Campaign aims to end abuse of minor hockey officials in eastern Ontario

The governing body that regulates amateur hockey across eastern Ontario is launching a campaign that aims to curb abuse and harassment aimed at referees under the age of 18. 

Officials under the age of 18 will wear green armband to identify them as minors

According to Hockey Eastern Ontario, one in three referees quit after their first year-and-a-half. Approximately half quit after their second year. Many reported abuse as a reason for leaving. (Radio-Canada)

For 15-year-old Logan Graham, becoming a hockey referee was a way to learn more about the sport, practice his skills on the ice, and choose his own hours.

It was also a way for Graham to be a part of a family tradition. Both his older brother and father are also referees.

While Graham has been in the job for only a year, he knows all too well what can come along with it — harassment or abuse from parents and coaches angry with a call.

"I guess in the heat of the moment, parents get pretty mad but, you know, at the end of the day, it's just a game," he said. 

It's why Hockey Eastern Ontario (HEO), the governing body that regulates amateur hockey across eastern Ontario, is launching a campaign that aims to put a halt to that behaviour against minor hockey officials. 

Logan Graham, 15, has been a referee with Hockey Eastern Ontario for a year. (Submitted by Kevin Graham)

All hockey officials under the age of 18 will wear a green armband, regardless of the skill level they're presiding over, to identify them as a minor. There are also stricter penalties in place for coaches, team officials and spectators who harass officials wearing the band. 

"This is important, that as an organization, that we're cognizant of the fact that there is abuse, there is harassment, and we need to level this up," said John Reid, referee-in-chief for HEO.

'They're going to quit hockey'

More than 40 per cent of all officials in the region are under the age of 18 and Reid said the effect on their mental health is "tremendous."

According to HEO, one in three referees quit after the first year-and-a-half. About 50 per cent quit after their second year. Most reported abuse as the reason for leaving.

Reid said he hopes the campaign make parents and coaches think twice before getting angry.

"They're going to quit hockey. They're going to leave refereeing. They're going to leave the officiating and we don't want that," he said.

Green band mandatory

The initiative will officially begin at the start of the next hockey season, later this year. All minor officials will be required to wear the armband no later than Oct. 15.

Officials with HEO will track the effectiveness of the program by comparing the number and types of infractions given for harassment before and after the campaign.

A similar initiative started early last year in Montreal.

"I hope that it will be really effective," said junior hockey referee Tyson Stewart, who was a minor when he started refereeing with HEO.

"There's really no excuse if you come in now and you clearly see that that person is under 18, you should be thinking before you do anything, that that's not an adult. That's a child." 

Graham said he plans to wear his green armband the next time he referees a game.

"I guess we'll have to wait to see what happens. I hope it does because the rough abuse is pretty common, I guess, across Canada. So I hope it makes a difference."

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