Longtime friend says referee critically hurt at Detroit-area soccer game 'never has a bad day'

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A man who was critically injured while refereeing an adult-league soccer match at a Detroit-area park is an optimist who "never has a bad day," a longtime friend said Tuesday.

John Bieniewicz, who is in critical condition at a hospital after being punched by a player during a game in Livonia, is a dialysis technician at Mott Children's Hospital and lives in Westland with his wife and two sons, said attorney Jim Acho, who attended Catholic Central High School with Bieniewicz.

"His friends love him. He lives life to the fullest. Never has a bad day. Ever," Acho said.

According to Acho, Bieniewicz was the only student-athlete in the class of 1988 to letter in both football and basketball at the ultra-competitive Detroit parochial school. Acho, who ran a basketball camp with Bieniewicz for four years after high school, said his 6-foot-5 friend would "wow the kids with dunks."

But much to the surprise of his friends, Bieniewicz gravitated to soccer and fell in love with the sport. He has been a well-respected referee for two decades.

He was doing what he loved on Sunday when he was attacked at Mies Park, Acho said.

Livonia police Lt. Tom Goralski said Baseel Abdul-Amir Saad punched the referee in the head after the referee indicated he planned to eject the 36-year-old Dearborn resident from the game. Livonia police and the Wayne County prosecutor's office have not named the referee, whom Acho identified as Bieniewicz.

Saad was arraigned Monday in Livonia District Court on a charge of assault with intent to do great bodily harm. Bond was set at $500,000, and a probable-cause hearing was set for July 10.

Saad's lawyer, Brian Berry, said his client is cooperating with police and is not guilty of the charge.

"As the case progresses we expect to learn the cause of the referee's injuries," Berry said.

Saad was not at the field when police arrived, Goralski said. The lieutenant said Saad surrendered Monday.

Violence is not unheard of in soccer and other sports.

The recorded telephone message at the National Association of Sports Officials in Racine, Wisconsin, says, "For NASO insurance or assault information, press 3."

In April 2013, a 17-year-old player punched referee Ricardo Portillo after being called for a foul during a soccer game in Taylorsville, Utah, near Salt Lake City. Portillo, a father of three, died after a week in a coma. The teen pleaded guilty to a homicide charge.


Associated Press writer David N. Goodman in Detroit contributed to this report.