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Local referee creates Yellow Whistles campaign to bring awareness to bone cancer after losing son

yellow whistle
Posted at 7:14 PM, Mar 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-01 20:14:01-05

Nothing replaces the pain of losing a child. Local referee Denny Von Rueden has turned one tragedy into a triumph for Make A Wish with a yellow whistles campaign.

Including Von Rueden, there are 10 members of his family, including fathers and sons reffing high school basketball games all around Southeastern Wisconsin.

Von Rueden remembers January 22, 2014. That is the day his son Greg lost his battle with cancer.

"Everybody thinks you got it," Von Rueden says. "That you're okay, and deep down that's what you're thinking. But you're really not, and you do need the support of others."

Now for one weekend per year, refs use yellow whistles to create awareness and support. Fans of both teams wore yellow to fight bone cancer.

"The one positive about the experience is, it maybe does give you the one weekend where the refs probably don't get yelled at a lot," Von Rueden says. "If they see that things are going for a cause, we get that one weekend off."

Refs like Andy Gallion say fans give you the benefit of the doubt.

"Humanizing the avocation at this point during the basketball season is definitely welcome for us as referees and I think it makes everyone take a step back and put things in perspective," Gallion says.

This all while raising more than $11,000 this year, and more than $80,000 for Make-A-Wish in the eight years since Greg has been gone.

"One of the other little girls, that we helped last year, she got a dog," Gallion says. "I got a follow up email from our Make-A-Wish coordinator Kelsey Rice with pictures of the girl and the dog, and it brought me to tears."

"That's what's so special about community," Von Rueden says. "You may not know people, but people are willing to give to those particular type of causes, and that's what's great about it."

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