Nickels for Noland Brings Community Together in Support of Former Teacher

Sophia McKeown, Warhorse Editor-In-Chief

Back in late October of 2019, Nick Noland, a former Manitou Springs Middle School (MSMS) teacher, embarked on a journey that would bring forth tremendous obstacles, while at the same time drawing the Manitou community together in the face of tragedy. Noland was involved in a hiking accident while descending from 14,232-foot Mount Shavano, which resulted in a below-the-knee amputation of both his legs. The news of the incident spread around the entire town and caught the attention of fellow mountaineers and outdoorsmen all over the state. Although Noland is no longer a teacher at MSMS, many of the students at the high school were shaken by the news and reached out to him with words of love, encouragement and gratefulness. 

A few weeks after the incident occurred, the MSHS Student Council (StuCo) held a meeting in class to discuss upcoming fundraisers for the year. Many of the club’s members had been extremely close with Mr. Noland, and recalled all of the priceless lessons they had learned under his teaching.

“He’s the one who taught me how to play guitar,” said Ben Schwartz, the Senior Class Board Treasurer, “Guitar has really become the thing that helps me, and I can’t thank him enough.” Schwartz was one of many students at MSHS who empathized with Mr. Noland’s loss, especially knowing how much Noland loves every part of the outdoors and being active.

During another meeting in December, the students of MSHS StuCo decided that they would dedicate a week of school in mid-February to raise money and show support for their beloved teacher. Each year, StuCo typically holds a “Wish Week” fundraiser where the student body raises money for a terminally ill child in the Colorado Springs area. This year, the council decided to have a similar week called “Nickels For Noland”, consisting of dress-up days in school, dodgeball tournaments, a staff basketball game and a dance, all to raise money for Noland. The students sought to find a way to give back to their wonderful teacher as his physical loss also came with immense medical bills. Not only did the MSHS students raise money to contribute towards paying those hefty hospital fees, but they also provided Noland with an overwhelming tribute of love to get him through the difficult times.

With President’s Day on Monday and a snow day on Tuesday, the events of “Nickels for Noland” kicked off on Wednesday, February 19th, and packed each day of the short week. MSHS StuCo had organized dress-up days for each of the three days in order to encourage student body participation and spirit. The outfit themes were Skier/Snowboarder Day to represent Noland’s passion for the outdoors, followed by PJ Day which reflected Noland’s laid-back attitude and expressive personality, and lastly came “Dress Like Noland Day”, where students and teachers sported Noland’s classic socks-and-sandals look, accompanied by some tie-dye T-shirts and colorful bandanas.

Mr. Noland made an appearance at the high school assembly on Wednesday, where he shared a heartwarming speech of gratitude with the entire student body and faculty. Many students and teachers had reached out to Noland when the accident first happened to share their condolences, however, this was the first time Noland was able to speak face to face with such a large amount of his previous students and faculty friends. Noland was joined by his two young kids, Will and Ben, as they held his hand while he addressed a crowd of loving high schoolers. He began by speaking on his accident and recalling the gruesome struggles of that day, along with the incredibly difficult healing process that followed. However, as Mr. Noland spoke to hundreds of his previous students and felt their emotion and sympathy radiate throughout the gym, he recognized the main source of happiness that has come as a result of the injury. “My students have inspired me to live to my fullest in the face of tragedy,” said Noland, “the response from the Manitou Family overwhelmed me.”

The Mustang students left the assembly feeling inspired to continue Noland’s cycle of courage and kindness throughout the upcoming events. The high schoolers put extra cash and loose change in a bucket at the front office to raise money, one student contributed $100 of their own money towards the fundraiser. During advisory (a few minutes of each school day where students have free time to work on schoolwork or catch up with peers), the Mustangs piled into the gym once again to participate in a school-wide dodgeball tournament. Each dodgeball team paid a fee to participate, and the winning team got a large box of donuts to enjoy before class. The Manitou Springs Police and Fire Department also joined the tournament with their own team and donated a generous amount towards the fundraiser. 

On Friday night, a crowd of rowdy fans filled the bleachers of the high school as MSHS and MSMS staff members warmed up for a Staff vs. Staff basketball game. The StuCo students recruited a team of the most willing, capable and spirited staff members to compete in a wildly exciting basketball game against Harrison High School’s staff team. Noland’s wife, Maggie, is a teacher at Harrison, and it only made sense that the two schools came together in a friendly match for a great cause (and a few laughs). A group of supportive Harrison students traveled to MSHS to witness the game, creating an atmosphere of liveliness and school pride. Members of both the Harrison and Manitou community donated money at the door to get into the game, as well as purchased raffle tickets for a prize drawing at halftime. Manitou’s student section went wild as their favorite teachers dropped three-pointers and dribbled up and down the court. On top of a Manitou staff victory, the game was complete with the appearance of Noland and his family, who once again shared their thankfulness with the crowd. 

The week of fundraisers ended Saturday night with a high school dance, where the students joined their peers in a night of fun and shared many memories of their favorite teacher: Mr. Noland. A huge banner that read “We Love Noland” was draped across the trophy case for the students to see as they paid the dance entry fee to remind them where their contributions were going. 

I remember having Mr. Noland as a teacher for two years in middle school. There were often times I would walk into Honors English class at 8 a.m. to find Mr. Noland sitting cross-legged on the floor with gold sunglasses on, strumming away at his guitar and teaching students his favorite song lyrics. He showed us what an immersive education could truly look like, even if it was unconventional. In fact, he taught us that being unconventional, unique or different was perfect as long as you did so with love for others. Noland’s tragedy pained every individual who shared the great experience of knowing such a wonderful person. However, the Manitou community knows that a Mustang will never go through troubled times alone and that adversity is simply a chance to bring us closer together. Mr. Noland instilled a spirit in the kids of this community that eventually fostered a group of well educated, confident, loving people to continue his curiosity and passion for life. On behalf of the students of Manitou Springs, thank you for all that you have done for us. I hope that we make you proud.