On a chilly afternoon back in 1968, the president of the school board for the Lutheran Interparish School in Williamsburg, Iowa drove onto the Dale and Connie Baack farm in Iowa County with the sole purpose of finding a person willing to coach the basketball, softball and volleyball teams for the 7th and 8th grade girls at his school. When he knocked on the farmhouse door, Connie, a busy mother of 4 children, answered. As they sat at the kitchen table, Connie listened to the harsh facts that if he didn't find a coach, he would be forced to drop the girls’ sports program at the school.
Since Connie had two girls who enjoyed playing all three sports, she quickly decided she would be willing to take the position, even after she discovered that this was a position that offered a coach nothing more than a free bag of popcorn at the concession stand after the game. Her husband Dale agreed that she was probably the best candidate for the job, so Connie loaded her two young sons into the Plymouth, and drove 10 miles into town to try to whip a team into shape in just two weeks.
When she walked into the small gym, she found 24 girls of various athletic abilities sitting in a circle staring expectantly at her. Although she had no assistant coach, and not even a babysitter for her two sons, Connie had everything she needed to start her coaching career...a loud whistle, a pair of tennis shoes, and a lot of determination. She quickly showed the girls how to form two lines to execute a lay-up drill, placed her young sons out of harm's way, and shaped the girls into a team.
During one of her first games, Connie did as most coaches are apt to do. She tried to help the referees make the right calls. In fact, she seemed to be so overly helpful, that one of the officials flippantly asked her," If you don't know the rules, lady, why don't you get yourself a rule book?" That was enough for Connie. She got herself a rule book, she read it, she studied it, she took the test, and, by golly, she passed it! Immediately, she wrote to all of the athletic directors of schools within a 40-mile radius of her farm, informing them she was available to officiate their ball games.
Her first jobs were at the junior high level, but she gradually progressed to varsity games, officiating both boys’ and girls’ basketball, softball, baseball, and eventually adding volleyball. Along the way, Connie also enjoyed officiating games for the Iowa Women’s Softball League, College Baseball, various town ball leagues, Babe Ruth League and Little League. Connie’s large, oversized calendar gives evidence to the hectic schedule she kept over the years with her officiating duties. Often she might have four games scheduled on the same day at schools in different towns which meant she had to be extra creative in managing her time.
Much like the mailman, Connie always managed to make her appointed rounds, or ball games in her case, traveling through wind, hail, sleet, rain and snow. Since a person “just never knows what you might run into when you are traveling down the road,” Connie has always allowed an extra hour for traveling to her game destinations which means that in over 42 years of officiating, she has only been late to one game, and that was due to “engine trouble I just couldn’t control.”
Officiating a softball or baseball game can be brutal in Iowa with its high humidity and record-breaking summer temperatures.” Just the other day as I was walking off the diamond after 3 hours of softball, I found out that the temperature was 98degrees. I have to admit, I did wonder just a little, if I was in the right job,” said Connie this past June.
Now at age 74, Connie has yet to officiate a game in any sport at the state level, but she is extremely proud of one of her accomplishments. “I have not done everything in this career, but I have done something that the men could never have done. I officiated when I was pregnant!” Connie says, speaking of the birth of her fifth child, a daughter, born in 1973. (She did take a few months off of officiating for that.)
The greatest reward from this career, for Connie, is all of the people she has met through the years. She could be at a gas station in Solon or in the McDonald’s in Grinnell, and she will have people walk up to her and ask,” Are you that lady ref? Did you used to officiate in North English (or Vinton or Newhall)? I remember you! You did a good job!”
“What a neat thing to hear! It is always fun to reminisce with folks like that. Although these days, it seems like more and more people come up to me and say, ’I know you! You worked a softball game of mine when I was in junior high, and you just worked my daughter’s game last week.’ That makes you stop and think!”
Connie is still officiating softball and volleyball these days, although she gave up basketball even before she had both knees replaced seven years ago. “Would I do it all over again? Yes! I had great support from my family and the dear Lord blessed me with good health. Do it again? Wait a minute! What are we talking about? I’m doing it right now! I’m on my way to work a volleyball game tonight!”