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Eric Peterson, Published February 20 2013

Friends rally around referee during cancer battle

Fargo - Bill Lopez is described by his friends as someone who is always willing to give. His friends want to return to the favor.

“He’s just a genuine great guy,” said Chris Heise, who has officiated local basketball games with Lopez for more than 10 years. “He has a heart of gold.”

A benefit for Lopez is set for tonight at Ramada Plaza Suites in Fargo. Doors open at 5 p.m. with dinner at 6 p.m.

Tickets for the benefit are $20, with a portion of those proceeds going to Lopez and his family.

He was diagnosed with bladder cancer in January 2012 and has been battling the disease since.

“I’m just humbled and overwhelmed,” Lopez said of the outpouring of support from his family and friends. “I have had a really tough journey since I was diagnosed. At times when I wanted to give up, it has lifted me and kept me going.”

Lopez has been an area high school basketball official for more than 10 years and is the president and CEO of ShareHouse, a nonprofit organization that provides chemical dependency treatment services.

“I think everybody would agree that we have been in awe and amazement of what the family has been through,” said Deb Soliah, who works with Lopez at ShareHouse. “We all just wanted to be able to help in some way.”

Soliah said the event is a chance to support Bill, his wife, Tammy, and their daughters, Tia and Mara. Tia is a junior at Northern State in Aberdeen, S.D., and plays women’s soccer. Mara is a senior at West Fargo High School and a member of the F-M Acro Team.

“I’m fighting the fight,” Bill said. “I am going to fight the fight until someone tells me that I can’t fight the fight anymore.”

At the start of this month, Lopez found out that the cancer had returned and he’s in the midst of his third round of chemotherapy treatments. Lopez sees the benefit as a good chance to reconnect with his friends.

Jeremy Carney has been a local official for more than 10 years and said Lopez is highly respected. Bill is the president of the Red River Valley Officials Association.

Carney said Lopez is happy to officiate games no matter the level or the profile of the game.

“He is just happy to go and officiate,” Carney said. “He always enjoyed the interactions with the kids and the schools.”

Dave Klundt, assistant director of recreation for the Fargo Park District, is another longtime official who respects the way Lopez carries himself as person and official.

“He cares about people,” Klundt said. “He is just a calming influence in those heated situations. He keeps his cool. I think that is a good trait of an official.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com