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Get Your Own Whistle—An official farewell for Bob

January 15, 2014

    I can hear the public address announcer now up in heaven for tonight’s big game between the Jerusalem Giants and the Bethlehem Braves.
    After the teams have been introduced, the announcer (probably Bob Shepherd, the late great PA voice for the New York Yankees) will boom out “and tonight’s officials for our championship game are Al Lindahl, Orv Reed, Jerry Leitz, Dave Habegger, and a new addition to their crew, Bob Boyle.”
    Ever since learning of the untimely death of my friend Bob Boyle recently, I have had many thoughts about the long-time guidance counselor at Bellmont High School and IHSAA referee for nearly 50 years. I read some of the many tributes left on behalf of Bob on the Haggard-Sefton and Hirschy Funeral Home website and they were truly touching. Many were from past students at Bellmont whom Bob had helped in various ways, some of whom weren’t even assigned to him as a counselor. They were a few of us “striped shirts” that added thoughts while other friends logged on as well.
    Bob had a long and storied history in Decatur. He married a wonderful woman named Rosie Owens whom I’m sure will receive many blessings for the nights away from home that Bob spent while officiating football and basketball and most recently swimming and track (he was still active in the latter two). Bob and Rosie were blessed with some great kids, grandkids, and great-grandchildren. His family was always a topic of discussion when we’d go to referee a game together.
    He was a star athlete at Huntington Catholic High School (now closed) and he confided to me he often thought baseball was perhaps his best sport. I wish I had a dollar for the number of times he would tell me about how far he could hit a baseball. He then graduated from Defiance College in Ohio. As a staff member and head basketball coach at Decatur Catholic High School, Bob led a group of Commodores to a sectional basketball championship. He also swung a pretty mean golf club on the links.
    He loved to tell the story about the time (early in my umpiring career) he and I went to Manchester High School on an extremely hot Saturday to umpire a baseball doubleheader. I drove and he volunteered to let me have the first game behind the plate. After what seemed to be a lengthy game, I started to take off my umpiring gear only to hear him tell me about how his back was acting up and would I work the plate for the second game too. Well, I didn’t want him to hurt his back further so I agreed. Then on the way home he asked if I would stop at a store in North Manchester and purchase some beverages to consume. I did.
    He told the story to Al Lindahl noting “I got him to work both games, do the driving, and buy on the way home. And I got paid as much as he did. What a day!” Both of them laughed knowing that a rookie official had just been taught a lesson.
    They don’t make officials like Bob and Al anymore--officials who are dedicated to the game regardless of the pay or mileage driven. I never had the pleasure of working a football game with Orv Reed or Jerry Leitz, but sure heard plenty of stories about them—some were probably even true. I knew both gentlemen and would have jumped at the chance to have been on a five man crew with (even though crews back then only had four officials). I did get to work with Dave Habegger late in his career and that was a great time as well. All of these guys were state caliber referees.
    I was lucky enough to see Bob occasionally at the hospital as he would come work out at the Worthman Fitness Center. He also volunteered at the hospital transporting patients—a job I think he enjoyed because many of the patients here were former school kids he knew from Bellmont. It was almost like “Old Home Week” as he would relive past memories with those he encountered.
    If Bob thought something was wrong or wasn’t fair, he wasn’t beyond pointing it out even if it wasn’t politically correct for him to do so. He stood up for what he thought was right and seldom was the case you didn’t know where he stood on an issue. If I had less than a stellar game on the field or court, he wouldn’t belittle me but would offer constructive ideas as to how to improve. Sometimes people didn’t always like some of his unsolicited advice, but I usually found it to be right on target—and useful.
    In the book of Matthew in the Bible (chapter 5, verse 4) it says “blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted.” There will undoubtedly be a lot of “blessed” persons in the area in the coming weeks as we mourn Bob’s passing. I’m sure the Boyle family will be equally comforted in knowing the vast number of friends Bob had and how he touched their lives.

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