Mishawaka's Ron Hecklinski using organ donation experience for good

NOW: Mishawaka’s Ron Hecklinski using organ donation experience for good

MISHAWAKA, Ind. - It’s only Ron Hecklinski’s second season coaching at The Cave in Mishawaka, but he’s been around the game for far longer.

“I’ve been a high school basketball coach maybe for 40 years," he said before Thursday practice. "I’ve done this since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.”

And Hecklinski knows more than turns of phrase. He knows just what he wants from his teams, and the specific style of play he prefers.

“I love teaching defense," he smiled. "That’s right up my alley, man. I like guys that get after it.”

"He really teaches discipline," said senior guard Sam Shively, pointing to the scoreboard reminding them of the 43-25 victory over St. Joseph (MI) the night before. “You can see we only gave up 25 points last game, and that’s because of our discipline on defense.”

But one thing Hecklinski also knows is the bigger picture.

“Athletics is outstanding. It’s wonderful, but obviously through athletics you have the opportunity to touch a lot of people’s lives and that’s what we try to do.”

That’s what he's preached for the past two decades – since the time his own life needed saving.

“The doctor mentioned liver transplant to me," Hecklinski recalled. "I said ‘Woah, I’m an athlete! I’ll run two more miles every day or I’ll spend another hour in the weight room if I have to. I can fix this."

That was 22 years ago, and Hecklinski did need a liver transplant to treat the same rare condition (primary sclerosing cholangitis) that claimed the life of bears running back Walter Payton.

He got one, and ever since, he’s continued building a career in the sport he loves.

He’s crossed paths with hoops legends like John Wooden and Morgan Wooten. He’s coached the likes of LeBron James in All-American games, and countless others in the everyday high school game.

But he's never forgotten who allowed all that to happen.

“My donor was a 19-year-old student at the University of Kentucky," Hecklinski said. "Every day when I get up in the morning, I’m very thankful. I’m thankful for the medical technology, I’m thankful for my donor, and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”

Now that opportunity lies in his ability to help others.

Saturday’s Organ Donation Classic – featuring eight different teams – is just the latest effort of his to repay that ultimate act of kindness.

“One of my favorite sayings is ‘Don’t take your organs to heaven. Heaven knows we need them here.' It’s a huge cause and it’s a great opportunity for people to continue to leave a legacy.”

And while this weekend focuses on a cause close to this coach’s heart, the result is hopefully teaching these teens how their platform can be used to make a difference.

“[It's mentioned] every day and it’s not just him. It’s all the coaches," said Shively. "They talk about the little things in life. Doing the little things and the bigger things will happen.”

“Obviously we’re competitors," Hecklinski added. "We want to get out there and compete. But the real scope of these games is really to touch people’s lives.”


January 19 at Mishawaka HS

2 p.m. – Mishawaka vs. South Bend Clay (Girls)

4 p.m. – South Bend Adams vs. Indianapolis Scecina (Boys)

6 p.m. – Edwardsburg (MI) vs. Marian (Boys)

8 p.m. – Mishawaka vs. Lakeland (Boys)

$7 advance tickets, $8 at the door. Tickets are good for all games. Proceeds will be donated to the Indiana Donor Network.

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