Zebras endangered? Local minor hockey associations seek officials

By Allan Bradbury
Staff writer

Fort Frances area minor hockey associations are in need of some help officiating this year. The job has plenty of rewards for those who get into it.

Referee-in-chief Matt McLellan has put out a call to the community for new officials to join the Fort Frances Minor Hockey Association, the Emo Devlin Barwick Association and the Fort Frances Girls and Women’s Hockey Association as officials.

“I usually try to have a good number of officials, just because of the amount of games that you have in the winter,” McLellan said. “We try to balance it out so that no one’s getting burnt out.”

McLellan says the main group of officials locally hasn’t changed much recently and some are hanging up their skates.

“For the last six or seven years it’s kind of been the same core guys and we’re just kind of getting burnt out and other guys have retired so we’re just losing numbers every year.”

Anyone aged 12 and over is eligible to become an official, as long as you can pass a criminal reference check. The process is simple. McLellan will put applicants in touch with the regional referee-in-chief of Hockey Northwest Ontario and send in a ‘Hockey resume’ detailing your history with the game. McLellan says the only reason people typically are turned down is due to a failed police check.

After new officials are accepted they have to complete 10-12 hours of online training which they will get reimbursed for. Once training is complete McLellan says he usually starts people officiating lower level games starting with U11 or U13 until they are comfortable and then can move up into the higher age groups. Younger officials are given games with players outside their own age group to officiate which limits the possibility of bullying or anything of that nature.

McLellan says there are lots of benefits to officiating.

“You get really, really good physical activity,” McLellan said. “It’s great if you’re not big on going out and walking or going to the gym and stuff like that. It also keeps you in the game, if you’ve played the game and you enjoy the game, you’ll understand it that way.”

McLellan also says for him he enjoys being around kids and watching them grow in hockey.

“If you enjoy being around children this is the best place because it’s a great time to watch kids do what they love,” McLellan said. “I had this when I grew up and I want my daughters to have this, so I just like seeing other kids that are just out there enjoying the game that they purely love and grew up watching on TV.”

Then there’s also a financial benefit. The pay is on a per game basis and depends on what levels of hockey you officiate. It starts at $16 per hour for U9 games on weekdays and goes up from there.

McLellan also wants to encourage girls and women to come out for officiating.

“Females are big in the game right now,” he said. “Right now there are 11 women officiating in the AHL this year.”

There are more and more women refereeing men’s hockey games which is great for the sport. McLellan also mentioned that there is a woman who officiates in the SIJHL in Red Lake.

Officials must provide their own skates, helmet, whistle, jersey, pants and other protective equipment.

Anyone interested in joining the local group of officials can contact Matt McLellan at 271-4411