Craig Wiedel has officiated volleyball for 27 years. About 10 years ago, he started working at the collegiate level.
It’s a small town kid makes it big story as Wiedel was the R1 Up referee for the Kansas/Texas match broadcast on ESPN network last week when Texas was rated No. 1 in the nation.
Small is where Wiedel began his career officiating across the net from his sister Kendra Jantzen at middle school matches in Lincoln.
“It’s really a family affair. Kurk got me into volleyball,” Wiedel, the baby of the family, said. There are five members of the Wiedel family who are registered to officiate high school volleyball in Nebraska — Kurk, Simon, Jasa, Kendra and Craig.
Wiedel worked his way up, officiating matches in Omaha and eventually held the flag as a line judge at junior colleges.
“I attended some training camps, where assigners from bigger conferences see you,” Wiedel said.
An assigner at a camp in Indianapolis, Ind., saw Wiedel perform as a whistle blower.
“That next Wednesday, I got a call from the assigner and she gave me my first Division I match. That was five years ago,” he said.
The moral of that story is to take advantage of opportunities, he advised. If Wiedel had stayed home instead of going to the camp, he wouldn’t have officiated Division I.
“I’ve been told I’m one of the very few line judges that ended up being in the Big 10,” Wiedel said. He is in multiple Division I conferences as well as the Executive Director/Commissioner of the Great Plains Region of USA Volleyball.
But the small town kid story isn’t about him. It’s the sport that counts.
Two years ago, Wiedel started Better Every Match, a organization that focuses strictly on volleyball officiating and serves schools throughout Nebraska. Better Every Match pairs veteran officials with brand new ones.
“I’m trying to deal with the shortage of officials,” he said. “We have a huge shortage throughout the nation in all sports.”
He attributes part of the shortage to the negative conduct of parents and fans. Another reason was Covid-19 that took families out of “rat race,” Wiedel said.
Better Every Match has mentored more than 50 new officials with the theory in mind to provide veteran guidance for newer officials, so they don’t get discouraged.
“Studies have shown if they can last three years, there is a great possibility they’ll continue doing it,” Wiedel said.
The organization hosted eight to 10 trainings this past summer in Nebraska to teach the basics.
Wiedel doesn’t look at officiating from a “referee” standpoint.
“I call it being a facilitator of the match. We facilitate matches. For me, a good official is someone who refereed a game and no one paid attention to the official,” he said. “You’re there to watch the game. It’s not about us. It’s about the kids.”
Kurk Wiedel and Alex Wassem of Omaha are helping him with Better Every Match. Quite frankly, Wiedel would rather work with his family, either at the net or on the ground.
“You create a bond. I enjoy working with them. We’re so close,” he said, recalling officiating matches with Kendra.
“My sister and I knew exactly what the other person was going to do every single time. I think if you ask coaches, when a Wiedel comes into the gym, they would say they are going to call a fair game,” Wiedel said.
Better Every Match gives back to the sport that is threatened by the shortage, especially in the rural areas.
He calls his focus the Circle of Life because he is a big believer in letting kids play.
Wiedel also wants to grow boys’ volleyball.
“It’s the fastest growing boys sport in the country. I thought volleyball was a girls’ sport. It’s tough to break that stigma,” he said.
There are two boys’ volleyball clubs in Nebraska, one of which is the High Flyers that just won the national championship with Hebron’s Will Brueggemann. Grant Wiedel is also a member of the club.
“We have a long way to go to sanction it,” Wiedel said about boys’ volleyball. “It’s just a numbers game.”
There are just 67 boys registered to play volleyball in Nebraska, but proponents have pushed on by holding clinics for younger boys.
Wiedel is also involved with a nationwide group to grow the game for boys.
For now, he looks forward to officiating more Husker matches.
“The thing with volleyball is it’s happening so fast. You’re so in the moment doing what you’re supposed to,” he said.