CHAMPAIGN – Felix and Colleen Madera are known among friends as The Volleyball Family.
For more than a decade, one or both have been fixtures on the local and area club, high school or collegiate volleyball courts.
"We joke with people that Felix is the official who coaches sometimes and I am the coach who officiates sometimes," Colleen Madera said.
Their ventures as officials may start to occur more frequently. After four years as the Urbana High School varsity head coach, Colleen Madera resigned during the offseason to devote more time to family and to taking classes at Parkland College.
The Maderas officiated an early-season St. Thomas More at Paxton-Buckley-Loda match together. Their joint dates this year, however, likely will be limited.
"By the time I resigned at Urbana, most of the officials had been secured for the upcoming season," Colleen Madera said.
The contest at PBL was their first together at the varsity level, though they have teamed up in the past to work middle school and club matches. Both have worked matches with other partners. The IHSA assigned Felix Madera to work its state tournaments in 2006 and 2007.
"Colleen and I have seen each other work quite a few times," Felix Madera said, "so we know how the other one works, how the other one thinks, our strengths, weaknesses.
"When we work together, we spend a lot of time before each match talking about how we might handle certain situations, to minimize the surprises that might come about."
He said he's not more nervous working with his wife, but added, "since I've given her so much advice over the years, I certainly don't want to do anything contrary to what I've tried to teach her."
From Colleen's perspective, she wants to take full advantage of the knowledge her husband has as she seeks to climb the officiating ladder.
That translates into some extra anxiety when they are at the same site.
"I do tend to get a little nervous working around him as I want to make sure I am on my game for each match I work and make sure I take all of his feedback as a way to help me become better as an official," Colleen Madera said. "I would hate to work a match with him after he has given me some things to work on and not be able to show him that I have improved."
Getting hooked up
Colleen Madera's entrance into volleyball started as a prep player at Chicago Lane Tech and continued in various park district leagues when she relocated to Champaign in 1990.
Several years later, she said, "I decided I wanted to coach."
She has put more than 14 years into that endeavor, covering middle school, high school and club programs. She is the director for the Prime Time Volleyball Club's 14-and-under division.
Felix Madera took an interest in volleyball when his wife coached at Jefferson Middle School and, "I would try to help with practices," he said.
It was during a 1999 coaching stint with Prime Time that he changed directions.
"There were times we didn't have enough referees and the coaches had to ref," he said. "I was hooked."
By 2001, he was certified with the IHSA as well as earning his initial USA Volleyball certification.
High school athletic directors would contact Felix Madera to work and provide a list of available dates. In 2005, he learned it was also a good idea to ask who the home team would play.
Days before he traveled to Danville for an early-October match that fall, he discovered the opponent was none other than his wife's Urbana Tigers.
"I asked the athletic director if he wanted to schedule someone else, and he told me he was certain that I would be fair and impartial," Felix Madera said.
Colleen Madera didn't have a problem with the assignment even after Danville secured an 18-25, 25-21, 25-18 victory.
"There was no controversy at all," Felix Madera said.
The couple made certain to double-check future schedules, however, to avoid other potentially embarrassing conflicts.
"I had no doubt he would be fair and impartial, but the impression it could possibly give wasn't something we wanted in our professions as we had worked hard to get where we were," Colleen Madera said.
Limiting the teamwork
Before they commit to numerous officiating gigs together, there's another issue Colleen Madera has to resolve.
"I still have a passion to coach," she said, "so I would probably not officiate as much as he does until I have gotten that coaching bug out of my system.
"It's my favorite sport by far, and I cannot see myself ever not being involved in some way."
When she'll return to coaching is a question which, thus far, has no answer.
"Coaching, if done right, is a huge time commitment that takes many hours of the day, and I needed some time away," she said. "With coaching, it's sometimes hard to leave things 'on the court' and go home. However, with officiating, you can walk out of the gym and be done with it for the night."
The Maderas, who have been married for almost 19 years, said they are not more sensitive to criticism from coaches or spectators while working with their spouse.
"I don't think it's any easier or harder," Felix Madera said. "Coaches are fighting for their teams, and sometimes they'll complain.
"Fans see things through their hearts, not necessarily their eyes. We try not to take complaints personally, either about ourselves or our partner. Once you make sure it's not personal, it's easier to resolve the situation and move on."
Colleen Madera said the toughest aspect for her is watching from the stands when Felix is officiating, such as last weekend, when he worked three of top-ranked Penn State University's matches in St. Louis.
"Some fans behind me started screaming because of the officiating and took shots at the officials," she said. "By what they were complaining about, it was clear they didn't know the rules. It was aggravating to me how rude they can get and how personal their attack can be, but also how unknowledgeable they were about the game."
Colleen Madera is open to adding more volleyball officiating dates to her schedule this season, but there are some matches she would automatically reject.
"I will not ref any Big 12 matches until all of my varsity players from last year's team at Urbana are graduated," she said. "This will probably limit some of my opportunities this year with him, or to obtain my own high school matches, but it's something I consider a potential conflict of interest."
As for teaming up with her husband, she believes that will remain a beneficial pairing.
"I always look forward to working with him because of the expertise he brings from his past experiences," she said, "and the fact that he will give me honest feedback on ways that I can improve."
That feeling, Felix Madera said, is a two-way street.
"I'm not so brazen as to think that I can't get better, so I ask for her feedback on my performance as well," he said.
Felix Madera, whose day job is as office manager for the Department of Development Research at the University of Illinois Foundation, has served as a line judge and assistant scorekeeper for eight international volleyball matches. He has his eye on what could potentially be a bigger prize in seven years.
"I would love to work in some capacity at the 2016 Olympics, if Chicago gets awarded the Games," he said.
Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette's prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached at 217-351-5232, by fax at 217-373-7401 or at email@example.com.