2014-01-30 / Front Page

Area residents rally support for injured hockey player

Staff Writer

Monroe Township High School’s Mike Nichols skates on the ice during a game last year. Nichols is recovering from a neck injury that he received during a Jan. 4 game at Skylands Ice World in Sussex County. 
ROY DEBOER Monroe Township High School’s Mike Nichols skates on the ice during a game last year. Nichols is recovering from a neck injury that he received during a Jan. 4 game at Skylands Ice World in Sussex County. ROY DEBOER Financial and emotional support from across North America is reaching the Nichols family of Monroe Township after their son sustained a serious neck injury during an ice hockey game Jan. 4.

Michael Nichols, a 17-year-old forward for the Monroe Falcons and a senior at Monroe Township High School, sustained a fracture to the C5 vertebra in his neck during a game against Vernon High School. He was airlifted from Skylands Ice World, Sussex County, to Morristown Medical Center, where he underwent surgery and continues to recover from his injury.

“So many people know the Nichols family, and a ton of the support is coming just from how much they love this family,” said Michelle Ross, who is organizing the various efforts to support the family.

“In Monroe Township, this is just what we do for our neighbors. We are a familyoriented community, and we just rally around who needs help.”

Most of the fundraisers, which range from T-shirt sales to hockey games, are brought together under the banner “Pray for Mikey 23,” a Facebook page that references his jersey number and has more than 4,000 followers.

“Almost every hockey player I have seen in the last two weeks is wearing a No. 23 sticker on their helmet,” Ross said. “Nearly every organized hockey game in the last two weeks either charged gate fees that went to the Nichols family or held 50/50 raffles. It’s everywhere.”

According to Ross, much of the awareness of Mike’s injury and the subsequent fundraising efforts has spread via social media. A search for the Twitter hashtag, #PrayForMikey, yields dozens of messages of support on the social network.

“There are endless messages on Facebook and in our email from families who have experienced a similar injury with a loved one,” Ross said. “They keep sending inspirational stories of those who were told they would never walk again and now they’re walking, of those in a wheelchair but they’re happy and back to work. There is still a wonderful life to live, and this support makes sure that the family and Mikey know that there’s a good, happy future.”

The player’s injury has resonated with communities across North America, with hockey teams and hockey parent associations as far away as Canada reaching out to offer words of encouragement to the Nichols family.

“The outpouring of support and love for Mike and our family from everyone — which includes not only our friends and family, but our local community, the school system, local businesses and the national hockey community — has been nothing short of remarkable,” Mike’s parents, Steve and Christine Nichols, said in a statement.

“There are no words to express our sincere gratitude to everyone that has supported us in this very difficult time. It truly brings a ray of sunshine even during our darkest hours and makes each day so much easier to face.”

Several of Mike’s friends launched an online fundraising campaign on GiveForward.com after they heard about his injury. The fund, “#PrayForMikey,” has collected over $71,000 thus far to assist the Nichols family. “We originally set the goal to be $1,500, and we raised it in about 45 minutes,” said Kennedy Nazario, a friend of Mike and a Monroe Township High School senior. “Within three days, we raised $40,000.”

The fundraising goal is increased every few days as donations from across New Jersey come in and is now up to $100,000.

According to Kennedy, the goal will be increased each time it is met until May, when the fundraiser reaches the maximum length of time it can be active on the site.

“We don’t know what the family is going to need yet,” Ross said. “They pray that Mike [recovers and] doesn’t need the funds and they can donate it to spinal cord research. Either way, it won’t go to waste and it will go to a good cause.”

Kennedy also plans to create a scrapbook with the comments and words of encouragement left for Mike on the fundraiser page and on social media.

According to Kennedy, organizations such as the National Hockey League and the 2010 Olympics ice hockey team have donated items that will eventually be raffled off.

“This shook everybody — every hockey player and parent — and doing these things is a healing process for us as well,” Ross said. “These are high school athletes, tough guys — and they are breaking down in tears. This is their teammate, their friend and their buddy. … I can’t even put into words how incredibly special Mike is.”

For information on future fundraisers and for updates on Mike’s recovery, visit www.monroefalconshockey.com.

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