Dallas County referee duo call final volleyball game after 35 year career
Thirty-five volleyball seasons, 21 state tournaments, two state titles. On paper, that looks like a dynasty volleyball team. In reality, it's something more rare: The accomplishments of one of the longest tenured duo of Iowa volleyball officials.
After 35 years traveling across the state together, walking onto every court imaginable ranging from Tuesday night at the metro schools, to smaller gyms like Van Meter on Thursday where Don Stracke of Perry and Jerry Bebout of Woodward blew their last whistle together and leave behind the sport better than they found it.
"It's improved 100 percent from the first time we started doing it. The talent's better," Stracke said between matches at a tournament in Indianola. "The girls are stronger. Jump higher, seems like, and they get more experience with club ball now. And the fans have more knowledge now. But the fans are good. Very seldom do you hear a fan in volleyball."
For Stracke who's decorated by 51 years officiating basketball, 50 years in softball, 40 years in baseball as well — volleyball entered his life six years earlier when he joined forces with Doug Latham, former principal of St. Patrick's as an official despite a previous lack of familiarity.
"Don't know nothing about it," Stracke recalled of his first reaction. "Doug said, 'We'll get a rule book and go over the rules in the evening.'"
That set history in motion. After Latham left for a superintendent job, Stracke enlisted his longtime friend Bebout to join forces after previously working together at the Oscar Mayer plant in Perry.
"Don and I have been friends for over 50 years. So that being said, he's been a super good friend. And anyway, Don asked me to be his partner just to do volleyball," Bebout said. "I was kind of hesitant but my brother also worked at Oscar Mayer, and he had been doing high school basketball for years. And he said, 'Jerry get in there! You'll be a good ref.' So between Don and my brother, I thought, 'Heck, I'll give it a try.''
After an enjoyable first season, Bebout encouraged the idea of testing the waters in postseason competition. Thus led the duo down the path of two 21 state tournaments and two state title officiating jobs over the last 35 years.
"Didn't know it was gonna be 35 years but the plan was to continue doing it for a while. It just kept going," Bebout said before stepping onto the Van Meter floor on Oct. 15.
In agreement with Stracke about the improvement in the sport over the last three decades, Bebout praised the competition across the board in Iowa.
"We literally referee several Division I volleyball players every year. The players are just so good now," Bebout said. "When we first started, we were doing the smaller schools predominant but even a smaller school now, they're having good play. Then we got into the [Des Moines metro] and the play is so good."
Stracke went a step further to say he believes that not only is volleyball the most intense sport in girls athletics due to each play counting on the scoreboard, he also wishes it was readily available for boys after seeing the benefits of the sport in person the last 35 years.
Now with those moments in the rearview mirror, Bebout and Stracke were in agreement that it's the coaches, student-athletes and even activity directors that they'll miss the most.
"But we'll still see each other a lot," Bebout said, looking forward to getting some more use out of their golf clubs at the Perry and Woodward country clubs.