Minor hockey associations in the Cowichan Valley are supporting the Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association’s suggestion that a spectator-free weekend might be necessary to help eliminate abuse from parents and other hockey fans.
Although neither Kerry Park Minor Hockey Association president Erin Egeland nor her Cowichan Valley Minor Hockey counterpart Christine Steeves believes such a weekend will actually take place, they agree that the message conveyed by VIAHA’s proposal needs to be heard.
"It’s a message to let parents know this has gone on too long," Egeland said. "It’s a message to Vancouver Island and beyond Vancouver Island that this is not to be tolerated anymore."
Steeves agreed with that assessment. "It’s a proposal to make people realize that abuse of officials can’t continue," she said.
VIAHA president Jim Humphrey has noted that the concerns aren’t just about referees and linesmen, but also players and coaches who are the target of abusive comments, but officials do take the brunt it, and Egeland hopes that stops. On-ice officials are as young as 12, and in situations where they are learning on the job, she pointed out.
"Parents and coaches have to remember what the purpose is of having younger officials on the ice," she said. "We wish parents and other spectators would remember they are children and learning a new skill, and they’re doing their best under the circumstances and put it into perspective a bit more."
Because of the stress of the job, referees can be hard to come by, Steeves said.
"It’s difficult to get and keep officials," she stated, noting that CVMHA head referee Mat Porter has added about 30 new officials to a group that was down to around 20 at the start of the season.
As Humphrey has said, it is the responsibility of the other parents to take the perpetrators to task, either directly or through the association.
"Management needs to come from the parents and spectators who are attending the game," Egeland said A spectator ban would be a last resort, VIAHA has said, and the KPMHA doesn’t want to reach that point.
"Our hope is that it won’t happen," Egeland said. "The Kerry Park association doesn’t want it to happen. We love having parents and friends watching the games. It’s good for a small community. But we don’t want to see kids abused by spectators."