Middle Tennessee referee becomes ‘Hall of Famer’ at hospital bedside

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A Middle Tennessee man was given a huge surprise at his hospital bedside Thursday afternoon.

For Cliff Willis, it’s not about all of the action on the gridiron. He became a referee for a different reason.

“The comradery of the people, helping younger officials and helping smaller kids,” Willis said.

Looking back, officiating games wasn’t on his to-do list. Until one day, his coworker asked him if he wanted to go with him to a football meeting. He was hooked ever since.

“It’s really hard to talk about Cliff sometimes because he is so special to all of us,” said Junior Ward, Commissioner of the Middle Tennessee Football Officials Association.

That’s why he got the surprise of a lifetime at his bedside in TriStar Centennial Medical Center surrounded by his family and friends. He’s being inducted into the Association’s Hall of Fame.

“It totally caught me off guard,” Willis said.

He’s battling cancer for the third time.

“His goal is to get back on the field as soon as possible,” said Karen Willis, Cliff’s wife of 52 years.

But for now, he’s grateful as he continues his road to recovery.

Cliff will officially become a member of the Class of 2019 at an upcoming banquet and plans to be back on the field by next season.

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