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SIOUX CITY | SuzAnn Frank was a rookie teacher in the fall of 1979, dating Steve Jansen, a veteran official who worked prep basketball, football, volleyball and track.

"I must have made a comment about how easy it was to officiate," SuzAnn recalls. "Because I remember sitting that day in the laundry room at the Ridge Oaks Apartments. Steve walked in, threw a referee's shirt and a rule book at me."

She remembers his directive. "You think it's so easy?" he asked. "You're going with me tomorrow night."

SuzAnn Frank didn't exactly embrace the challenge, but she met it. She rode with her boyfriend to old Westfield High School in Westfield, Iowa, and walked into the gym to officiate her first high school volleyball match.

The first person she encountered at the gym? Patty Hesse, a former Morningside College classmate.

"Patty, who now officiates, was the coach at Westfield High School," SuzAnn says. "She said to me, 'SuzAnn, what do you know about volleyball?'"

Good question. Twenty-four hours earlier, she didn't know much. But, she had a good cramming session with her rulebook. She also had a great guide that evening on the court. SuzAnn spent the first set or two mimicking nonverbal signals Steve made in executing each ruling.

That was 35 years and thousands of volleyball matches ago. It was also one marriage (she and Steve wed in 1982) and two children ago for the Jansens. Old Westfield High was a lengthy cross-court pass from where SuzAnn Jansen stood late last fall, making her debut as an official in the Iowa High School Girls State Volleyball Tournament.

The Siouxland Officials Association recently recognized SuzAnn Jansen as the 2014 Siouxland Official of the Year in its year-end awards banquet.

"I have stayed with it ever since 1979," says Jansen, a special education teaching coach who has taught in the Sioux City Community School District for more than three decades. "Back then, officiating was a second job and we treated it that way: We were serious about it."

Officiating with her husband and with longtime friends like Jenni Malsam, Deb Richarz, Mary Walling and more, has become more than work: It's a passion that cements bonds of friendship. Like family.

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"You build those relationships with other officials, with the coaches, the athletic directors, the players and their parents," she says. "It gets in your blood, I guess."

Jansen joined Malsam, Richarz and Walling in helping fund a $500 sportsmanship scholarship awarded by the Siouxland Officials Association. In the past, the larger body of officials has earmarked a portion of its dues for two scholarships, awarded to a pair of Siouxland high school seniors who exhibit a command of the principles of sportsmanship.

Last year, Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew and his wife, Jana Drew, both members of the Siouxland Officials Association (he officiates football and basketball, she officiates volleyball), sponsored an extra scholarship. The Drews did the same thing this year.

"We do this because our son Josh, who is 27 now, was 16 when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer," Dave Drew says. "Back then, the Siouxland Officials Association helped us with some of the costs we faced relating to Josh's treatment. I always thought that if there ever came a time when we could help repay them, we would. That opportunity arose through the scholarship last year and we plan to continue to do that."

"When we heard the Drews had sponsored an additional scholarship last year, we thought we could that, too," says Jansen.

According to Kevin Eekhoff, chairman of the group's scholarship committee, local referees have now helped present nearly $20,000 the past 12 years to Siouxland high school seniors continuing their education.

The sportsmaship scholarship winners this year include Kaylee Hathaway of West Monona, Mikayla Hintz of South O'Brien, Alec Shultz of Washington High School in Cherokee, Iowa, and Katie Landhuis of MOC-FV High.

Speical awards at the banquet went to officials Scott Willmott and Von Bornholtz, who helped organize a benefit dinner last July for Sioux Cityan John Jacobs, an official who suffered an epileptic seizure that led to a fall and an ensuing brain injury. Jacobs remained in an induced coma for four weeks last summer.

The standing ovation for Jacobs, who attended the banquet, was filled with emotion. And it caused more than one referee to think of the Jansens. Steve Jansen was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease 12 years ago. Jansen, himself a former Siouxland Official of the Year, gave up his volleyball duties five years ago, exactly three decades after he introduced this year's Official of the Year to that wonderful sport. 

"It's an incredible network, not just our fellow referees, but the athletic directors, the coaches, the many players and the parnets," SuzAnn Jansen says. "It is like a family."

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