Alberta refs leaving game as abuse increases

Just how bad can hockey parents be? Pretty bad, says northern Alberta’s top official — though that’s nothing new.

In an interview with the Calgary Sun last week, Cory McLean, South Zone chairman of the Hockey Alberta Referee Council said the number of instances of abuse on hockey officials – whether it’s from parents or coaches – is getting worse and is driving young officials from pursuing refereeing altogether.

McLean described the situation as “alarming”.

However, McLean’s North Zone counterpart, Ryan Weyland, says the number of match penalties – which are infractions handed out to coaches, players and team officials who verbally or physically abuse an on-ice official — assessed this season by Alberta referees is actually trending downward.

So far in the 2014/15 season, 16 match penalties have been doled out across the province, with about half of those penalties occurring in the North Zone – which is the largest zone in the province and includes Edmonton as well as Fort McMurray, Drayton Valley, Wetaskawin, Camrose and Vegreville,

That number is drastically higher than last season when only 16 match penalties were called all year. However, Weyland, 34, notes that during the 2012/13 season there were 21 match penalties issued compared to 26 match penalties issued during the 2011/12 season, and 29 in 2010/11.

“If you take it in a bigger picture of 20 years we have come a long ways, but we have a way to go,” said Weyland, adding the severity of the instances is also trending down. “Each one of these incidents is certainly alarming, they’re all alarming to me, but they’re not so different from the numbers that we were seeing a couple years ago. But I think (as a whole) alarming is too strong of a word.”

This season, there are 1,622 officials surveying hockey games in northern Alberta compared to 1,598 last season. It’s a number that fluctuates, says Weyland, and can range from as a high as 1,800 to as low as 1,500.

But whether or not this abuse is single handedly the reason why young officials leave the game is unclear, says Weyland, adding that in northern Alberta other opportunities exist for young people to make far more money elsewhere.

“We need to further improve the abuse of officials because it does happen, it absolutely does, but at the same token I think officials leave for a lot of different reasons. The ability to make $20 an hour at Tim Horton’s in Fort McMurray might have had something to do with that,” said Weyland.

In cases where parents are the ones inciting violence or verbally abusing officials, Weyland says it starts to become more of an issue when you get into the Atom hockey levels with eight- to nine-year-olds, and into the Peewee and Bantam level.

But he added the number of parents doing the heckling is quite small.

“In these instances of heckling you’ve got maybe one or two individuals who are a bit of a bad apple and most of the parents are kind of talking under their breath to themselves, or to one another in their small groups, saying ‘hey, why don’t you stop that’ or ‘shut up’ kind of thing,” said Weyland.

“If we want to get to that next step maybe we need some of those individuals to step and say to the bad apples, is this is really being productive? This is a game within the province of Alberta and the country of Canada, let’s appreciate it for what it is.”

trevor.robb@sunmedia.ca

@SunTrevorRobb

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