’ve been obsessively following, I see my hometown rising up, rallying behind Speidel and his family. It’s a sight that — even from afar — gives me chills. Naturally, Speidel’s friends and family have taken to social media to post their thoughts, and any medical updates on his current state.

But it’s more than that.

From what I’ve read, Speidel is that guy. You know the one. The basketball star (he currently holds the record for scoring), good in school, all-around good guy. He’s the kind of guy I totally would have crushed on in high school, just hoping for a wave in the hallway that I’d dream about for weeks.

A verbal-commit for Vermont, his future team and coach sent him a get well message that went viral. Then, Columbus North students put together a pasta dinner in the school cafeteria to raise money for his medical bills — raising more than $8,000.

Then there was the game against Hamilton Southeastern — the first game the Bulldogs would play without their star. And Hamilton Southeastern showed up wearing Speidel’s number. Even the hometown rival, Columbus East, wore blue (Bulldog colors) in support of North. The cheerleaders got the whole gym in a “Josh Strong” chant.

It’s not a moment I’ve seen at a college game.

It’s made me think a lot about my hometown; a place that’s somehow risen above a significant amount of loss over the years. I sure would trade a lot to spend another Friday night in that gym, for the big game against East.

To CNHS, if you’re reading this, I know everyone is telling you not to grow up quite so fast. And maybe, you’re thinking of leaving and never looking back. Getting out there is good, but I know you’ll miss something about it once you’ve jumped on 65, or hit the hills for Bloomington.

So before you go, get one more pineapple-Sprite from Zaharako’s. Sink your heals into the midnight sand at the Marina. Cruise Washington, windows down, at sunset. Tell me you don’t fall in love.

Columbus ain’t bad. But I realized it ten years too late. I’m really hoping Speidel makes it out okay. I want to know what it’s like when he sees how he’s affected his town for the better. #JoshStrong is what happens when hearts of children rally for one of their own.

That is love.

Contribute to the Speidel family here


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