Baranek: Soccer goalie sees bright future in the (red) cards
Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5947 May 10, 2012 8:14PM
Michelle Balcerzak as a soccer official. | Supplied photo
Both sides now
“A referee has to be objective, rather than subjective.
“When you’re playing, you’re definitely connected because your emotions are high. You want your team to win, so obviously you’re biased.
“An official has to be detached in the game in the sense that you can’t have an emotional connection to either side. You have to be aware that both sides want to win this game, and believe it or not, you really are the deciding factor.”
Updated: June 12, 2012 8:16AM
Life is a real balancing act for Lincoln-Way North senior Michelle Balcerzak.
She’s in a ton of extracurricular activities, the sort of service- and academic-oriented pursuits that really dress up a college application — kind of like her ranking in the top 10 percent of the Class of 2012 at the Frankfort school.
She’s one of the school’s top athletes, a four-year varsity starter in soccer and an All-Conference, All-Sectional and All-Area goalkeeper.
And when she’s not doing any of that, she’s refereeing soccer games.
Very well, of course.
Balcerzak was recognized in March as the 2011 Illinois Young Soccer Female Referee of the Year by Illinois Youth Soccer.
“I felt very honored,” she said. “I was really excited to even be considered for a nomination. When my assigner sent my dad the information and said, ‘Hey, Michelle would be a good candidate for this,’ I was kind of like, ‘Whoa.’ I was very appreciative.”
It’s pretty clear this young lady is on a fast track to, well, just about wherever she decides to go.
And believe me, she’s got options.
Balcerzak plans to double major at Carthage College in business marketing and sociology. She’ll also be taking some pretty gaudy stats there as a soccer goalkeeper.
Wednesday, she registered her 12th shutout of the season and the 43rd of her career as Lincoln-Way North beat Lincoln-Way West 2-0 to secure a share of the SouthWest Suburban Red title with Lincoln-Way Central. Heading into the 2012 playoffs, she has a career 0.98 goals-against average.
Meanwhile, Balcerzak definitely is catching on fast as a soccer official.
She’s been refereeing youth league games for the United States Soccer Federation and the Illinois Youth Soccer Association since 2008. In the fall — at the start of her junior year at North — Balcerzak made her IHSA debut as a varsity official in a boys game at Tinley Park.
When one of the Titans punched the ball out of the net after a goal, she immediately responded with a red card.
“He was not a happy camper,” Balcerzak said. “He yelled at me, and I told him to get off the field. The coach was screaming at me, but I was like, ‘Your player put his hand up and punched the ball out of the net. It’s automatically a red card.’ ”
And just like she’s done in the net for the Phoenix, she stood her ground.
Balcerzak got an early start on her officiating career at the behest of her dad, Ken Balcerzak, who also is an IHSA referee.
“I’ve always been interested in the game,” she said. “After my dad started refereeing and I got to a relatively higher age, he said to me, ‘I think you could probably handle this. We’ll start you out slow, and get you acclimated to the game.’
“So I took the test, passed it and slowly worked my way up through younger-level games. I remember my initial feeling as being scared and nervous, but my dad was there to watch and make sure I was making proper calls.”
The experience has changed her attitude as a player.
“As a player I wasn’t really connected to the responsibilities of a referee,” Balcerzak said. “During games I would be like, ‘Wow, I don’t know why this person can’t call this. This referee is awful. He isn’t watching the game.’
“Now that I’m a referee I’m like, ‘Yeah, I can see how he or she wouldn’t see that. There are certain angles, obstructive of views, that can prevent a referee from getting a clear picture. I have a lot more respect for referees now.”
And, perhaps, a lot more refereeing in her future.
“If I can’t continue playing (after college) I want to continue refereeing and being around the sport,” Balcerzak said. “I saw there were three women nominated from the United States to go to the London Olympic Games. I have all the respect in the world for those women. I want to be at that high level.”