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Margaret Sturza, the former Madras High coach and athletic director, has ensconced herself in the officiating world.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Margaret Sturza, left, receives the OACA Official of the Year award at a banquet in Eugene last month.

As an official, Margaret Sturza spends most of her time in the background, watching the action unfold in front of her. But during a trip to Eugene last month, she took center stage.

Sturza, a central figure in Madras High School athletics for decades prior to retiring — and then finding her new calling — was recently named Official of the Year by the Oregon Athletic Coaches Association for her work with on the volleyball court. She was one of the three coaches to win the award, which was presented at an OACA Awards banquet at Hayward Field in Eugene on May 21.

After retiring from MHS in the spring of 2007, Sturza realized that she still wanted to serve the community and the sports that she loved. Her many years of coaching and service as an athletic director had given Sturza a keen appreciation for officials. So, with a career on the other side of the whistle behind her, she made the decision — as she jokingly puts it — 'to go to the dark side.'

"When I retired, I thought, 'I need to give back to the kids and the community,'" said Sturza, who became certified as an official just months after her retirement. "I realized that it was a natural thing for me to, as I always say, go to the dark side."

Of course, since she was the head volleyball coach at Madras High School for 14 years, it was an easy fit for Sturza to go back to the courts when she became an official. She notes that because volleyball is not a widely televised sport, the general public does not have the same working knowledge about rules and scoring as they do with other sports.

"You don't see it on TV on like you do with football and basketball," explained Sturza.

Bringing expertise with her to the floor, Sturza has risen to a level of prominence in the officiating world. Sturza, who also acts as treasurer for the Central Oregon Volleyball Officials Association, was tabbed as the top volleyball official in the state in 2019. Then, in 2020, she was recognized by the National Federation of High Schools for service and contribution in support of OSAA as an official.

Now, she has another plaque to put up on her mantel.

The award ceremony took place after the final day of the OSAA Track & Field State Championships, which was perfect for Sturza. After all, she had been in Eugene for four days at that point.

In addition to being a volleyball official, Sturza also officiates track and field. Last month, she was a judge for the long jump and triple jump events, collectively known as the horizontal jumps. Sturza reprised that role last week at the high school national championships, which were also held at Hayward Field.

The longtime MHS faculty member will be heading back to Eugene next month, too. Sturza has been invited to officiate the horizontal jumps at the world athletic championships — a significant honor.

"That is probably the biggest single event that I will work in my lifetime," Sturza said of working the world championships. It will be her third trip in as many months to the storied Hayward Field in Eugene — and it will also be her longest. Beginning July 12, Sturza and the other officials will spend two weeks living in the dormitories at the University of Oregon.

"We're required to be there for the full two weeks," Sturza noted, "because if our event isn't happening, we will be asked to do other things — marshal, practice timing at Lane Community College, counting laps for the 10,000 meters."

As for her future past next month, Sturza says that she is excited to continue officiating next season, and to do so in a more positive environment than in years past. There is a national shortage of officials, and a common reason given for leaving or avoiding the profession is verbal abuse from fans.

Still, Sturza is hopeful that more reinforcements are on the way.

"It would be so awesome to have some young people that have played high school ball and get them involved," she added. "I just wish there weren't horror stories because that turns people away."

Thankfully, Sturza has not seen as much bad behavior from the crowd in the last year — a phenomenon that may be an unintended outgrow of the pandemic.

"It's not as bad as people think it is," Sturza said of the issues between spectators and officials. "Since the pandemic, things are so much better because people realized what a loss it was during that two-year period in which we couldn't have high school athletics."

"I have found that people, coaches, parents and athletes are just so appreciative of the officials," she continued. "I think the appreciation for officials has actually gotten better. If something good can come from the pandemic, I think that's it."

Of course, it's easy to be appreciative when you have one of the very best officials in the state of Oregon working your games.

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