The Ref and I

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One time, after getting tossed from a hockey game, I expressed my displeasure and disagreement with the referee’s decision by throwing three full garbage bags on the ice – one each for the referee and his two linesmen.

Another time, I was arguing with a referee. Of course I knew I was right and that he was wrong. But towards the end he yelled at me, “One more word and you’re out!” I leaned in and very quietly told him that he’s a terrible referee (this is a PG-rated version of what I actually said). He hesitated over what to do, then skated away, shaking his head before continuing with the game.

I don’t know where it all started. When did I become the bad guy in the eyes of the zebras? They’re great guys, I’m sure they all have families and more importantly, have feelings. I’m smiling here as I write this part.

But seriously, to understand what a referee goes through in any given game, you’d have to skate a mile on their blades. This I did for two summers. I can tell you, you can make your closest friend, your brother or even a church-going quiet guy turn on you after one bad call. I was blamed for goals against and losses. And here I was just trying to provide some good officiating to our wonderful game. It was tough. Of course, once it was all done, everyone was all smiles and laughs.

Being an official can be rewarding, but also thankless. It’s not a career I’d want, but one can learn to respect the officials who have enforced the game’s rules over many years. I’m sure the pay is decent for an after-work kind of gig. But the turnover for referees is high, you see most just come and go realizing this isn’t for them.

Then there are those who have been around so long you wish they would just retire already. I used to say referees were the kids who always got chosen last in a game of pick-up hockey, but that’s not the case. I know a few of them who can also dangle their way down the ice, including one who can spin his way around most guys.

To treat officials this way is somewhat tolerable in the adult divisions. One place there is no room for this kind of abuse is in the minor categories. As tough as it is, parents and coaches have to bite their tongues before saying something they regret.

I learned this the hard way as a coach. Seriously, what kind of coach gets suspended three times?

The respect level has to remain very high when it comes to officials and your kids. What they see mom and dad do, they do too. No matter what. There are other ways of voicing your disagreement at this level. Wait until you can communicate it with the league or administration, and not where there is a presence of little ones.

One thing we know is, without officials on the playing field, we have no games. Just practices and meaningless scrimmages. I’ve travelled one hour each way from home to the rink to play in a league that always had officiating because it makes the game more fun… and real. So, respect your referees no matter how bad they call the game. Remember, everyone has a bad game once in a while, even the ref. And don’t ever do what I did, unless you want to have some “alone time” in the box, or worse.

On a personal note, to all the refs with whom I’ve had negative encounters I want to say that I’m sorry for what I said in the past. More importantly, I’m sorry for what I most likely will say again. It’s still just a game for all of us and not worth playing if you don’t have fun.

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