Rugby league referee Dennis Spagarino dies aged 70 of MND. Let’s look at the rugby referee and the cause of his death.
Career journey of Dennis Spagarino
Spagarino, 70, was a life member of NSW Rugby League and the Referees Association. His legacy includes umpires overseeing Rugby League World Cup Finals, NRL Grand Finals and State of Origin. He coached junior referees for decades, worked as a video referee and was elected President of the NSW Referees Association.
Spagarino was one of the inaugural recipients of the Australian Sports Medal, established by former Prime Minister John Howard in 2000 to mark the start of the new millennium.
For rugby league, he and former captain Kevin Sinfield have been at the forefront of the fight against MND in England. Sinfield raised £7 million through three challenges—seven marathons in seven days, running 101 miles in 24 hours, and most recently, completing seven ultramarathons in one week.
However, in Australia, the MND patient was an arbiter.
NSWRL Umpires Coach
Spagarino, 70, was promoted from the western suburbs to become a successful first-class referee, taking charge of 22 matches from 1984-88.
He also took on the role of NSWRL umpires coach and was instrumental in assisting the development of officials going on to NRL careers.
He also held the position of President of the New South Wales Rugby League Referees Association (NSWRLRA). Greg McCallum, a former first-class umpire and NSWRLRA executive, said Spagarino contributed to the ambiguity surrounding umpire nominations.
As president of the association, according to McCallum, he gained valuable knowledge about how the refereeing industry works. “Communication was his priority and he later established close relationships with bodies such as the NSWRL and NRL.
As not everyone can umpire Test matches and championship finals, he has been able to deal with a wide range of personalities and skill levels.
Awards and recognition
Along with NSWRL Life Membership, Spagarino was also awarded Life Membership of the Western Suburbs Umpires Association. NSWRL director and NSWRLRA president Keith Green said Spagarino was highly respected and greatly admired. “That’s not just with the refereeing community, but the rugby league world as a whole,” Green said.
“He made a significant contribution to the umpiring ranks on the field, but more importantly off the field, as a coach and his long-term commitment to his profession.” Spagarino was one of the first recipients of the Australian Sports Medal after it was introduced in 2000 by former Prime Minister John Howard.
“He had a good balance between the managerial-administrative side, but was always concerned with the welfare of the people,” McCallum said. “He personally cared about you and your refereeing ability. “He wore his heart on his sleeve, which made him a very approachable and caring person.”
Cause of death
The NSWRL was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of respected referee and NSWRL Life Member Dennis Spagarino who recently lost his battle with Motor Neurone Disease. Thanks to Leeds Rhinos legend Rob Burrow, rugby league and motor neurone disease will always be linked, for better or worse.
This is beneficial in some ways as it has made new people aware of the challenges posed by the disease. The rugby league community is now doing an amazing job supporting the MND community, raising funds and awareness.
Burrow’s battle with the disease, which he received his diagnosis in December 2019, has certainly been heartbreaking.
The NSWRL extends its deepest condolences to his wife Karen, daughters Debra and Joan, his extended family and Dennis Spagarino’s many friends.
Dennis Spagarino, best known to the rugby league community as a former Winfield Cup referee, passed away today at Concord Hospital, his family announced. He is the 689th person to be ‘graded’ by the New South Wales Rugby League Referees Association. https://t.co/NN8JJelZGZ
— Brenden Wood (@BrendenWood) December 5, 2022
My thoughts are with the family of Dennis Spagarino. A prolific contributor to the rugby league umpire ranks for a long time. https://t.co/jXuHrmPAeq
— Matt Pritchard (@MattPNBL) December 6, 2022
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