The local sports world lost an official.
The sports officiating arena lost a legend.
And those who believe in "abiding by the rules" lost an icon.
All these thoughts went through my mind when Dick Bickel passed away on April 7.
The complications of a massive heart attack had unfortunately defeated this champion of so many endeavours - a champion who always played by the rules.
I first got know and appreciate Dick 39 years ago when I became a PIAA basketball official. Dick took a chance on me and assigned me to the officiating staff of the Altoona Parochial League.
I learned what it was like to referee a big game - even if the game was St. Mary's vs. St. Therese's. I'll never forget Dick for giving me the chance and all that I learned from him.
I remember Dick as one of the top baseball umpires in the area.
His presence on the field just commanded respect. Can you remember those hot, July afternoons and Dick Bickel would show up in a long sleeve blue shirt and bow tie to handle the plate for that game? There was no doubt who was in charge.
I personally believe Dick was such a professional on the baseball diamond that he could have advanced to higher levels in the baseball world.
However, Dick stuck to high school and the Kelley Federation probably due to family and job commitments, but, nevertheless, always doing a professional job.
As he did throughout his whole career, the officiating and the family commitments were always done in only one way - properly, professionally and by the rules.
Dick never turned down any games.
No game was too big or, more importantly, too small for Dick Bickel. I can remember seeing him on cold Wednesday evenings refereeing intramural football games across from the fieldhouse.
He was there because he was asked, and he loved it.
I never knew Dick to miss an officials' meeting, unless, of course, he was refereeing. As the years passed by, his memory of rules and situations was incredible. Dick was never too vain to ask questions or join in discussions. He wanted to get it right - no matter what the game. Moreover, he wanted others, both veterans and younger officials, to get it right too.
I'm sure many of the officials who knew Dick have countless stories to tell about his wisdom and guidance.
Rest assured, whether it be on a baseball field, on a football field, or on a basketball court, one aspect of every story is consistent: Do it by the rules and do it professionally.
The last time I saw Dick was at the basketball officials' banquet in February.
He said he was doing fine and the good Lord had given him good health. Less than two months later, he's gone.
His dedication and guidance were appreciated and admired by many.