HALIFAX — Minor hockey associations in Nova Scotia are the latest to embrace a program aimed at eliminating verbal abuse of young referees by identifying them on ice with a green armband.
Jason Clark, the referee-in-chief with the Cole Harbour Minor Hockey Association, said Thursday it’s not uncommon for spectators and even coaches to hurl insults at officials when unpopular calls are made.
“There are grown adults, men and women, screaming at these kids,” Clark said in an interview.
In hopes of combating the verbal harassment, this season all referees under the age of 18 in the Cole Harbour association — where NHL star Sidney Crosby got his start — are wearing green armbands in hopes of sparing them abuse. Posters are up in the Cole Harbour Place rink that explain what the armband means and remind spectators to treat officials with respect.
The hope is that attendees will understand that if referees are wearing a green band, they are under the age of 18 and “then maybe they’ll stop” hurling abuse, Clark said. Aggressive comments and yelling from the stands have led some young referees to quit in the past, he added.
Hockey Canada reports that about 30,000 officials work across the country, and every year about one-third of them quit for various reasons. The green armband program was introduced in Canadian minor hockey by Hockey Montreal in 2020, adopted from a similar baseball program in Quebec, and it is also in place in other associations in Nova Scotia and in many organizations in Ontario.
John Reid, referee-in-chief at Hockey Eastern Ontario, said he’s noticed an improvement since his association started using green armbands last year.
“Last year there was a decline in harassment and abuse (facing young referees), definitely,” Reid said in an interview Thursday.
“And then this year there seems to be even more of a decline,” he added.
Jason Marchand, the executive director at the Northern Ontario Hockey Association, said his association was eager to take on the program this season after a "significant" number of young officials who left the referee program said it was because of nastiness from parents, spectators and coaches.
"We really want to help lessen the extent of abuse directed towards these officials," he said.
Marchand said hockey associations need to do what they can to keep young referees in the program, especially as some parts of the country struggle to find enough officials.
“We’ve got a shortage of officials overall,” Marchand said of the northern Ontario area. In addition to taking on the green armband program, the hockey association dropped registration fees for new referees in order to get more young officials involved, he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press