About a third of the referees with the Northern Ontario Hockey Association (NOHA) are under age 18, and they’re now sporting green armbands on the ice to help reduce harassment and abuse from coaches and spectators.
The armbands signal that the official is a minor.
“It’ll make them think twice about who they’re yelling at or who they’re harassing and abusing,” said Adam Morell, officiating program co-ordinator.
Morell started officiating hockey games at age 17.
“The abuse is there, but as you grow into [officiating games], you kind of learn to block it out,” he said.
“Definitely in the first couple of years it was nerve-racking having people yell at you or get angry with you.”
Now when Morell officiates, he doesn’t even pay attention to angry yelling from the stands or benches. He’s glad younger officials will have an added layer of protection to feel more comfortable while working on the ice.
About one-third of the 450 officials working within the NOHA are between ages 14 and 18. There are usually anywhere from two to four officials on the ice for games.
“In the end we’re showing that we take abuse seriously,” said NOHA executive director Jason Marchand.
“We take [harassment and abuse] seriously regardless of the age of officials, but at the same time just kind of further emphasizing that these officials under the age of 18 have very little experience. They’re still learning, and we’re working to support them through the process.”
Marchand said that in the past, new officials would only stay about two or three years before leaving because of harassment and abuse from coaches and spectators.
“Abuse is one of the main reasons officials have left.”
He hopes the green armband initiative will help improve the working environment for young referees.
Regardless of which official is abused or harassed, suspension penalties are now doubled for verbal abuse of an official, if a green armband official is on the ice.
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