- Associated Press - Sunday, November 22, 2015

COLUMBUS, Neb. (AP) - Kim Kwapnioski counts the hours she spent with her late grandfather and her father as time well spent.

No, they didn’t spend their afternoons playing pitch, catching fish or watching baseball.

Instead, they verbally dissected the volleyball matches they had just officiated or discussed the rules for the sport that, for many years, dictated the course of their lives.

Kwapnioski serves as the director of the Norfolk Area Visitors Bureau. The Columbus native was introduced to volleyball by her grandfather, the late Mike Zastera, and father, Don Janssen, both players and one-time referees.

Today, Zastera is a sports icon in Columbus. The Clarkson native played basketball in high school.

After that, he worked for the Ford dealership in Columbus to make a living but spent much of his time playing, coaching and refereeing sports.

The Norfolk Daily News (https://bit.ly/1kFHSdL ) reports that his credits involve coaching basketball at Immanuel Lutheran School in Columbus for 45 years and for organizing the now 36-year-old All Lutheran Roundball Tournament for Lutheran elementary schools in Nebraska.

His goal was to promote not only sports, but also sportsmanship, fellowship and worship, said his daughter, Cindy Janssen, Kwapnioski’s mother.

For that reason, student athletes stayed with host families, attended worship together and had fellowship together, Cindy said.

His dedication led to the school naming the gymnasium at Immanuel Lutheran in his honor.

Zastera also was involved with American Legion baseball and, of course, volleyball, as a player in YMCA leagues and as a referee for junior high and high school matches.

In fact, he refereed the first high school volleyball tournament, which took place in 1972.

But most of his time was spent traveling to towns such as York, Albion and Spalding, where he and his partner officiated regular-season matches and tournaments.

“He loved the game,” said Don Janssen, Kwapnioski’s father.

And so did Janssen, who was a swimmer at Columbus High School in the 1960s. He later officiated at high school swim meets, and in 1969, he joined the YMCA volleyball league his father-in-law was playing with.

So it was only logical that when Zastera’s officiating partner became ill, he asked Janssen to join him.

They became a team in 1982 and spent their nights and weekends in gymnasiums filled with energetic players, enthusiastic students and anxious parents.

Janssen was so nervous that first night he could hardly get through it, he said. But he did and went on to officiate for another 30 years - in addition to operating his construction company in Columbus.

The pace was hectic at times.

“It wasn’t just one night,” he said. “We’d ref Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Then on Saturday, we’d go again to referee a tournament.”

Kwapnioski also played volleyball for Columbus High School. She graduated in 1988 and went on to play for Westmar College in LeMars, Iowa, and Wayne State College, where she earned a degree in human service counseling.

Like her grandfather and father, she loved the game, and soon after graduating from college, took the exam needed to become a referee. She started working with her father and grandfather in 1994.

For nine years, the three of them worked together - two would officiate at a time while the third took a break, which was especially helpful during tournaments, which could take all day.

On the drive to matches, they often studied the rule book, and on the way home, they critiqued the matches they had just officiated, Janssen said.

And Zastera wasn’t shy about giving his granddaughter advice.

“He was a great teacher and my worst critic,” she said.

“When I found out I was going to (officiate at) state, I called him and said, ‘I got in … I got in,’ and he said, ‘You are there to do a job … and you need to be the best that you can be,’ ” she said.

Still, he was her biggest supporter and even substituted for her after she gave birth to her children - two of whom were born in the fall during the height of the volleyball season.

Since making that call to her grandfather about being accepted to officiate at state, Kwapnioski has worked seven state tournaments as a referee and a floor manager, which is her job this weekend in Lincoln.

Her duties involve making sure referees have what they need, and she takes care of any issues that might arise concerning the play of the match.

She’s also officiated at some college matches and would like to do more, she said. But officiating is more than just showing up with a whistle, she said. Each level requires more training and involves a higher level of scrutiny, all of which takes time.

Now, in addition to working and officiating, she wants to follow her children’s activities. She and her husband, Tim, have three children.

Kwapnioski, her father and grandfather worked together for nine years before Zastera retired. He died in 2008 at the age of 82. Kwapnioski and her father worked together until three years ago when Janssen had to have knee surgery.

But Janssen still loves the game, and he and his wife often attend matches where Kwapnioski is officiating. And he’s not shy about telling her if she made a mistake, Kwapnioski said with a laugh.

He may be in the stands this weekend during the state tournament keeping watch over things. And it’s highly likely that Zastera’s spirit will be hovering about, too, making sure that all is right in the world of volleyball.


Information from: Norfolk Daily News, https://www.norfolkdailynews.com

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