There are a few clues in Margaret Domka’s classroom at Union Grove High School. A couple soccer balls. Some posters. Select flags representing foreign countries she has visited.
There’s nothing, though, that immediately demands your attention in the classroom where Domka has taught Spanish for the last 13 years. And there is nothing that would give away her esteemed status, which she achieved early this year with an email that carried the title line, “Women’s World Cup Selections.”
“You would probably be able to pick up that there is soccer involved,” the 35-year-old Stevens Point native said of her classroom. “I’m not sure you would see anything about being a soccer official.”
But Domka has become much more than just that. She was the only official from the United States to be selected for the Women’s World Cup, which is being held in Canada through July 5. The perfectionist who endured her share of confidence-rattling matches starting in 1993, when she began refereeing recreational soccer, has willed herself to a level that is but a pipe dream for most others in her position.
Are we talking Powerball odds? Not quite. But Joe Krzyzaniak, the State Referee Administrator for Wisconsin Soccer Referees, makes it clear that the magnitude of what Domka achieved is truly remarkable.
“There’s well over 250,000 referees who register in the United States and she’s definitely been in the top 100 of the elite who are asked to work either at the professional level or world-class level tournaments and competitions,” said Krzyzaniak, regarded by Domka as one of her greatest mentors. “And then to be singled out as the single representative of the U.S., it’s just a monumental feat on her part.
“It takes a great deal of physical and mental fitness that she’s gone through over the past three to five years, where she’s really focused on this. And it’s paid off.”
Domka, a former NCAA Division III All-American at UW-Stevens Point, has been writing the emotional checks it takes to reach this level for years. She started officiating in her native Stevens Point at the age of 13 to earn some extra cash and gradually worked her way through the ranks.
Despite her skills, she didn’t always believe in herself in her formative years and her body language during matches projected that insecurity. And once players even at the lowest levels sense that insecurity, an official can be red meat in the cage of a hungry lion.
“There was an amateur game I was working one day and there was a penalty situation that went terribly wrong,” Domka said. “I’m not sure the decision was correct and the re-start was a disaster. I went home, of course, questioning whether I should continue at all because the players were really, really angry. And, at the time, I was younger than the players and they were amateur men. So not only were they angry with me, but I was incredibly intimidated by them.”
Domka reached out to her mentors, especially Krzyzaniak. And she kept coming back for more even when it took so much courage to do so.
“When she was younger, she was into gymnastics,” said Christina Hintz, Domka’s eldest sister. “She was trying to do roundoffs — whatever they do with no hands. And she asked my mom, ‘Can you tie my hands behind my back because I just keep putting my hands down?’ Of course, my mom didn’t tie her hands, but she was so determined to do it that she wanted another way to get it done.”
Jamey Walter, a 1997 Park High School graduate who worked as an official with Domka for several years, noticed that assertiveness gradually evolve. Domka transformed herself from a sometimes quivering presence to a commanding presence.
“When you first start as a referee, you’re blowing a whistle and just reacting to what’s happening on the field,” Walter said. “And when you get more experienced, you start thinking ahead of the players. She knows where to stand. She knows that maybe these two players are going to cause trouble so she’s going to stand next to them and anticipate it. It’s pretty cool.”
And then there’s her work ethic. Count on Domka to arise in her Greenfield home daily at 4 a.m. to work out at some gymnasium. After school lets out, it’s off to another gymnasium for a different workout. And before she typically goes to bed around 9 p.m., Domka is at her computer, either studying herself or others in various situations.
The ultimate reward came Thursday night, when Domka served as the head referee in Thailand’s 3-2 Group B victory over Ivory Coast at Ottawa.
“I’ve never seen her appear that confident,” Krzyzaniak said. “I think she performed very, very well. There were some mistakes in the match by some of her referee team members, but another thing she learned is to get through that.
“She made some very critical calls and that told me she was very focused and maintained good position.”
Domka has put herself in a great position for the forseeable future.
“I would love to continue working international games and tournaments if those opportunities continue to come my way,” Domka said. “The Olympics of 2016 would be just an incredible honor to be chosen.
“But for now, I just want to be totally focused on this experience just for the fact this is a huge opportunity in my career. I want to focus on where I am right here and right now.”