Putting the fun in fundraising

Putting the fun in fundraising

Image Credit: Aaron Dorksen

oe and Dylan Hershberger are one of the coolest father-son combos around.

They’ve made it their mission to raise awareness about autism and have a ton of fun doing it.

To get the word out and help others with autism, the Hershbergers are continuing their tradition of holding fundraisers.

Dylan Hershberger’s annual Autism Awareness Fundraiser/Pro Wrestling Show will be held May 14 at the Cornerstone Elementary School’s gymnasium, 101 W. Bowman St., Wooster.

An action-packed lineup will be highlighted by Madman Fulton, Rob Conway, Eugene, Izzy Lambert, JJ Deville, Beast Man and the Status Symbols. There will be seven matches including a 15-man battle royal in memory of Jonas Hershberger. Doors will open at 6 p.m., with bell time at 7 p.m.

“It’s going to be fun,” said Dylan Hershberger, a freshman at Dalton High School who has Asperger syndrome, high-functioning autism. “I like the characters and cool moves that they do.”

In choosing a group to receive the proceeds, Joe Hershberger felt it would be nice to help a regional organization. After a search he connected with the Northeast Ohio Autism Group.

“The national organizations get a lot of attention as it is, and we wanted to help people close to home,” said Joe Hershberger, 43, a Waynedale graduate who works in the roller department at Wooster Brush. “We decided to support the Northeast Ohio Autism Group, which provides grants for schools and different facilities that help autistic children and adults.”

Dylan Hershberger likes to blend in as much as possible at Dalton High School, where he’s been on the merit and honor roll.

“People with autism shouldn’t be treated differently,” Dylan Hershberger said. “I want people to be accepting.”

Dylan Hershberger is an extraordinary young man, despite dealing with the challenges of Asperger syndrome. At times he’s quiet and won’t say much, but other times he enjoys being an entertainer.

“His teachers say he absolutely loves to read in front of the class,” Joe Hershberger said. “He likes to do different voices for the different characters, like in the Shakespeare books.”

Dylan Hershberger has taught himself to read and sing some basic material in Japanese. He’s learned to play the guitar and ukulele using online lessons. One of his favorite songs to play is “Smoke on the Water” on the ukulele.

The Hershbergers’ first foray into fundraising came in 2015 when a then 8-year-old Dylan was nominated for the What a Fan Amazing Kids Award. Dylan, who used to wear a signature orange wig and mustache to Browns games, was invited to Orlando for the awards show. He actually wound up being presented with the first-place award.

Joe Hershberger came up with the idea of holding a fundraiser to help with costs for the Orlando trip and donate any leftover money to autism research. They held a blues concert at since-closed Fiore’s in Wooster.

Nicknamed “Dylan the Destroyer” by some Browns fans who sat near the Hershbergers at games, Dylan became a diehard fan after being introduced to football by his dad and late grandpa, Jonas Hershberger, who passed away in 2021.

Sparked by the wonderful experience of the Orlando trip, the Hershbergers have looked for new ways ever since to raise awareness and money for autism programs.

The Hershbergers held a fundraiser for the PTO at Dalton Elementary in 2017, which featured former Cleveland Browns great Earnest Byner.

They worked with pro wrestling legend Mick Foley for an event at Dalton Elementary in 2018. Foley has a son, Mickey, who’s on the autism spectrum.

“We had a lot of fun with Earnest,” Joe Hershberger said. “Dylan says he’s outgrown the Destroyer nickname, but he’s still a Browns fan. We both really like professional wrestling, and we’ve transitioned toward that for fundraisers.”

A lot of people didn’t know much about autism, and the Hershbergers want to raise awareness.

“We Googled ‘pro wrestler with autism connection,’ and the first name that came up was Mick Foley,” Joe Hershberger said. “We thought he’d be an outstanding guest and had a lot of fun when we brought him into Dalton.”

Foley commented on his Facebook page: “I want to let other parents of autistic children or those who may be on the spectrum themselves know that they are not alone. Every day is a challenge. Every day is an adventure. Every day presents the opportunity to learn a little more, to put the pieces of life’s unique puzzle together.”

In 2019 Joe and Dylan Hershberger brought in several pro wrestlers to do a Q-and-A autograph session in Dalton. The guests included One Man Gang, the Tag Team Demolition, and Bob Roop.

A full pro wrestling show was planned at Cornerstone in 2020, but two days before the event, it was shut down due to the COVID pandemic.

“That just gave us a chance to build a better event,” Joe Hershberger said. “Two years later, here we are. We’re working with Jimmie Lee and ASWA based out of Mansfield. They have wrestlers coming to Cornerstone who are mainly from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

“Madman Fulton spent a little time with WWE developmental and is now part of Impact Wrestling. Eugene’s character is based off a special needs character, but not in a negative light. Rob Conway spent time in WWE and has a big connection with Eugene. Zach Gowen is really unique; he only has one leg. When competing, at times he removes his prosthetic leg and wrestles on one leg. Gowen had a form of cancer when he was a child and had his leg amputated.” Papa Dingo is also on the card.

Dylan Hershberger’s wrestling show will not only provide fun, but also lessons in perseverance that everyone can appreciate.

“Don’t let things get in the way of your dreams,” Joe Hershberger said. “People like Dylan and Zach Gowen show that you can do anything.”

Ticket information

General admission is $10 in advance and $12 at the door, limited front row seating is $15/$18, and limited second row is $12/$15. Tickets are available at Operation Fandom, 120 S. Market St., Wooster, or can be purchased at www.aswalive.com. Call 330-417-5275 for more information.

Aaron Dorksen can be emailed at aarondorksen24@gmail.com.

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