Brent Hugo
Heffner honors mom on free-throw line.

Amy Hughes, NCAA.com

During her freshman year at Division II Millersville University, Amy Heffner made a fortuitous decision.

Heffner had played at Parkland High School in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, winning a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association AAAA State Championship.

An only child, Heffner was extremely close to both of her parents, particularly her mother, Patti, who was her high school basketball coach. Playing college basketball at Millersville, her dad, Paul, was able to make it to her games, but it wasn’t so easy for her mother. Patti’s schedule as the girl’s head basketball coach at Parkland meant that Amy would go weeks at a time without seeing her mother. The decision was made that Amy would transfer to Division III Moravian College for her sophomore year.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Amy said. “I’m grateful that I did transfer.”

“Amy came in as a sophomore,” Moravian head coach Mary Beth Spirk said. “We had a pretty good team, but she fit in pretty well. She was slowly getting more minutes and that particular day we decided to start her.”

That particular day was Jan. 14, 2009. Amy started in an 83-49 win against Ursinus College, scoring a career-high 14 points and nine rebounds.

“[Paul Heffner, Amy’s father] had come to me before the game and said he wanted to talk to me,” Spirk remembered. “I was in my office ready to walk to the locker room. I could see that he was upset, and he told me that Patti had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and could I help him tell Amy. All of a sudden, the game didn’t matter.”

“[Patti] would always call me every day at lunch,” Amy said. “I remember not getting a phone call that day and not really thinking anything of it. When I was walking to the gym, I got a text message from my uncle saying ‘Don’t worry about anything. Just play your game tonight.’ I didn’t really think about it. I just turned my phone off. During the game, I saw that my mom wasn’t there and my grandparents weren’t there. After the game, I remember going over to my dad and asking where was mom. He said she was at home, she wasn’t feeling well.

“Then we walked into Coach’s office and shut the door. My first thought was ‘what happened to my grandparents?’ I couldn’t even think that it was my mom.”

Her mother’s diagnosis with a brain tumor changed everything for Heffner. She missed two games to absorb the news before returning to the team.

“When they told me,” Heffner said, “right away we went to the hospital to see her. From there, I remember taking that weekend off and staying with her. The team was so understanding. The whole team was there for me. I remember getting text messages from every one of them that night. Everyone was there for me. We were like a family.

“I went home every night to be with her, so I spent a lot of time with her,” said Heffner of the remainder of her sophomore year. “Every opportunity that I had, my free time was spent with her. I remember people saying ‘why don’t you go to the movies? Why don’t you do this or that?’ I just wanted to be with her and I don’t regret any of that.”

Patti Heffner passed away on Jan. 5, 2010. Amy missed a few games but returned to the Moravian lineup on Jan. 26, playing 16 minutes with 12 points in a 97-63 win against Alvernia University. She finished the year with 102 points and 64 rebounds in 19 games, helping Moravian to a 25-3 mark, its first Landmark Conference Championship and a second consecutive NCAA Tournament win.

This season, Heffner has played in all 13 of her team’s games, averaging 31.5 minutes, 7.1 rebounds and 17.9 points per game (through Jan. 10). Her career .819 free-throw percentage currently ranks fourth in school history. She’s a team captain for a Greyhounds team that is currently 7-6, 2-1 in the Landmark Conference.

Basketball remains a very strong connection between Amy and her mother.

“I’m always thinking about her,” Heffner said. “It was our thing through my entire life. Basketball is what she and I had in common most. I’m working harder now because of it and playing for her, which has changed me and how I play. I want to continue to make her proud. This season is definitely for her and it’s helping me work a lot harder.”

“We really struggled Amy’s sophomore year when [Patti] was diagnosed,” Spirk said. “Last year we really came together. We dedicated the season to Patti and I thought we really came together as a team and coaching staff. Ultimately, when Patti passed away, [Amy] gathered strength from us and we gathered strength from Amy. Amy was really strong through it all and she was pretty amazing. Going even further coming into this year, I wouldn’t have even flinched if Amy had said ‘I don’t want to play any more, I just can’t do it’ but she came back and is into it 100 percent and is just a great leader. She’s one of the captains and is off to a great start to our year.”

Amy’s dad and grandparents continue to attend every Moravian game. Amy and her dad have grown closer. She still goes home on weekends to spend time with him, much as she did before her mother’s diagnosis.

“I’ve coached a long time,” Spirk said. “Because her mom was such a well-known coach and personality in the area, this whole thing was kind of public. I think it was a credit to Amy. I knew her mom pretty well and she reminds me of her mom because her mom was so strong. [Amy] had to go through this with the local papers, the TVs, the she got interviewed a lot. People knew exactly what was going on with her mom. It was difficult situation but I think she was really mature through it all and continues to be very mature. I know that her mom would be very proud of her and I know her dad is, too.”

“It’s a little different,” said Amy of playing basketball in the year since her mother’s passing. “But coming to basketball every day helps me get through it.”