As a longtime high school basketball and football official, Jason Ferguson has observed his share of come-from-behind victories.

He’s currently busy working on one of his own.

Diagnosed in May with multiple myeloid cancer, the 41-year-old Whiteland resident spent the bulk of his summer months embarking on a harrowing journey that tested him physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Everything from nausea to plummeting body weight plagued Ferguson as he engaged in an eye-watering stare-down with a disease that traditionally targets much older men and women.

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However, on Oct. 24, Ferguson’s resilience and unwavering faith had teamed up to put him back in the middle of a Friday night football competition — Evansville Reitz’s 59-35 victory at Seymour in a Class 4A sectional opener.

He and his crew the following week worked a Class A sectional game between Tri-Central and Shortridge in abysmal weather conditions. Seven nights later it was off to East Central to officiate Columbus East’s 28-9 win in a Class 4A sectional final.

His cancer in total remission, Ferguson is now fully immersed in basketball.

Tonight, Ferguson, along with Shawn Harmon and Lucas Howard (older brother of former Butler University men’s basketball player Matt Howard), are officiating Class 3A No. 2 Greensburg’s boys game at Jennings County.

Saturday calls for the hoops equivalent of a double shift — driving to Austin to officiate the Eagles’ girls game against South Ripley that afternoon and then making the 100-mile drive north to Noblesville in time to work the Millers’ boys game against Hamilton Heights.

Married for 18 years to his wife, Brenda, the couple have four sons ranging in age from 4 to 15. That’s five extraordinary motivators for Ferguson, a 1991 Columbus North graduate who played basketball for the legendary Bill Stearman, to curl his fists and fight.

Not that it’s been easy.

“There were a couple of times when I’ve got to admit I felt I would rather be dead than the feeling I was going through. Some good meds and a nap usually set that aside,” said Ferguson, who is employed as a lab technician at Cummins Inc.

“I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t a very good patient before I went into this at all for anything when it came to health issues. But I was rarely ever sick prior to this. I hoped my attitude was good enough to get through it, but I know the attitudes of the people around me made more of a difference.”

{&subleft}Bad to the bones

Multiple myeloma is the spread of malignant plasma cells within bone marrow. Over time it causes the bones to break, with the average age of those who are diagnosed being 69.

Ferguson last spring suffered a broken rib on his left side. Approximately one month later he broke one on the right side.

“Our doctor, Bruce Records, goes to our church. He wanted Jason to get a bone scan. We prayed about it and said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s have peace of mind,’” said Brenda Ferguson, who began dating Jason during the 1992-93 school year when both were sophomores at Franklin College.

“We knew something was wrong, but Jason never felt like he had cancer. If he did he really hid it.”

Ferguson’s bone scan took place May 13, and the results were not at all what the couple expected.

“When I got back from lunch Jason called me and asked if my boss would mind if I came home early,” said Brenda, who works at Franklin College as assistant to the Office of Marketing and Communications.

“The bone scan had shown lesions all through his body. He met me out in our driveway and said, ‘Promise me you’ll be strong and we’ll get through this.’”

Strong is something Ferguson had always been, which is why being reduced to a wheelchair-bound 6-foot-2, 195-pound spectator proved so difficult.

Radiation treatments and chemotherapy became part of Ferguson’s late-spring and summertime lifestyle. On Sept. 9 he had a stem cell transplant at the IU Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis, his weight eventually dropping as low as 170 pounds.

“Pretty much God and family were my main motivators. As I was going through some of those injuries I didn’t have a good explanation as to what it was. I prayed and prayed about it. I finally stopped being so stubborn and went to the doctor and got X-rays,” Ferguson said.

“You feel bad, no question. But you’ve got to look for a better day, and you can’t get too worried about the diagnosis of it. You’ve got to worry about the treatment. Drinking your fluids. Eating your food. Resting. Taking your medicine. Something like cancer, you’ve just got to tell yourself that you’re going to get past it.”

Ferguson badly desired a return to normalcy, whether it meant as a husband, father, employee and, yes, game official.

“He loves being an official and wants to be a part of that,” Brenda Ferguson said. “It’s kind of like a brotherhood. They get together and rehash the games like you wouldn’t believe.”

{&subleft}Officially back

Ferguson isn’t just a guy with a whistle.

He’s well-respected, as evidenced by him working alongside Scott West and Brett Patrick to officiate the 2013 Class A state championship boys basketball game between Borden and Triton at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Eight months later Ferguson was inside Lucas Oil Stadium serving as referee for Tri-Central’s 20-10 victory against Eastern Hancock in the Class A football title game, meaning at 40 he had scaled the twin peaks of high school officiating in Indiana.

Ferguson has experienced virtually every rung of the officiating ladder to get where he is. He still remembers his first high school basketball assignment (Yorktown at Scecina in 1994-95) and, more recently, his debut as a football official (Delta at Mount Vernon (Fortville) in 1998).

“Had Jason felt even a little better he would have come back sooner. Sports in general are in his blood. He loves officiating and is very good at it because he cares so much about it. Jason isn’t out there to control an event,” said Brian Cravens, a fellow Johnson County resident who is back judge on Ferguson’s football officiating team.

“When he first called me to tell me about (cancer), it was scary. I thought this couldn’t happen, especially to Jason. He’s never negative. Because of that and his faith in God I knew he was going to beat it. Jason is just a different breed.”

Tim Cartwright is a 1983 Center Grove graduate who works both football and the majority of basketball games with Ferguson.

Each is the other’s closest friend in officiating. It’s why Cartwright won’t soon forget the day he heard Ferguson was engaged in something much more significant than attempting to calm a coach down or if the contact he witnessed actually warrants free throws.

“We all know how bad cancer is. It was kind of like I got slugged in the gut,” Cartwright said. “I don’t know if I ever doubted, but ultimately you don’t know what God’s plan is.”

{&subleft}Not out of the woods yet

Ferguson, who estimates he spent two months completely bald due to his chemotherapy, looks and sounds great. Most importantly, he said, he feels great.

“I was pretty active between football and basketball seasons. I knew physically once I could get back on the field or get back on the court I was pretty close to being back. I won’t say I feel 100 percent, but I’m pretty darned close,” Ferguson said.

“Ever since I’ve been back when I get to the game I’ve heard, ‘Welcome back,’ ‘Thanks,’ ‘Glad you’re here,’ ‘We’ve been praying for you and thinking of you.’ That really helps me get through it.”

The hair on Ferguson’s head began sprouting again in mid-November — a most welcome sight for any cancer patient. It remains a work in progress in terms of uniformity while returning faster in some sections of Ferguson’s scalp than others.

By no means, however, is he a lock to live to see his 50s, much less his 60s, 70s or 80s.

Multiple myeloma as of now has no surefire cure, the risk of death increasing as a patient ages. Ferguson’s age could well work to his advantage along with the possibility of a cure being discovered in his allotted time frame.

“I was told I had eight to 14 years to live. When I heard that, my first thought is that I’m going to prove you wrong. I hope that I can double it or triple it,” Ferguson said.

“My doctor told me five years ago she had two medicines she tried on people. If the first one didn’t work they tried the second one. If the second one didn’t work you went home and lived out your life. Now they’ve got more treatments than they’ve got patients, so eight to 14 can certainly be doubled or tripled during that time.”

Ferguson is focused on maximizing his every day rather than worrying about how many tomorrows he might have remaining.

The plan, be it God’s or that of science, remains unknown.

“It’s real hard not to look ahead because cancer is something that comes back in a lot of cases. That’s why I get tested monthly to try to prevent that from happening. It kind of stops you in your tracks when you think you’ve got something that could potentially kill you,” Ferguson said.

“Not that I took (loved ones) for granted before, but when you have little ones like my 4-year-old and my 6-year-old, every day they make me smile. Just knowing they’re there for me whether or not I’m sick or however bad I am, the smiles are still there for me.”

Jason Ferguson pullout


Name: Jason Ferguson

Age: 41

Born: Columbus

Family: Wife, Brenda; sons, Cole, 15, Chase, 13, Cooper, 6, and Cody, 4

High school: Columbus North (1991)

College: Franklin College (1995)

Major: Science

Favorite place to officiate football: Greenwood Community High School

Favorite place to officiate basketball: New Castle’s Chrysler Fieldhouse

Least favorite place to officiate: Evansville (because of the long drive)

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Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at