Rogers, Over and Out: Cancer can’t keep Brunswick’s Herron from Senior Night start

Rogers, Over and Out

By Tim Rogers

The smile. It’s the first thing you notice when he sticks out his hand and says, “Hi, I’m Josh.”

Joe Mackey has been through countless Senior Nights during his playing and coaching career.

All will pale in comparison to Friday when Brunswick honors this year’s seniors prior to Mackey’s basketball team playing Shaker Heights.

JJH_RogersTake it from me, this Senior Night will be unforgettable. It will be emotional and heart-warming. It will be an evening that bores into everyone’s soul and delivers a hard right cross of perspective.

It will be that kind of night, not only for Mackey, but for the Brunswick community and a very special kid by the name of Joshua Paul Herron and his family.

Through a promise Mackey made earlier this season, Herron will make his first start for the Brunswick basketball team. He will be introduced as a starter and undoubtedly will receive a standing ovation. He deserves it.

“I promised him that if he promised to get better I would start him on Senior Night of his senior year,” said Mackey. “It was the least I could do. He has been a part of this team for the last three years. He came up through our youth program. He is a great kid from a great family. I wanted him around, no matter the capacity. He’s that kind of kid.”

Herron probably would not have been a starter on this talented team. He would have been a significant contributor with ample playing time though.

In a perfect world, Herron would be celebrating three seasons of playing varsity basketball. He would be celebrating three seasons of playing alongside his pals Mike Quiring, Zach Cebula and Aaron Badowski. Those guys have been together since the third grade, playing football, baseball and basketball. They are as much a part of the Brunswick landscape as Mapleside Farms.

Perfect worlds are rare and no one knows that better than Herron, his family and Mackey. Cancer, and all that goes with it, took care of that.

After experiencing some discomfort a little more than three years ago, Herron had surgery to remove what was originally diagnosed as a benign tumor in his right leg. The diagnosis took a turn for the worse in the following months. He was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of cancer that attacks the larger bones in the body. It robbed him of a playing baseball and basketball, the two sports he loves the most.

Then, came a broken leg suffered last year. Followed by a splenectomy in May. So, that’s four major surgeries in a little less than three years. Four long and arduous recoveries. Four instances when you wondered what else could go wrong.

None of that robbed Herron of his courage, character and the ever-present smile he wears practically 24/7. The smile.

It’s the first thing you notice when he sticks out his hand and says, “Hi, I’m Josh.”

It is the smile of a winner. It is the smile of a kid who refused to give up. The smile of a kid who has fought this ghastly disease with every ounce of courage his body could muster.

That’s why this Senior Night will be memorable.

Talking with Herron you’d never guess he’s faced more adversity than most athletes his age, until he starts talking about the diagnoses, the biopsies, the surgeries, the chemo treatments, the nausea, the pains, the fears and uncertainties, the hair loss and the disappointment of being confined to the sidelines.

Or, until he reveals the surgical scar on the inside of his right leg, just below the knee. Then you begin to understand what this 18-year-old athlete has battled and overcome since that day in January of 2013 when he was diagnosed.

Herron talks of his experience matter-of-factly. He explains what happened without remorse, without self-pity and without anger. He seeks no sympathy.

“I didn’t want to sit home feeling sorry for myself,” he says of his ordeal. “That’s not the way I was raised.”

Herron’s recovery is ongoing. After so many setbacks he is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not an oncoming train.

“I feel good,” he said earlier this week. “I can feel myself getting better every day. My endurance is getting stronger.”
Herron said Mackey holds a special place in his life.

“He has been there for me the whole time,” Herron says of his coach. “He has been more a part of this and what he means to me more than he’ll ever know. His support and the support of the team has been incredible.”

With the physical side of the game taken away, Herron turned to the mental aspect. He became an assistant coach of sorts, running film sessions, making suggestions and doing a little scouting. He has become a student of the game and knows almost as much about various teams in the area as he does his own. He drove to Massillon on Tuesday to watch Archbishop Hoban – a possible tournament opponent – and Tuslaw.

“His input has been invaluable,” said Mackey. “He really helps out.”

Sitting with Mackey and Herron you get the idea this is not an ordinary coach-player relationship. They seem more like friends or associates. It is no wonder that Herron wants to become a high school teacher and coach. He has been accepted to Baldwin-Wallace, where he intends to pitch and study education.

It has been a special season for the Blue Devils. Their record stands at 17-4. They have been voted the top-seeded team in the Division I sectional/district based at Copley. A victory over Shaker will give them an outright Greater Cleveland Conference championship, the first time Brunswick has won an outright basketball title since 1966, or 31 years before this year’s crop of seniors were born.

But, for Herron and his family, for Mackey and the rest of the Brunswick community, the special season is about to become REALLY special. If you are around Brunswick High on Friday night you might want to drop by the gymnasium and take in the atmosphere when No. 15 is introduced. It will do your heart wonders.

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