Referees getting a rough ride
Official Mitchell Rainey takes to the ice at Talbot Gardens for the Simcoe Lions Tyke Tournament Friday afternoon. JACOB ROBINSON/Simcoe Reformer
A recent incident resulting in police being called to Talbot Gardens is the latest in a string of factors that are contributing to a hockey referee shortage in Norfolk County.
According to an email obtained by the Reformer written by one of the officials, a nondescript call during a bantam AE game on Wednesday night led to Norfolk OPP getting involved and both officials handing over their resignations to Simcoe and District Minor Hockey afterward.
One of the coaches was ejected in the first-period for arguing a high stick call and following the contest, one parent – taking issue with the way the an official allegedly spoke to a player – went into the referee's room and demanded the name of the referee. The parent was asked to leave but refused and the police soon arrived. No charges were laid.
“As a result, both of these referees have said 'I'm done' and I don't think it's a result of this one incident, it's a lot of things that have been building up over time,” said Simcoe and District Minor Hockey president and longtime referee Adam Walker. “I've been refereeing a lot this year and I know most of the referees have said 'I'm ready to be done, this is my last year, it's just too much'.”
According to Ian Taylor, executive director of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, 650 new officials registered for OMHA duty beginning this year on top of the 3,700 returnees.
“Officials perform a vital role in hockey,” Taylor added. “At all levels, they are the third team on the ice, without whom the game would not happen.”
Unfortunately, the outlook isn't as prosperous locally. Two years ago Simcoe Minor Hockey was doing cartwheels when it recruited eight new officials, but just two of that group remain. That's not specific to Simcoe either, officials around Norfolk have been hard to come by. Simcoe amalgamated its referee's association with Waterford Minor Hockey this year, but they're still operating with a skeleton crew. The numbers are so low some games have been cancelled.
“We've cancelled more games this year than we ever have,” said Walker. “And it's only going to get worse as time goes on.”
While the Norfolk Girls Hockey Association – which has its own referee in chief separate from Simcoe Minor Hockey – hasn't had any cancellations this season, they too are struggling to employ officials on a regular basis.
“We don't have as many games as the boys and I think that also makes it harder because sometimes we can't get two games in a row and they don't really want to come out for a single game,” said NGHA president Marg Bauer.
And while driving to work one game isn't ideal, that's not necessarily the main issue facing officials these days. Rather, the men and women donning the stripes are fed up with the verbal abuse they receive on a nightly basis.
“It's funny, I've seen really good people, good guys and as soon as they walk in an area and see those referees they think they're out to get them – they're going to cost their kid a scholarship or a chance at the show (the NHL),” said Walker. “I don't get it.”
Bauer has seen much of the same at various Ontario rinks.
“I have a real problem with a lot of the disrespect that gets shown to the referees, particularly from the parents,” she added. “I think they should be respectful of these people because not many people want to do it ... they don't want to come to the arena and be yelled at.”
The message from Bauer and Walker to parents and fans alike is simple – if you don't lighten up on the officials there aren't going to be any to yell at.
“The referees are there to do their job and (spectators) need to respect their decisions and treat them with the respect they deserve,” Bauer said. “They're not perfect, they're human, they're going to miss calls, they're going to make mistakes but we need them or we're not going to be able to have hockey games.”