A longtime basketball referee in the Northwest suburbs will find himself in unfamiliar territory on Tuesday: on the sidelines.
A rare form of leukemia has taken Bill Spicer off the court for nearly a year, but student athletes whom he officiated and his peers in the prep sports world have not forgotten him. They are organizing a fundraiser to help Spicer and his family meet his mounting medical bills not covered by insurance.
The fundraiser will be held during the boys and girls basketball games Jan. 15 at Christian Liberty Academy, beginning with the junior varsity game at 4:30 p.m. and building momentum through the boys' varsity game at 7 p.m.
What started as an effort by officials at Christian Liberty Academy and its affiliate Harvest Christian Academy in Elgin to recognize Spicer, has grown into a fundraising event backed by the Arlington Heights Youth Athletic Association, the Arlington Heights Youth Basketball Association and the Arlington Heights Park District.
"He has spent the last 20 years making a difference in our community and in our students lives," says Steve Rowland, CLA athletic director. "He has built relationships with so many of our student-athletes and has shown them, through his demeanor and love of the game, that he is a man of character."
Spicer just thought he had a lingering cold, and only sought medical help when after a hard, physical workout he couldn't breathe.
In fact, he refereed 15 games in the 24 hours leading up to his first hospital stay.
Three days of testing and a bone marrow biopsy later showed he had a form of leukemia known as myelodysplasia syndromes, or MDS (previously called preleukemia), which was affecting his blood components.
Spicer underwent rounds of blood transfusions and chemotherapy before having a successful stem cell transplant from his brother, Steve Spicer of Barrington.
However, since Thanksgiving, he has been suffering a complication of the transplant, known as Graft-versus-host disease.
"I have had my entire life turned upside down since late February, almost completely out of nowhere," Spicer says. "Work, refereeing and umping have all been greatly missed."
He stays involved with the Arlington Heights Youth Athletic Association, which he has guided as its president since 1989, and with the Prospect Performing Arts Endowment, which he helped to form after his three children graduated from Prospect High School.
"I am so gratified and lifted up by the outpouring of support for next week," he says. "There are so many wonderful people out there."