Some of my co-workers will refer to me as the grumpy old man of the newsroom. Sometimes I don’t see it. Sometimes it’s probably valid.

This time it is probably valid, but after more than 20 years of watching state tournament volleyball and seeing something that doesn’t seem right for that long, enough is enough. I have to say something.

I’m not normally one to complain about officials, but why is it just accepted that matches are called differently with each level you advance to? To my knowledge, the rule book stays the same from the first day of the season to the last day of the season. There usually are a couple of minor tweaks in the offseason, but for the most part, the general rules of the game have been the same for years.

So why is the two contact rule and any kind of illegal contact for that manner, called so much more tightly at tournament time?

The general rule is that if the player keeps their hands together on a hit and doesn’t hit the ball twice in a row, then they are deemed safe. For example, if a player sets the ball to a teammate, who then bumps it back to them, the first player is allowed to hit the ball again because they did not hit the ball twice in a row. However, if they try to set a ball, but the ball obviously hits one hand before the other, then the player can be called for double contact.

“Obviously” being the key word here. The way it was being called in the regional finals I saw included some things I’d say were less than obvious. At state, some things that were being called were far from it. You can tell from the reactions of both teams as they often seemed shocked that play had been stopped and a point had been awarded.

And before you think this is just sour grapes because N’West Iowa’s teams struggled with that a bit, it happened in matches with teams I’ve never seen before. I saw a match where a coach asked her captain to go ask the official for clarification on what was called and why. That’s something that happens fairly often during the year, but usually the captain comes back and gives the coach the answer and the coach responds with a nod affirming the explanation.

What you don’t see is where the captain comes back on to the court with a confused look on her face and just shrugs her shoulders toward her coach.

Gehlen Catholic coach Mike Meyer was trying to be nice to the officials when he told me that in his match, that call was correct “75 percent of the time.”

I don’t know about you guys, but 75 percent is not a grade I would be proud of if I was supposed to be one of the best at what was being graded.

“They always call more second contacts down here that what we are used to and I think that got to our setter and our right side, who hardly ever set the ball overhand the whole game. It’s just part of it. It’s going to happen,” Meyer said. “We practice and practice to try to prepare for it, but it can be a little frustrating too.”

Unity Christian coach Patty Timmermans said she did not want to say too much about it after the Knights’ opening-round loss.

“It takes you off guard when your setter gets called for doubles as often as she did today and I do not think they were all doubles, that’s all I will say about that,” Timmermans said. “But it is hard for a setter to keep going and wanting to set the ball when they are afraid when they touch it they are going to get called. That did affect us.”

She couldn’t help but add a little more.

“It is frustrating. I’ve had that once before here at state. It looks clean, and I didn’t see it being called on the other side until later in the match. That is frustrating,” Timmermans said. “You almost have to encourage your setter to keep setting it, but you have to tell your other players that they shouldn’t even try to set it because if she doesn’t like it, it’s going to get called.”

Of course, from the officials’ perspective, there is no difference in their approach to the state games. Jim Doyle, a state tournament official I’ve known since we were small children, has worked 15 state tournaments. He was one of the officials making the calls in Western Christian’s state championship match.

Doyle, who is from Hastings, said his approach is always the same.

“They always tell us before we get started here to call it the same way you would if you were at home,” Doyle said.

Gehlen Catholic may have been hurt by the tighter calls more than most teams because part of what makes the Jays great is they play so well out of system. Even if the pass isn’t to the setter, it seems on a normal night almost anyone on that team is capable of delivering a proper set.

“For the most part, they were pretty consistent in what got called. Most of the time, it’s because we were slow setting up or we bump into each other and aren’t communicating,” Meyer said. “It is what it is. It’s like in basketball. If they refs are going to call it tight, you better not be crawling all over your opponent. We just need to adjust to that a little better.”

Meyer said the game gets tighter when the officials know they are being evaluated by the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union.

“We put a lot of time in working on the fundamentals so it is a little frustrating. A lot of it, sometimes it’s just not getting your footwork done properly. I think sometimes if they see a little spin on the ball they call it, but the rules don’t say anything about spin on the ball,” Meyer said. “I’d say about 75 percent of the time it was the right call tonight. It’s just that it came at bad times for us. That’s just the way it goes.”

The simple solution is either call it tight all the time, or call it loose all the time.

“I’ve heard other coaches complain about it here too,” Meyer said. “It seems like maybe our refs up in our area need to call it a little stricter during the year. I think we get too comfortable with refs that let us play a little more. There’s not much you can do. I feel somewhat powerless about it.”

The rule doesn’t change, so the way that it is called shouldn’t. At least not much. In baseball, every umpire’s strike zone is a little different even though the rule book lists just one way to do it. As long as it’s close and you are consistent about it, teams adjust.

Doyle liked the baseball analogy.

“It’s a judgment call. It’s a matter of opinion,” he said. “And the way I call it might not be the same as the way you would call it.”

Doyle also reminded me that officials are people too.

“We’re human. Being here is a big thing to us too,” he said. “We get nervous just like the players do. We want to be perfect all the time, but we’re going to miss a call or two. It happens.”

Missing information

I received a few inquiries this week about why Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn had to travel to West Hancock for its state football quarterfinal game on Friday.

Most of those who e-mailed about it included a clip from a podcast where the subject being discussed was West Hancock football. The folks doing the talking mentioned that the tiebreaker if two district champs play each other this year is alphabetical, so West Hancock fans should have been rooting for North Butler to beat the Hawks so the Eagles would get the home game.

But those guys were wrong.

It should have been obvious, but West Hancock’s win over Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn during the regular season was the first tiebreaker for determining the host for the playoff. While it was not listed as such in the online playoff manual published by the Iowa High School Athletic Association, it is and always has been the rule.

Here is the statement I got on the subject from Chris Cuellar, information director for the IHSAA:

“West Hancock is the host for Friday’s Class A quarterfinal against Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn due to their head-to-head win earlier this season. That head-to-head criteria, which has been used in previous football postseasons and was approved by our board, did not make its way into the published 2021 postseason manual due to an error from our office,” Cuellar said. “We were made aware of the absent criteria by Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn this weekend and our staff spoke directly with their administrators to address the issue. We understand why there may be frustration and confusion over this error, and we apologize for the oversight.”