Bureau County Sports

Jason Hecht inspires daughters to never give up

Mckenzie and Jason Hecht share a game of 1 on 1 on the family driveway hoop at Bryant Woods in Princeton. Mckenzie has found her dad to be a source of inspiration having overcome losing an eye to a fireworks accident in high school and continue to play sports.

If Mckenzie, Addie and Makayla Hecht ever become discouraged or frustrated about how their sports and games are going, they just need to only think of their dad’s life journey.

Jason Hecht was a promising athlete coming up at Morris High School. He had speed, quickness and a lot of “hops” with his exceptional jumping ability.

The summer going into his sophomore year, 1990, Hecht lost his right eye to a devastating fireworks accident. He nearly lost his left eye, but doctors were able to save it.

Hecht never felt sorry for himself, persevered, made the best of the situation, and most importantly, never gave up on himself.

He received numerous achievement, determination and sportsmanship recognition from the Morris coaching staff.

“It was a challenge. I never gave up. Still played all three sports, basketball, track and football,” Hecht said. “It definitely was a bit of a setback. One of biggest things was the challenge of the confidence level that you had in yourself.”

Morris’ senior class of 1993 was stacked with Division I talent, including future football players at Michigan State, Iowa and Northern Illinois. Another, Kelly Dransfeldt, one of Hecht’s lifelong friends, went on to play baseball at the University of Michigan and nine years professionally, including parts of four years in the major leagues.

Dransfeldt says Hecht was right there with them all.

“He was one of the purest athletes in our class to come through and we had a lot of them. He was probably the best athlete in our class and we had a lot of good ones,” Dransfeldt said.

“You never heard Jason say one thing about, ‘Why me. Or I can’t do this, I can’t do that.’ He was always the first one to practice. He was always the one running the hardest. It was almost like, ‘Alright, I’ll show you.’ Kind of had that mentality. It was pretty impressive.”

Dransfeldt, who resides in his hometown Morris, and Hecht were in each other’s weddings and remain close friends.

Hecht has no regrets looking back.

“I definitely left on a high note,” said Hecht, who learned how to drive with one eye. “Didn’t leave disappointed at all. I never looked back. I gave it a 110% effort.”

Hecht has used his trials and tribulations as words of encouragement and advice for his three athletic daughters, especially to always “fight through adversity.”

“One of the things they’re sick of me saying is always be coachable, and have a good attitude and effort. Those are the three must haves and everything falls into place if you have those things,” he added.

Mckenzie, a two-time BCR Female Athlete of the Year graduating this year, finds her dad’s story most inspiring.

“It inspires me to push myself even on the days I’m not feeling it. Show up on the days giving 100 percent effort,” she said.

Mckenzie said she didn’t really know for the longest time actually what happened to her dad until recently seeing an old newspaper article about him playing after the accident.

“There’s a picture of him dribbling with a huge eye patch on,” she said.

Jason especially loved basketball and sees a lot of himself out there when Mckenzie plays.

“I had a quick first step. Really served me well in basketball. I always see that in Mckenzie and make sure she realized she had it and how to use it,” he said.

“I had some great coaches in my high school career. I was very fortunate. Loved them all. And they taught me a lot of things, how to use some of our abilities and I tried to pass on the best I could with Mckenzie.”

Sometimes that might include helping Mckenzie on the finer points of the game.

“I might sneak out of work and we’d go to the Met at lunch time on game days, work on free throws and some of the individual type stuff she has,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of things in high school that I had that she has and just wanted to make sure she makes the most of the opportunity with the skills that she has.”

Her dad’s encouragement and gentle nudging kept Mckenzie on the court during high school when she wasn’t sure she wanted to keep playing basketball.

“He’s definitely big an influence on my basketball career. I know his love for the game. I think that inspired me to keep playing,” she said.

Jason said he didn’t have too convince Mckenzie to play her senior years, during which she became the BCR Player of the Year.

“She really embraced it senior year. She took that leadership on and was excited about it. It was kind of a proud moment,” he said.

Mckenzie will move on to play for the volleyball and softball teams at Sauk Valley and will take her dad’s source of inspiration with her.

“It’s been a fun four years. It’s gone by fast. Hard to believe it’s over, but very excited she’ll be close by and be able to see games, most of them at least,” Jason said.

• In closing, I’d like offer my deepest condolences to the Scott family for the loss of their son, Garrett, a 2019 Bureau Valley grad and Storm football player. It is a great loss and he will be deeply missed.

Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at khieronymus@bcrnews.com.