Photojournalist Tom Cole first came across Tom Spear in his own neighborhood. He was curious, and he started to ask questions. The story he began unraveling is not over yet. SPEAR premieres on NEXT with Kyle Clark Wednesday 11.15.17 and on the 9NEWS YouTube Channel.
Spear: A 9NEWS Original
This is a note on the project from 9NEWS photojournalist Tom Cole.
People ask if Tom Spear approved of this story.
I asked him and he declined to do an interview but told me to do “whatever you need.”
His father and sister didn’t want to talk; instead they referred me to Tom.
The first response I got from a third party was that Tom was willing; then that changed and he said no.
There are good days and bad days for Tom.
There are many residents in the town where Tom lives who are curious about him. They want to know how he deals with the weather, food and sleeping among many things.
He walks all over town.
Just about everyone I talked to knew of him but knew very little about him. I wanted to answer as best I could some of the questions we all have.
"It was as if he just appeared out of nowhere."
The first time seeing Tom Spear, I was instantly curious.
The first time I saw him, I remember my heart skipping a beat.
I was instantly curious and a bit surprised - it was as if he just appeared out of nowhere.
There are very few homeless people in the part of town where I saw him and he appeared to be homeless.
He had a bicycle with no seat and plenty of bags hanging from various parts of the bike - each bag probably holding something to get him through the days and nights.
He also had a kid trailer in tow which had no tires on it and was loaded with cushions: his bed.
The noise that trailer made could be heard from many blocks away; metal bike rims rolling over asphalt made a very unique sound.
All I could think was, 'How does he put up with that annoying sound?’
The most recognizable item he had was a Tim Tebow jersey hanging on the back of the trailer like a banner.
That is my first memory of him.
Two years of questions
What did he eat? Did he have friends? Who is he?
I watched him for another two or three years and just wondered how he did it.
How did he survive the weather? What did he eat? Where did he go at night? Did he have friends?
Who is he?
As time went on I noticed a very broad pattern. When I rode my bike home from Denver at night, I would see him sleeping under the Wadsworth Boulevard bridge near Olde Town Arvada.
I would get to that spot around 11:35 at night.
His bike would be leaning against the rocks right next to the bike path and he would be tucked under the bridge - about 20 feet up the concrete embankment.
When I went back to work on the same route, I would never see him under the bridge.
But, one day I saw him near the bridge on Ralston Creek working out. He had tied rope to rocks and was lifting them like weights.
That was as close to any pattern I noticed at first - and that was when I decided to ask around to see who knew him.
Everyone knew him - but nothing about him
"Oh yeah, that's Tom..."
I discovered that everyone knew he existed, but nobody knew much about him.
I asked people who had grown up in Arvada and still - nothing.
I eventually asked my brother-in-law on Christmas eve of 2016 if he knew.
“Oh yeah, that’s Tom”, he said, as if I should have known. He told me to Google him right then and there.
There we were - getting ready to have Christmas dinner - and I’m about to find out who this mystery man is.
When the video of him winning the 1994 world championship foosball tournament popped up on my iPhone, I was in disbelief.
How could this be? How did he end up in Arvada?
The day after Christmas I decided to find out more about Tom Spear.
I called the Colorado Foosball Association and it took off from there.
I started researching foosball in Colorado and discovered what a hotbed it was.
I also discovered Tom Spear was part of the foosball revolution in Colorado. He won in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.
I needed to find someone who knew anything about him.
A difficult journey
I could hear the anguish in Tom's mother's voice.
With some help from colleagues at work I found his parents and I called them as soon as I could.
His mother picked up the phone. I explained who I was and asked if she was Tom’s mother.
“Yes," she said.
I then asked what she could tell me and she seemed heartbroken about Tom’s situation.
She said he experienced paranoia and it has been a difficult journey.
I felt bad because I could hear the anguish in her voice.
I then asked if Mr. Spear - Tom's father - was around and she said, “He’s on the treadmill right now.”
I was surprised because the records showed them to be in their mid-eighties. I kept the conversation short and asked if they would be willing to talk on camera about Tom and his success with foosball.
She said she would have Mr. Spear call me back.
A few weeks passed and I reached out to the Arvada Police who directed me to Barbara Parker, the secretary at The Rising Church in Olde Town Arvada.
She had a positive experience with Tom and was willing to talk about it.
She talked about Tom coming to the church to fulfill some community service obligation.
Tom had a been rejected by 13 churches until he got to Barbara.
She put him to work.
Then, she said Tom had some concerns about working in the church.
“He said that ‘I’m afraid that when I’m in here my dad will send demons,'” she said.
When I heard this my anticipation of Mr. Spear’s phone call grew. My mind went to many different places.
Seven days after coming to the church, Tom was done. Barbara got him what he needed.
He sewed her some hackey sacks, asked if he could give her a hug, and left.
In all her conversations with Tom, Barbara Parker never talked to him about foosball.
She had no idea Tom was a World Champion.
He never mentioned it to her.
She was pleasantly surprised to see him smiling in the video.
A smart and athletic kid
I couldn't help but wonder what had happened.
Dean Spear called me back. The father who, according to his son Tom, sent demons to him when he was in the church.
He was very nice and curious what I was calling for.
I explained who I was and that I wanted to do a story on foosball in Colorado and profile Tom.
He explained to me it had been a 27-year battle with Tom and his mental state.
He told me how Tom had won a state basketball championship with his school.
He mentioned Tom was very smart and athletic as a kid.
He talked about how they drove 'up and down the Front Range' so Tom could compete in motocross.
He said Tom was good in golf and even tried boxing. I had heard through conversations that Tom was married at one point and had two kids.
Mr. Spear confirmed that.
This made seeing Tom homeless even harder to believe.
I couldn’t help but wonder what happened.
It seemed to me that Mr. Spear was very proud of Tom’s accomplishments, but heartbroken about Tom’s situation.
Twenty-five miles separates Tom Spear from his parents and according to Mr. Spear, they hadn’t seen him in five years.
I was able to confirm that the family was together in December of 2009 for the funeral service of Tom’s sister LeAnn Spear.
That was the last time his other sister Tammy claims to have seen him. Both Tammy and Dean said they have reached out to Tom on several occasions but Tom has shown no interest in seeing them.
“Tom, ya gotta second?"
“Tom, ya gotta second?" "
He hesitated and looked up.
The words came out of my mouth before I had a chance to even think.
He hesitated and looked up but not at me.
“Sure”, he said.
I found out weeks prior to this encounter that Tom delegated Jerry Todd to do all his talking.
So, I told Tom who I was and explained I was interested in telling the Colorado foosball story as well as his.
I asked him if it was true that Jerry Todd was his 'spokesperson.'
“Yeah, ya gotta talk to Jerry, but do whatever ya gotta do,” he told me.
I asked him if he had any interest in seeing the final product and he said no.
There never was any eye contact with me.
He spoke clearly but I could tell he was not too comfortable having me near him.
I said my thanks and rode away. The conversation probably lasted 90 seconds.
Tom's story is one we're still telling. Did you know him? Send me a note.