Referee shortage leads to cancellation of minor hockey games in Sarnia

·3 min read
Sarina is having a hard time finding referees for youth hockey. Only about 45 out of the usual 100 are available, according to an official. (Paul Palmeter/CBC - image credit)
Sarina is having a hard time finding referees for youth hockey. Only about 45 out of the usual 100 are available, according to an official. (Paul Palmeter/CBC - image credit)

A shortage of referees for youth hockey has led to the cancellations of some games in Sarnia, according to an official.

President of the Bluewater Referees Association Joel Hodgson said they are currently down more than 50 per cent of the more than 100 officials that they would normally have on roster.

"We had to cancel games. There's been a handful that we've cancelled so far, but that's really going to extreme circumstances and people are really sacrificing a lot of their personal lives to make sure that the kids are getting out there and skating," said Hodgson.

With approximately 45 referees on roster, everyone who's participating is skating well above what they normally would in the season.

"Some officials have kind of already reached, in November, what they would have officiated all the way to April, and the season starts in September," Hodgson said.

"We're trying to do our best to avoid cancelling hockey games because we know that really affects the youth, and all of our community partners are doing their best ... so that we can skate as much of the hockey as we can."

A lot of them are tired. A lot of our officials have actually started to take short little breaks, take a week or two off to kind of refresh. - Joel Hodgson, president Bluewater Referees Association

Hodgson explained that although a player might only play a third of the game, the referee is out there skating for the full 60 minutes.

"That is a lot on the body," he said, adding that generally, referees skate multiple games in a day.

"So, if you're skating three games back to back, I mean, that's three hours on your skates working. And not only the physical part of it, which does beat up on your body, but the mental part of having to focus and … a lot of the other stresses, the emotional stresses that come with officiating," Hodgson said.

'It's a very difficult job'

Meanwhile, Hodgson said there are a number of factors driving the current shortage of referees.

"A lot of them are tired. A lot of our officials have actually started to take short little breaks, take a week or two off to kind of refresh," he said.

Given that it is only mid-November, Hodgson said this is a big concern.

"We're really just getting into the busy part of the year. We haven't had any tournaments yet. Usually an official during a tournament will double their workload on a standard weekend. So tournaments start early December and don't stop until the end of January."

Hodgson also spoke about the stress associated with officiating.

"It's a very difficult job and they do take a lot of abuse from parents, coaches, players," he said.

Adding Hockey Canada and other hockey associations have taken steps to bring up the issue, providing tools to officials on how to handle the abuse and then communicate with the parents.

"It's still definitely an issue that the referees and officials aren't viewed as part of the hockey community. They're viewed as very much as an antagonist out there, which does become tiresome" said Hodgson.

"When you're taking time out of your personal life to really go out there and make sure a kid can get a hockey game and you're being viewed as the villain, it becomes a little tiresome."

Hodgson said the cost of officiating is another issue referees face.

"Every official has to purchase their own equipment, pay for their own training, pay for the recertification every year," he said.

"Those costs have gone up and the compensation as part of officiating has not gone up to match, so that those costs are definitely a big difficulty."

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