Pressure packed, stressful, want to get away, scapegoats.
Pick a term, any term.
The phrases all describe common thoughts of a referee’s job – in almost any sport at any level.
From crazy wrestling moms yelling it’s a pin or a takedown to an arena full of boos when a called isn’t made in favor of the home team, it’s fair to say reffing athletics is not a desired job by most.
For Tri County Superintendent Randy Schlueter and his wife Karen Schlueter, the previous assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The couple who has reffed over 30 years together (since 1987)  says their love for  volleyball triumphs over the stressful nature of the job and dislike from fans at times.
“It can be stressful, especially when a lot of matches are on the line. But yet if you really enjoy the game, I think you let the joy of the game take some of that stress away,” Karen said. “You are not going to please everybody, and I just think that’s just something that you have to know. But after every match you want to walk away and say ‘I’m pretty satisfied with that. I felt like I was pretty consistent.’” 
Reffing together as a couple plays a big part in feeling at ease with the job. Knowing each other’s tendencies and what each is going to call in certain situations creates a comfort level to where they can block out the surrounding distractions.
“When we work together, we’re good. You know what the other is thinking, what they’re doing, how they act, how they react. And we’re very calm, collected, and consistent in what we do,” Randy said.
They also view it as an avenue to give back to the sport of volleyball after growing up playing the sport.
“We both love volleyball. We both played volleyball and we wanted to stay involved in the game,” Randy said. “We just thought we’ll continue to officiate.”
The Wisner, Nebraska native even went on to say that it’s an activity that provides him stress relief.
“When I talk about it being a stress relief for me it’s just a sport that I really enjoy, I love it. Both of us do. And we want to continue to be involved in it and give back to a sport that has meant so much to us,” Randy said.
Before the Schlueter’s tied the knot in 1983 and had kids from 1985-1991, they were both head volleyball coaches at the high school level in Nebraska. Randy coached at Friend from ’79 to ’83 and at Lincoln Southeast from ’83 to ’86. Karen, who is currently the Beatrice High School track coach and seventh grade volleyball coach, was the head volleyball coach at Norris from ’80 to ’86.
Karen took a rather unique route to coaching the sport of volleyball. The 60-year-old began her athletic career at the University of Nebraska playing basketball. During her junior year, Scott Frost’s parents, Carol and Larry Frost, who were the university’s track coaches at the time, recruited Karen from the basketball team.
“What happened was the track people asked the basketball people if they had anybody that could jump. And they said “call this Karen Frazee’ which was my maiden name. So they called me. I had no thoughts of doing track. They called me and I said ‘sure, I’ll come try it.’ So thankful to them for reaching out and giving me the opportunity,” she said.
Karen became an instant star on the track. The Summerfield, Kansas native won a Big Eight title in 1979 in the pentathlon – an event that consists of the 100-meter hurdles, 800-meter run, high jump, long jump, and shot put.
That begs the question – when did volleyball come into the picture?
“Actually, basketball was my first love but once I took a coaching volleyball class at the University, I just really fell in love with it. Then I did my student teaching, but it’s like a student-coaching practicum in volleyball. I just fell in love with the game,” Karen said.
After graduating college both Karen and Randy played club volleyball as a part of the United States Volleyball Association. They traveled across the Midwest on teams with their respective gender.
Randy compared the popularity of club volleyball for adults on the hardcourt back in the ‘80s and 90’s with the rise of sand volleyball in the 21st century.
“There was lots and lots of teams around the Midwest. We traveled to tournaments around the Midwest. At that time it was called USVBA (United States Volleyball Association), which has now morphed into the American Volleyball Association (AVA),” he said.
Their head coaching positions enabled them to meet as they initially crossed paths at a volleyball camp when Randy was the head man at Friend and Karen was coaching Norris.
Once their kids, Nicole, Abby and Ethan trickled into the equation, they soon retired from coaching and transitioned to reffing in 1986-1987.
“It’s a great activity for us to be together but also we both really like the sport of volleyball. It’s something that’s really in our hearts,” Karen said. “It’s a way to stay progressive with the game, stay involved with the game.”
Back in their reffing prime (late ‘80s, ‘90s) the Schlueter’s reffed approximately 100 games every volleyball season. That number has come down a bit since then, reffing around 50 games per year now that both are over 60-years-old.
So what games standout to the couple as their most memorable games they have reffed over the years?
“The state championship ones really stick out because those really are, that’s the best of the best. You get an opportunity to work both and you feel very honored to be able to do those,” Randy said. “We’ve done anywhere from 15-20 state championship games. Those are really enjoyable. We’ve done three all-star games. It’s just fun to be able to do those types of games.”
Randy and Karen’s daughter, Abby, joined her parents as a ref around 2012 according to Randy.
Abby followed in her mother’s footsteps, becoming an all-american in track via the triple jump while at Doane University (2006-2009) before becoming a volleyball referee.
The experience of reffing together as a family is a special one for the Schlueter’s. Randy said that every year they come together and ref at least one tournament.
“Tournaments are long days for us and our daughter comes in and helps us. So we rotate. She enjoys it too,” Randy said.
The Schlueter’s plan to keep reffing in the near-future although retirement isn’t too far off in the distance.
“Well I think it’s year by year. I know that at some point I’m going to retire from public education. When I do that I will probably phase out of volleyball because that’ll give me more time to go and stay with the grand kids. And do my next piece of education,” Randy said.