Nov. 13, 2015

By Curt Rallo

A lot of soul searching goes on when you’re told you have cancer.

Women’s basketball official Jon Hershberger doesn’t measure time in the same way he did before hearing that he was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, before he underwent a 16-and-a-half hour surgery, before he underwent four subsequent surgeries, and before he endured radiation treatments.

It’s a matter of making minutes matter far beyond the ticking of a clock.

On Saturday, Nov. 7, Hershberger experienced a moment that will always last with him.

On that day, Hershberger, a lifelong resident of nearby Bremen, Indiana, was invited to officiate the first period of Notre Dame’s women’s basketball exhibition game against Wayne State at Purcell Pavilion.

That moment etched perhaps the biggest check mark on Hershberger’s bucket list.

“That meant the world to me,” Hershberger said of officiating at a Notre Dame women’s basketball game. “I’m at a loss for words. It was very emotional.

“It was on my bucket list to work in front of Muffet McGraw, work in front of a crowd, and work at Notre Dame,” Hershberger said. “One of the officials I worked with was Bryan Enterline.

“When I got started at the college level, Bryan Enterline was one of my observers. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. There’s Bryan Enterline.’ To get that opportunity, to work with Bryan Enterline, that was special. He’s one of the top five officials in the country. To experience his pregame (routine), observe his demeanor … I soaked up every minute of his demeanor.”

Also on the crew that Hershberger worked with were Bob Enterline (Bryan’s brother) and Andrew Bills, who Hershberger has worked with numerous times.

McGraw said that she and the Irish were honored to be part of Hershberger’s moment in the Purcell Pavilion spotlight.

“Jon came out and officiated for us at some practice scrimmages. When someone mentioned that he wanted to ref the exhibition game, we thought it was a great idea.

“I told the team, ‘I know that you treat the officials well, but just know, that this one is really special, and we really want to honor him,'” McGraw said. “The team was very happy to take a part in this event. I think everybody was happy to be involved. I think the fans were great. I was happy we were able to do that for him.

“The life lessons are the important lessons, the ones that don’t have anything to do with basketball,” McGraw added. “Moments like these teach you how to appreciate what you have. They need to appreciate that they have so much. It’s really good for them to see what the struggle is that other people go through. Sometimes, you look at what you’re going through, and think, ‘Practice is hard,’ ‘I have to study,’ ‘I have such a long day,’ and then, you look at somebody battling cancer and doing amazing things while they’re going through chemotherapy. You just have to sit back and realize that you have a new perspective on life, and you can appreciate things more.”

Hershberger, who officiates women’s basketball at the NCAA and NAIA levels, attended a summer camp for officials conducted by Atlantic Coast Conference coordinator of women’s basketball officials Charlene Curtis.

“One of the reasons that this got started is that I was able to talk to Charlene Curtis at the camp,” Hershberger said. “She is also fighting this terrible disease. She and I have had many conversations on the phone, about her cancer, my cancer, the treatments that she’s gone through, what I’ve been through.”

Hershberger, who marked his fifth year as a cancer survivor in September, got started officiating basketball as a student at Bethel College in 1989.

“My buddy and I took a class on it at Bethel,” Hershberger said. “We had a chance to officiate elementary school games for $15 a game, and we jumped all over that.”

Hershberger also experienced a highly emotional moment last season, when he officiated the final game that involved Lauren Hill, a Mount St. Joseph University women’s basketball player who was suffering from terminal brain cancer. Hill, another Hoosier native who was born in Greendale, raised more than $1 million for pediatric cancer research, She passed away in April at the age of 19.

“Words cannot describe seeing that young girl go through what she went through, just to get to a game,” Hershberger said of Hill. “I got to share a few minutes with her after the game, and talk to her. To be part of that and to see it … was overwhelming.”

Hershberger said that he is also grateful to Notre Dame and McGraw for her assistance in helping his family this summer.

“I have a niece who has a nine-month-old child who has tumors around her brain,” Hershberger said. “She’s been to New York twice for surgery. Muffet donated items for an auction to help out.

“Notre Dame is a classy institution,” Hershberger said. “I can’t say enough about Notre Dame and what it means to me, and I only got to share a little part of it.”

Hershberger, who deals with pain and other cancer-related issues every day, isn’t sure what the next bucket list item will be, but he knows he will savor every moment life has to offer.

– ND –

Curt Rallo is a special correspondent for Fighting Irish Media and served as the South Bend Tribune’s women’s basketball beat writer from 2009-14, covering four of Notre Dame’s seven NCAA Final Four appearances, including national championship game berths in 2011, 2012 and 2014.