(KJCCC) Everyone remembers Bill – his smile, his warm greetings, his love of popcorn, and most of all, his thorough professionalism officiating. Everyone knew the game would go well when he showed up and put on the stripes.
Billy Lee Linhart, 72 of Emporia died Thursday, March 7, 2019 at his home after a year-long battle with brain cancer.
Bill is survived by his wife, Sharon (Starkey) Linhart. They were married for 52 years. Craig Helser, fellow official, remembers how devoted Bill was to his wife and family.
"Bill would go to the game he had to referee, and then go straight home," said Helser. "When he got to the game, he would call his wife Sharon to let her know he got there safely. After the game, he then would call her to say he was on his way home. When he got home, Sharon always had food waiting for him."
"Bill was just an incredible person to be around," said Carl Heinrich, Kansas Jayhawk Community College (KJCCC) commissioner. "I could go through a long list of ways Bill was exceptional. He helped his peers, he respected the athletes – what a great guy. Bill was a life lesson every time he stepped on the court."
Linhart received his Bachelor of Science from the College of Emporia, where he was a three year letterman in basketball. In 2010, he was inducted into the C of E Athletic Hall of Fame. Bill coached basketball at Emporia High School from 1977-1981 and was a teacher at the school for 29 years, retiring in 2006.
"Bill was a very successful basketball player, and then he became a great basketball coach," said Helser. "This made him a successful basketball official. He always looked at players in a positive manner. He understood the coaches' point of view. This is why every college wanted him calling their game."
Linhart was a Kansas high school and college basketball official for more than 35 years, and is a member of the Kansas Collegiate Officials Hall of Fame. He was a founding member of Officials Against Cancer and involved in the organization for 11 years.
"It didn't take long to figure out that Bill was one of the finest officials we had in the state," said Bryce Roderick, past KJCCC commissioner. "He had great judgment on the floor, and great rapport with the coaches. Athletic directors knew the game would go smooth when Bill showed up."
"We all know Bill was the premier official in the state for many years," said NCAA, NJCAA, and KJCCC supervisor of officials John Blazek. "But he was an even better person. He will be missed as a referee, but most missed as a friend, and as a mentor."
Linhart enjoyed golf, exercising and spending time in his yard. But his proudest activity was being with his grandchildren and cheering on his great nieces and nephews.
Bill also enjoyed a good box of concession stand popcorn. He never missed a chance to sample each college's offering.
"Bill always had a report on the quality of the popcorn at each gym," said Roderick.
Linhart left many friends throughout the state. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Monday, March 18, 2019 at the First United Methodist Church. Pastor Karla Sheffy will be officiating. A private inurnment will occur at a later date. The family will greet friends immediately following the service at a reception in the church's fellowship hall.
Contributions may be made to the Bill Linhart Memorial Scholarship for Emporia High School graduates through the Emporia Community Foundation (emporiacf.org/make-donation) or through Officials Against Cancer (officialsagainstcancer.org/donate) and sent in care of Roberts-Blue-Barnett Funeral Home, 605 State Street, Emporia, KS 66801.
Coaches and referees have been calling each other to share their favorite Bill Linhart stories. A recurring theme seems to be Linhart's enthusiasm and joy.
"He shared his love of officiating with the younger guys," said Helser. "Bill enjoyed being a referee more than anyone else I have ever known."