I'm not sure what it is about the stripes that hockey officials wear, but it seems to turn some minor-hockey coaches and parents into lunatics towards the men and women in stripes. While it seems that there are a few bad apples that spoil the bunch in terms of coaches, players, and parents, the few that are being completely unprofessional commit anywhere to from 80-95% of the acts of aggression towards the officials. Why is this? Why can't the officials do their jobs without the threat of verbal or, in some cases, physical abuse? Are we, as a society, really this depraved?
The majority of officials in minor-hockey are as young as some of the players they are officiating. That means that they routinely are near the same age of the players or, in most cases, slightly older than the kids on the ice. When a player yells at an official, it's normally in the throes of the game where passion, emotions, and adrenaline are all on extreme highs for the player. I don't condone yelling at an official, but sometimes it happens.
Where it seems that people lose their minds is in the stands or on the bench. Far too often, young kids who are trying to hone their officiating skills are forever put off the game by some blowhard who decides that a mistake by a 16 year-old referee or linesman has now cost his team of 13 year-old children all chances of ever winning the Stanley Cup. Never mind the fact that the 13 year-old kids are hearing all sorts of words that are normally bleeped out on television, but they are also learning that that type of behavior is acceptable.
Do officials make mistakes? Absolutely. They are just as human as you or I. Do they scream obscenities and threaten your health and safety when you screw up? I have heard, in my time spent at rinks, far too many death threats, obscenities, and other incredibly rude comments made towards the officials from the people around me in the stands or from across the rink from a coach. And that, readers, is ridiculous.
The reason this has come to light is because there is an alarming rate of official abuse being seen in Winnipeg's minor-hockey system. Russ Romaniuk of the Winnipeg Sun wrote a very good article on this topic Friday, and it really needs to be read.
Winnipeg minor hockey on-ice officials are increasingly facing physical and verbal attacks from players and coaches, as the abuse reaches what a local organizer calls an “epidemic.”The fact that there was an incident of physical abuse towards an official "involving a coach of a team of seven- and eight-year-olds" is downright pathetic. These are the people we are entrusting our kids to learn from both on the ice and in the dressing room, and this is what the coach is teaching our next generation of hockey stars?
Hockey Winnipeg president Don McIntosh told league directors, co-ordinators and other organizers by e-mail this week that something must be done to stop attacks on the officials, who can be as young as 13.
"This is reaching epidemic status," he says in the e-mail, which was sent Wednesday and obtained by the Winnipeg Sun.
In the memo, he cites three Hockey Manitoba disciplinary hearings held within the past two weeks into physical abuse of referees or linesmen — two involving players and the other involving a coach of a team of seven- and eight-year-olds.
"There have been other hearings at Hockey Manitoba this year and three hearings pending from very recent incidents," McIntosh says in the e-mail, adding "the verbal and physical abuse of referees has to stop."
Glenn Asselstine, vice-president of officials with Hockey Winnipeg, told the Sun that 16 incidents of such abuse have been reported since early January — a sharp increase from what is usually seen in that period of time.
"Physical abuse of officials has jumped probably threefold in the last month and a half," he said. "It is very scary for us right now."
Incidents of physical attacks on officials generally lead to hearings held by Hockey Manitoba, the province's governing body for the sport. Suspensions can and do occur.
When contacted by the Sun, McIntosh didn't reveal specific details of the incidents.
He confirmed, however, that the increasing frequency of the problems has spurred his call to community centre directors and hockey sub-association presidents and co-ordinators to "talk to the coaches" to bring more awareness to the dilemma, which has prompted an undetermined number of refs and linesmen to leave their positions during the past few years.
"I’m told that referees are quitting because of abuse. Senior or management referees who we have in our system will tell you that," McIntosh said, adding he doesn’t know the number of such resignations.
"Referees are a very valuable and important part of our game. Our game couldn’t go without them."
McIntosh said abusive behaviour toward officials appears to be mostly in players aged 17 to 14, "who quite frankly, don’t give a damn on the ice, maybe, and don’t give a damn at school. It's a societal change that we're seeing on the ice, to some degree, I think. They’re just not as concerned about consequences as they once were."
Here are the stats that Romaniuk dug up in his story:
- 16 - number of on-ice incidents since January 4 involving officials.
- 10 - number of those 16 incidents that went to disciplinary hearings.
- $16 - lowest wage earned by an on-ice Hockey Winnipeg official.
- $51 - highest wage earned by a Hockey Winnipeg referees.
- $41 - highest wage earned by a Hockey Winnipeg linesman.
- 13 - lowest age for on-ice Hockey Winnipeg officials.
- 450 - number of on-ice Hockey Winnipeg officials today.
Readers, I encourage you to have some respect for the officials working games in minor-hockey leagues. If you see someone running his or her mouth, ask him or her politely to stop. For most kids, playing hockey is all about fun. Learning the lessons that come along with winning and losing is important, but kids will stop playing the game if it is no fun.
It reminds me of the Pink Floyd song: "Coaches leave them refs alone. Hey! Parents! Leave them refs alone! All in all, you're just another brick in the wall."
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!