Support for Jablonski running far and deep

by Jim Boyle

“Spirit Rocks” that sit outside Rogers High School were put to a different use after an unknown person or persons painted a show of support last weekend for the injured Benilde-St. Margaret’s hockey player Jack Jablonski, who was paralyzed after being checked from behind on Dec. 30.

The rocks were previously painted by high school seniors to promote school spirit at the school, but this latest effort was a surprise to school officials, who decided that it was a good use of the rocks.

Spirit Rocks

“We don’t know who did it, and we haven’t looked into it because we’re not unhappy about it,” said Rogers High School Principal Roman Pierskalla. “We think it was done out of respect or recognition, and we’re alright with it.”

Whoever spray painted the rocks used Benilde St. Margaret’s school colors and encouraged Jack Jablonski to remain strong in the face of adversity.

Jablonski, a 16-year-old sophomore at Benilde St. Margaret’s, sustained a severe spinal cord injury from a check from behind that sent him headfirst into the boards.

The family of the paralyzed hockey player on Thursday of this past week called on parents, coaches and amateur governing bodies to teach safer ways to play and support stronger enforcement of penalties to help prevent the spinal-cord injury that devastated their son and initiated soul searching within the hockey community.

Mike and Leslie Jablonski, whose family has been awed by the outpouring of support and encouragement for Jack, held a press conference Jan. 12 to advocate change within the sport’s conflicting culture of skill and violence, hoping to create a safer environment for amateur players.

Doctors do not expect Jablonski to walk again after his spinal cord was severed Dec. 30 when he was checked from behind into the boards playing a junior varsity game for Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School.

Rogers High School spirit rocks have been transformed to support the injured skater from Benilde St. Margaret’s.

Also recovering at Hennepin County Medical Center is St. Croix Lutheran senior hockey player Jenna Privette, who does not have feeling below her waist after absorbing a check during a girls’ hockey game one week after Jablonski’s injury.

“We want it to be a safer sport,” Leslie Jablonski told reporters during a news conference at the hospital. “You have two teens lying upstairs that can’t move. We don’t want this to ever happen to somebody else again. It shouldn’t have happened. Shame on us.

“We’ve all seen how this sport has gone from skill to danger and violence. Now it’s time to do something. In Jack’s case, it’s too late, but it’s never too late to stop this in the future.”

The Jablonskis have named their initiative “Jack’s Pledge,” appealing to both USA Hockey and the Minnesota State High School League.  USA Hockey is the state and country’s foremost governing body for amateur hockey.

Both organizations have been asked to enforce boarding and checking-from-behind penalties as automatic majors instead of allowing referees discretion to call two- or five-minute infractions.

The MSHSL is already re-examining its checking rules and enforcement standards in the wake of the Jablonski tragedy and is expected to announce reforms soon.

The Jablonskis reported that Jack’s spirits remained high and that he was only starting to appreciate the groundswell of well-wishers who have flooded social media sites such as CaringBridge and Facebook.

Hanging on the walls of the HCMC media room were signed jerseys from 15 NHL teams, including one from Pittsburgh Penguins  superstar Sidney Crosby and a vintage Edmonton Oilers sweater autographed by Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky.

And in Rogers, spirit rocks are there to encourage him, too.