By Ross Forman
Sjoukje Brown officiated her way from northwest suburban Barrington through the IIHF World Championships in 1992, to several NCAA Frozen Four Championships, and ultimately this past January into the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame.
Her illustrious 23-year career was cut short by cartilage transplants in both knees.
But she hasn’t left the sport, specifically, the officiating side of the game.
Brown, who lives in West Dundee and is the principal at Fox Meadow Elementary School in School District U-46, was named the new Central District Referee-in-Chief this spring, replacing Bob Cunningham.
“This is an incredible opportunity to represent one of the best and largest districts in the country,” Brown said. “I am proud to be able to speak on behalf of the officiating community and work with each affiliate (Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska) to continue pushing this district forward. The Central District is at the forefront of hockey in many aspects, and I plan on collaborating with each affiliate to continue leading that tradition.”
Brown was approached by Central District Officiating Program leadership and asked if she would consider taking on the role. She had, after all, left all of her IHOA and AHAI leadership positions two years ago due to her father’s illness. He has since passed, and “I was looking for a way to become involved again. The timing of this opportunity couldn’t have been better, and I was thrilled to say yes,” she said.
Brown admitted she never envisioned herself in this position.
“I knew I would always be involved in officiating in some capacity, but those who have filled this role prior to me have been mentors to me for years. To be asked to fill such a role is very humbling and I am thankful to have even been considered,” she said.
Brown said she has multiple goals for the position, starting with increasing the registration of officials in the Central District. Other goals:
- To increase training opportunities for officials seeking to grow their game.
- To incorporate a model of shared leadership, which will allow more people to share their talents and ideas to grow the program in the Central District.
- To transparently communicate within the district.
- To help push the thinking and programs at the national level so that the Central District remains at the forefront of the officiating development program.
Without question, Brown will help the “Illinois voice” at the district and national levels.
“Illinois is my home, and I am a product of IHOA. Without the opportunities afforded me by IHOA, I would not be here today. I am extremely proud of IHOA, and think the program has many great qualities,” Brown said. “That said, we can always improve, and I look forward to working with IHOA leadership to help Illinois officials be the best.”
Brown said she wants to see Illinois’ retention rate for official climb, “because that is one of our largest areas in need of development,” she said. There were more than 250 fewer registered officials in Illinois for the 2014-15 season from the previous season.
“We have many learning opportunities here and it would be nice to see a larger pool of officials take advantage of continuing education opportunities and scenario training. These formal and informal sessions are ways in which we can continue to grow, and it would be nice to see greater participation,” Brown said.
Brown was, without question, one of the best officials ever to lace up a pair of skates in Illinois – not just one of the best female officials. That’s how good she was in her black and white sweater.
“When initially approached, I said I would turn this position down if I were being offered the position because I am a female,” Brown said. “I am a firm believer that merit is the most important tool for any position, regardless of gender. However, as the first female District Referee-in-Chief of any USA Hockey district, I am proud that I could be the one to pave the way for others. I think it is good for girls and women to see other females in positions of leadership, and if my role as CDRIC inspires other females to officiate or to push the leadership envelope, then I am very thankful for the opportunity to be a positive influence.”
And yes, she definitely will be around area rinks more this upcoming season.
“I will be watching games and listening to officials, coaches, and program administrators. I will be advocating for Central District officials at the national level and working with each affiliate to help advance their officiating programs,” she said.
“I will listen to suggestions and ideas from others, bring those ideas to district leadership, and work to implement new ideas to make the program better. I will share leadership to ensure healthy collaboration and to develop new programs for us to model to the country and to continue to excel.
“We are innovative (in the Central District), purposeful in our direction, and dedicated to improvement. I truly believe we are the best district in USA Hockey, and that we will continue to be seen as the best. We set the stage the majority of the time, and I don’t see that changing.”
Certainly not under Brown’s watch.
“My passion is officiating, and I am lucky to have this opportunity to give back,” she said.
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years, and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.