By Lilly Bianchi
Picture this: a bitter Saturday morning draws families out of bed to get their little ones to the rink. They tie skates, sip coffee and chat as the kids take to the ice for a game. It happens every weekend in rinks all across America…so does the abuse of the officials toward those that work those games.
AHAI Referee-In-Chief Michael Barrett estimates about 175-200 reports are received annually regarding abuse of officials. There is no doubt such instances take a toll on officials, but what about when the official is only a teenager? As a 17 year old referee, I can tell you it happens all too often. Very rarely does one work a game where not a single negative comment is made. Perhaps the worst experience I had involved the anger of a coach. My hands were shaking, my voice trembling. The coach knew me, he even coached me, but that didn’t seem to stop him. He was so angry and just kept yelling and yelling. I left the rink quickly, with my head down that day.
This year a little over one-third of Illinois officials are under the age of 18. They are your children, your teammates, your friends. These officials are the ones working the games of the youngest hockey players, mentoring and nurturing their love for the game. And, just like the players they are officiating, they are not perfect. Imagine working a job where coaches twenty or thirty years your senior make abusive verbal comments on a regular basis. Barrett recalls “one recent encounter between a coach and an official that had a youth-aged official literally running away from an irate Coach and into his mother’s car in the rink parking lot waiting to drive him home.” Some job. However, the reason we officiate is not for the money, but because like so many others we love this game.
At the end of the day, the officials’ experience lies in our hands. As coaches, parents and players it is our job to make sure the environment for officials is safe and enjoyable, just as they do the same for our youth hockey players.
A four year member of the Lake Forest High School Girls Varsity team and three year referee for the Illinois Hockey Officials Association (IHOA), Lilly Bianchi now attends St. Lawrence University. Lilly plays recreational hockey and hopes to restart her officiating career in the coming year. Additionally, she covers Saints sports for the campus newspaper, The Hill News, and has reignited her athletic passion as a member of the Women’s Rowing team.