Bring civility back to the rink

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I was covering a Highland Storm Minor Hockey Association game this past Saturday in Haliburton when the referee took exception to one of the visiting team’s spectators.

It was the first period of the U13 game between Haliburton and Mariposa. A Mariposa player got called for a penalty and someone from the visiting stands yelled at the referee that there would not have been a penalty had he not called a previous offside.

A visibly agitated ref kept looking into the stands. He eventually tossed the spectator out of the bleachers and right out of the A.J. LaRue Arena. I have covered a lot of hockey games, for the Storm and the Huskies, and never seen a fan hurled.

However, I can understand how Hockey Eastern Ontario refs, who are paid the princely sum of $25-$34 a game, or linesman, at $21 to $27 a match, are probably sick and tired of the off-ice shenanigans near the end of a long hockey season.

I mean, we are talking U13s here, and no one is going to the National Hockey League. Was the penalty or possible offside call that big of a deal? No.

There have been two other incidents during this hockey season that I would like to address.

I will preface by saying I did not eyewitness either but was told by reliable sources what went on.

In one case, during a minor hockey game in Minden, a parent got upset about ice time and slapped a cell phone out of the hands of an arena attendant. And hundreds could talk about the Haliburton County Huskies game on March 25, when fights broke out all over the ice, insults were hurled at the on-ice officials, and some fans, particularly young fans, exhibited some pretty questionable behaviour. While some might say it is about sticking up for the team, the truth is it is embarrassing and unnecessary. Why in the world would anyone put their hand up to be an underpaid and underappreciated OJHL ref?

Further, what kind of example does behaviour such as that displayed at the Huskies game show our youth? One of the most worrisome photos we took at the game – and chose not to run – was young kids hurling abuse at the opposing team’s players. Not a proud moment for Haliburton County.

Back to Saturday’s Storm game, and we can see how an increase in bad behaviour from people sitting in the stands at youth hockey games is causing some referees to quit.

None of this is new. A 2015 Angus Reid Institute Report said the majority who attend youth hockey games have seen young players or referees verbally abused. The key findings? Six in 10 survey respondents had witnessed angry parents berating referees at least once in the previous two years and half had seen kids on the receiving end. Nine of 10 said they had seen adults using inappropriate language and yelling at kids or referees. They deemed it a serious issue.

Based on the three incidents we have seen, or heard about this year, it appears civility is under risk once again, this time at our hockey arenas, and it has to stop.