SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) — It’d be difficult to write a story about the history of Siouxland basketball without mentioning Jenni Malsam. She’s officiated hundreds upon hundreds of games in the area since she became possibly the first female referee in Iowa back in 1979, and many fans are wondering how she’s still doing her passion.
“Their question is: ‘Are you still refereeing?’ And, you know, I catch that still?” said Malsam.
Born and raised in Kingsley, Malsam then attended Morningside University where she met her husband and from there, Sioux City was home…with the exception of a 12-month stint.
“Siouxland means a lot to me, now that being said, we did move to central Iowa for one year and I was so homesick,” said Malsam.
Malsam talked about how the game of basketball in Iowa has changed over the years.
“Iowa was fortunate in that we had some Iowa girls sports and that was unusual because most states didn’t but we did…When I started officiating, the Iowa game was still the 6-on-6 basketball game,” said Malsam.
Off the court, Malsam has also found ways to help out her community. She began teaching a “Reconnecting Youth” program at West High that was grant-funded through a partnership with Jackson Recovery Centers — aimed at helping young people make better decisions — and while there, Malsam says she built a lifelong connection with her students.
“What happened is my mom got sick and she passed away and those kids…were so wonderful…They wrote me letters, they wrote me poems. That really connected me with West High and the kids there and the teachers there and it was a great run until the money ran out,” said Malsam.
Malsam was then asked to teach a similar curriculum at Winnebago High School where she ran into a bit of an officiating conflict. Malsam had just started at the school when she realized she was contracted to referee a Winnebago vs. South Sioux City boys basketball game.
“The next day, I go to school, and I walk in and the janitors are: ‘You’re a really fair referee, you did a good job!’ And the cooks and everybody at the school thought I was wonderful. And of course, that was just one game on one night, but it really helped them to accept me there,” said Malsam.
Through the years, Malsam has also been honored by the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union, including a display at the Iowa Hall of Pride in Des Moines.