‘It’s still Josh’: Sidelined athlete looks ahead

A year ago, the Columbus community was stunned to learn Columbus North High School basketball standout Josh Speidel had suffered a traumatic brain injury and was fighting for his life after a Taylorsville car accident.

Today, he is taking college courses, working as an instructional assistant at an elementary school and continuing his physical and occupational therapy as he pursues fulfilling the dream of playing college basketball at the University of Vermont.

Speidel and his family are looking forward, not back. He will be spending the upcoming days with the basketball team at Vermont, where he signed a letter of intent to play basketball. He attended a couple of home games that spanned the accident date. He sat on the bench with the team after being granted a waiver by the NCAA.

“We’re going to be there and let Josh be with his team,” said his mother Lisa Speidel. “We’re getting closer to the dream, but it may look a little different right now.”

University of Vermont men’s basketball coach John Becker said the athletics program is looking forward to having the family visit, and especially the opportunity for Catamount fans to welcome Josh Speidel to Vermont.

He has attended a Vermont game at Purdue, and one in Florida, but this visit will be different, Becker said. The Catamount fans were among the Speidel family supporters through the past year, and Becker said he expects the ovation to welcome Josh Speidel to his college home will be heartfelt and loud.

“It’s still Josh,” he said. “He’s still that amazing and special kid we recruited — the resilience and determination is still there. He’s still got that personality. That never went away.”

After the accident, Becker flew through a snowstorm to Indianapolis to visit Josh and the Speidel family at IU Health Methodist Hospital. The coach has continued a long-distance, yet close relationship with them, he said.

The past year and his experience with the Speidel family has changed him as a coach, he said.

“I hope that I’ve become more compassionate, more empathetic to everyone,” he said. “I think of all that’s gone on in the past year. It started with Josh, we’ve had a kid transfer, a kid suspended, there’s been a lot. I think it’s taught me to just do what’s best for people,” he said. “That’s one of the best things that has come out of this for me — I’ve become a better coach on a human level. I’ve learned to invest and enjoy my players as people.”

Josh Speidel’s experience has reminded Becker to put things in perspective, he said.

“All of us get into our own lives and a lot of times we lose perspective of what we have,” he said. “It’s a reminder of how fragile things can be.”

In the year since the accident, Josh Speidel graduated from Columbus North High School, and this month began his college career. He is taking a student success course at Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus, along with an online English class, his mother said.

And similar to many college students, he is working part-time, about 12 to 15 hours a week as an instructional assistant in the fourth grade and kindergarten classrooms at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School in Seymour, where his mother, Lisa, is an assistant principal.

He often works with students who need extra support in learning a skill, Lisa Speidel said, something that her son has experienced through extensive physical and occupational therapy that continues today.

When he is on the bench at the Vermont games, Becker said just having him nearby makes the team feel more whole.

“It’s like how it was supposed to be,” Becker said. “He’s been one of us since he committed here. That’s the cool thing about team sports — it becomes a very selfless thing. He’s one of us. He’s been one of us since he committed here.”

Pull Quote

“I’ve become a better coach on a human level. I’ve learned to invest and enjoy my players as people.”

— Vermont men’s basketball coach John Becker

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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.