Eldon residents are rallying behind an Eldon High School student seriously injured at football practice this week.
Hunter Bushnell, a junior, severely injured his neck during practice Wednesday afternoon. Since then, Mid-Missourians in Eldon and across the Tri-County Conference held fundraisers after the injury to help Bushnell's family pay for medical expenses.
EHS Head Football Coach Shannon Jolley said the injury occurred during a normal special teams drill. Bushnell collided with another player and took a blow to the head and neck area, Jolley said.
Bushnell was paralyzed from the chest down when he was released from surgery. Doctors are waiting several days until swelling goes down to determine whether the paralysis is permanent.
"He's in stable condition. His spirits are pretty high," Jolley said. "He's continuing to show improvement. He's looking forward to rehabilitation."
He said there have been too many fundraisers to count to help the family pay for medical expenses. The school held a collection during a volleyball game Thursday between Eldon and Osage. Collections were also taken during Friday night's Homecoming football game.
Other schools throughout the Tri-County Conference already held and are offering to hold fundraisers to help Bushnell's family, as well.
"Everybody in the community has stepped up and offered to see which way they can help," Jolley said. "In a small community, there's a lot of people that are close to Hunter and his family. So I think it's natural that everyone is aware of the situation and willing to step up."
Jolley said coach and emergency medical personnel handled proper protocols after the injury. Bushnell was transported to the hospital, where doctors found he had a broken C5 vertebrae. He had successful surgery to repair damage Wednesday night.
"Nothing can prepare you for what our staff has been through over the last couple days," Jolley said. "We felt like Hunter was put in the best situation he can be considering the circumstances."
EHS Athletic Director Steve Henderson said collections will be taken at every home athletic event throughout the rest of the year. Henderson said the goal is to raise as much money as they can to help Bushnell and his family.
Sarah Rader, Eldon Board of Education treasurer and manager of business services, said a T-shirt fundraiser will take place next week. Gold "Backing Bushy" shirts with Bushnell's football number, 13, and the school's maroon mustang emblazoned on the front are selling on the school's Facebook page for $10 through Wednesday.
Eldon businesses like American Family Insurance and Bailey's Ice Cream Shoppe, which donated $1 for every waffle cone sold Friday, also held fundraisers for Bushnell.
Rader said California High School held a fundraiser for Bushnell and other conference schools have even sent video messages of support.
"It is a football family, even if we are all rivals," Rader said.
Rader described Bushnell as a well-liked student interested in architecture who also wrestles and plays in the high school band.
An account has been opened at Central Bank's Eldon branch in Bushnell's name. Donations to that account can be dropped off at any Central Bank branch or mailed to the Central Bank Eldon branch at 611 E. North St. in Eldon. Donations should be labeled "to the benefit of Hunter Bushnell."
Jolley said his team is usually close but the accident strengthened their bond. Bushnell's teammates have been praying for him since Wednesday, he said.
"Our kids do a good job of staying behind each other, period," Jolley said. "In this unfortunate situation, it's just normal for your bond to become tighter."