From the Chilliwack Progress Archives: Hockey referees chased away by parental abuse

Visit a hockey arena today and little has changed from when Bill Lillicrap wrote his column in 1975.

Since first publishing on April 16, 1891 the Chilliwack Progress has been the newspaper of record in Chilliwack.

One hundred and 28 years later the Progress remains the longest continuously published newspaper in British Columbia. With the addition of a thriving digital operation anchored by theprogress.com, the Progress delivers more news to more people than ever before.

‘From the Progress Archives’ is a journey into the past, to see what was making news decades ago.

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Headline: Parental abuse: Who needs it?

Date: January 29, 1975

Reporter: Bill Lillicrap

Last September there were 43 willing minds and bodies to hold the post of referee in Chilliwack and to some extent Abbotsford, Mission and Aldergrove.

That local hockey officials program, described by some as one of the best developmental plans in the province, has been sabotaged in the last four months. There are now only 18 officials left in the Chilliwack association, including eight over the age of 16 years.

What has happened to this formerly thriving organization?

Current referee-in-chief of the Chilliwack and District Minor Hockey Association, Ray Bowe, and his predecessor, Ron Vermeer, put it bluntly, “They have left because of the attitudes of coaches and parents.”

CDMHA’s executive is not complaining about the current situation but it is very concerned.

Picture if you would, a young man of 15 or 16 years of age, formerly a hockey player for maybe seven or eight years. He decides that at his age he has a longer future in hockey as an amateur (or even a professional) referee.

He and his fellows turn out for that first referee’s school in mid-September. They are issued their copy of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association rulebook and other utensils that go along with being an official.

Two months later as the minor hockey season starts to warm up they find themselves the target of seamy, abusive language. Why? Because they may have missed an offside or icing call or as a referee they may have called a penalty that was questionable.

This is the ‘ammunition’ of some parents who, in the words of Ron Vermeer, “are convinced they each have a Bobby Orr” waiting in the wings to be drafted into the NHL for a big fat contract.

That 200 pound father leaning over the rails could be a neighbour, a ‘friend’ of the family or a local businessman who was formerly admired by our young official. What do you think his first thoughts are regarding the life of an official?

Experience of the past four months has shown that most fellows decide to get out of refereeing. They don’t need the cheap threats from hockey parents, the veiled threats of players at school who may be prompted by ‘dad’ to try influencing the referee behind the scenes.

No matter which way you slice it referees are human beings. Many of them are still in their teenage years and have not developed the ‘thick skin’ of a Ray Bowe or a Ron Vermeer that comes with experience.

Vermeer drew an interesting comparison when he said, “a hockey player makes 40 mistakes and never gets hollered at, but a referee makes one mistake and he gets it.”

How true.

Oh it will be argued, “Yes but the referee goes to school to learn his job.”

Indeed he donates still more of his own free time while many coaches balk at the idea of attending a coaches’ clinic. Schools for hockey parents do not exist, but maybe they should.

Not wanting to belabour a point from the past two weeks, I do however find it revealing that both Bowe and Vermeer claim the majority of problems for officials originate with the minor hockey rep teams. Action tends to be much keener and victory over an out-of-town team becomes the object for many parents in a life and death struggle.

Vermeer said house league games between entirely Chilliwack area boys have proven to be no real problem.

Referee-in-Chief Bowe said the association is struggling to cover all of its bases in Chilliwack and elsewhere in the Fraser Valley. He stated that if adult volunteers would come forward in the next couple of months and offer themselves as local minor hockey referees and linesmen, this would do a great deal to relieve the pressure. He added that this would be allowed without them holding a CAHA referee’s ticket.

That may seem like a cockeyed idea, for anyone to willingly make himself the target for abuse. But then what sort of a hockey program will remain when we have no more referees?

Think about it!

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