Pilot program aims to curb abuse of young hockey officials
Angry parents yelling from the stands.
Coaches berating hockey referees outside their dressing room, using their cars to block officials from leaving the parking lot at rinks, or even following them around the city.
Verbal, and sometimes, physical abuse.
These are just some of the things minor hockey referees have had to deal with in Waterloo Region.
It’s harrowing stuff for any person, but especially devastating for referees in training.
To help, minor hockey organizations in Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo have launched a pilot program to curb, and hopefully eliminate, abuse toward young officials.
Starting last month, referees aged 14-16 working house league games in Waterloo Region began wearing green bands on their upper left arms to signify that they are minors and still learning the craft.
“It’s a reminder for coaches and
parents that any type of verbal disagreement or harassment doesn’t help,” said John Morton, president of Cambridge Minor Hockey. “We’d like them to refrain from doing that with all referees, but especially the ones wearing the green bands.”
Morton heard about the program last spring and brought it to Shawn Dekker, the organization’s referee-in-chief, who loved the idea.
But with Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo house league now under one umbrella, he had to get the OK from all three associations and the Minor Hockey Alliance of Ontario, which governs the leagues. All of them signed on. “Some coaches and parents in all walks of life tend to be more verbal than others,” said Morton. “It can border on abuse and we want to get that out of our system if we can. We certainly want to get it away from our young referees. We can’t play hockey without referees.”
Retaining officials has been an issue across Ontario.
Dekker said Cambridge lost about half its officials during the pandemic. But increased tension and scrutiny from those on the bench and in the stands has also had a negative impact.
“A lot of the time that’s the first time in that individual’s life that they’ve been put into a position of authority,” he said. “They are now having to articulate their calls and interact with coaches, and deal with high-conflict situations, and potentially have to tell an adult that could be twice their age that they’re incorrect.”
Dekker estimates that for every 10 new officials, only about two or three last for the long term.
“With the verbal abuse our younger officials are going through, and them turning away, we’re running into issues where we’re either reducing officials on assignments, or having to go back to our local association and say we can’t field a team of officials for a game,” he said.
That, or get approval to pay mileage to bring in referees from out of town. Two officials usually work a game, with each one making about $20 to $70 per tilt, depending on the level of hockey. Dekker estimates that about 50 officials will be taking part in the green armband program across Waterloo Region.
“It’s imperative that we get the next generation to stick around and continue officiating and keep giving back to the game, instead of the past norm of doing a year or two and getting fed up with abuse and just walking away,” he said.
About 50 officials will be taking part in the green armband program across Waterloo Region
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