It's no secret some minor hockey fans and coaches can get more than a little excited when they don't agree with a referee's call. But a new initiative rolling out in Cole Harbour hopes to protect young officials from verbal abuse.
"Anyone who is seventeen and under who is considered a youth will be wearing a green arm band, whether they are a referee or a linesman," said Jason Clark, referee-in-chief with the Cole Harbour Minor Hockey Association. "If these arm bands can deter people from yelling at these young officials, then it will help us retain them."
Posters are up throughout the two ice surfaces at Cole Harbour Place to let opposing teams and spectators know about the new arm bands.
"Without officials we don't play games, so it's good to see someone take the initiative here to start a program like this," said Jeff MacAloney, an Under-13 hockey coach from the East Hants Minor Hockey Association. "It's a great idea and I think more associations should be looking into it."
In fact more hockey associations around the province are now beginning to wear them.
"We are trying to inform the public that these officials wearing the green arm bands are novice officials and we need to be supporting them," said Bobby O'Handley, referee-in-chief with the Glace Bay Minor Hockey Association, now using the new arm bands. "Who would want to go down to the rink to be subject to verbal harassment for the $20-$22 they might be getting to do a game."
Hockey officials can start working games at the age of 14. But many young referees only do it for a season or two because of the insults directed at them. Some young officials in Cole Harbour are already seeing the arm bands making a difference.
"I've definitely had coaches yell and get kicked out of games," said Dylan McMullen, a 17-year-old official now in his fourth season officiating games in Cole Harbour. "But since we've been wearing the green arm bands, it seems like they're not yelling as much."
Some opposing hockey coaches and parents said they didn't know about the arm bands until they saw posters at the rink or officials wearing them.
"I wasn't aware of it until I got to the rink tonight," said Paul MacKinnon. "We need young people learning safely, and with no pressures, to officiate hockey and baseball and other amateur sports, too."
If there is less abuse of younger officials, more of them might remain in the game, says referee Clark.
"The bottom line is the numbers of officials are dying off," he said. "There were 30,000 referees in Canada last year and 10,000 of them quit."
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