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Whistling from the other side of the net

Val Swanson, left, was the head volleyball coach at Ridegwater for many years, while Mary Hanson was the Willmar High School volleyball coach for several years. They are now both officiating the sport. <b>Tribune photo by Rand Middleton</b>

Retired coaches whistle another tune when they become referees.

"I never missed a call when I was coaching," quips junior college hall of fame volleyball coach Val Swanson with a straight face.

"Me neither," confirmed Mary Hanson. "Now I understand why officials miss things; I can understand their complaints," adds the Willmar Cardinals head coach from 1989 to 2008.

The ex-coaches can be seen officiating at high-school matches in the area, including being paired in matches at New London and Kerkhoven this fall.

"Up there (on the stand), I sometimes second guess myself," said Swanson.

The two long-time friends had talked about becoming officials after ending their coaching careers. It looked like an easy way to stay close to the sport minus coaching's time commitment.

"I thought it would be easier to catch on to," mused Swanson.

Hanson was familiar with the rule book and that helped her pass the high school league's on-line test. This year she attended a rules meeting in Sauk Rapids and underwent an evaluation while working a preseason scrimmage.

Last year, she worked five dates, plus a junior varsity tournament. This fall, she has nine dates that have included three trips to Lac qui Parle Valley High School, with a trip up ahead to Sartell for a JV tournament.

"It keeps me in volleyball and allows me to watch Kelsey," said Hanson.

Kelsey Hanson played on her mother's Cardinal teams and now is in her final season as a setter for the Valley City (N.D.) State University Vikings.

The flexible schedule also allows Hanson, a middle school health teacher, to teach classes in stress and wellness and elementary school health on Monday evenings at Southwest Minnesota State.

Swanson has been with Ridgewater College since 1980 in several capacities, including women's basketball coach and athletic director, and currently is an instructor in Human Services and Physical Education. She gave up the volleyball coaching reigns to her step-son, Joe Sussenguth, after the 2005 season. She retired with 736 wins, including a national title.

This is her fourth year officiating and has gradually increased her work load to about a dozen dates this season.

"You find that the better the teams, the easier it is to officiate," she said. "Officials kind of match the level of play, I think. Thankfully, there's a lot of good volleyball around here."

Swanson, who started playing competitive volleyball 40 years ago at the college in Marshall, notes a "ton of rule changes."

"A lot of them are aimed at making the rallies last longer which is more entertaining," she said.

The change to rally scoring, from side out, was prompted by TV, she said. With rally scoring, the length of games is more predictable.

Hanson said she misses being around her players and the team. Though demanding, she finds officiating a relaxing way to remain close to the sport. "I can just leave the gym," she said. "There's no fundraising, no phone calls."

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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