A workplace friendship that has carried over to many hours together away from their place of employment will experience a change Thursday for Perry’s Don Stracke and Woodward’s Jerry Bebout.
The pair have decided to step away from the volleyball court after Thursday’s match between Woodward-Granger and host Van Meter. Doing so will bring an end to a 35-year pairing for one of the most respected set of officials in all of Iowa.
“We were at Oscar Mayer and were already friends, and one day Don asked me if I would like to team up with him and officiate volleyball,” Bebout said. “I didn’t know a thing about it and had to study up and learn to earn my certificate.”
Volleyball is the lone prep sport Bebout serves as an official for, but that is not the case for Stracke, who has been a fixture on the high school scene for five decades. Stracke ended a 51-year career as a basketball referee in February, stopped calling softball after 50 years in 2019 and had halted a 40-year stretch as a baseball umpire 10 years earlier.
He had been calling volleyball for six years with former St. Patrick’s school principal Doug Latham, who left Perry to accept the superintendent position for Osceola schools. That led to the decision to ask Bebout to join him and the rest, as the refrain goes, is history.
“I decided to start doing volleyball when they ended fall softball,” Stracke said. “I knew nothing but the very basics about the game and had to learn fast to get the certificate I needed to do the job. I have enjoyed it every since.”
CIML commissioner Jim Byers teamed with school officials from Dowling Catholic and host Urbandale to honor the pair with an award and special recognition last week.
“That was really nice,” Stracke admitted. “For 25 years Jerry and I have spent Tuesday’s doing CIML matches. We appreciated the recognition.”
“One the greatest things have been the friendships and relationships the two of us have had over the years,” Bebout said. “We have seen a lot of great volleyball and met with, and worked with, some great people.”
Stracke started becoming involved in youth sports as a referee at St. Patricks and as a coach (for 25 years) for the Knights and at various levels of Little League.
Basketball became his longest tenured officiating duties. For 30 years he has paired with current Perry superintendent Clark Wicks, and, once three-man crews were put in place, was joined by Wick’s son, Kevin, for more than the last 10 seasons.
Stracke has worked several state softball tournaments, and, with Bebout, has officiated at 21 state volleyball tournaments, including overseeing two state finals.
Both the IHSAA and IGHSAU are experiencing strains on the overall number of officials across the entire spectrum of sports, and at all grade levels. The retirement of such a widely and well-respected pair as Bebout and Stracke will only add to the pressure of filling in open spots for officials.
Bebout said the biggest changes he has seen in the game was the switch from standard scoring to rally-scoring, and the addition of the libero position.
“There have been rules changes and some things have become emphasized more, or maybe less, but that kind of goes with most sports,” Bebout said. “But rally-scoring really changed the sport, and it took everyone some time to get used to.”
Stracke said he believed athletes, in all sports, are now bigger, stronger and quicker than they were decades ago.
“So much has changed as far as training,” he said. “There didn’t use to be the weight lifting and speed training you see now. The other thing is all the off-season camps and leagues the kids can be involved in — they are simply playing much more than they used to.”
Stracke credited his wife, Martha, for her long years of understanding and acceptance of his absences. The pair have three children — Brad (who lives in Texas), Brian (Wisconsin) and Beth Neal (California).
He and Bebout share a joy of slow-pitch softball and golf, two additional common interests helping cement their friendship.
“You have a lot of long nights of travel and spend a lot of time together, so you had better be good friends,” Stracke said. “There was probably no chance one of us would choose to go on after the other decided enough was enough, so we happy to be finishing together.”