Illinois Hockey Officials Association (IHOA) looks to expand number of female officials
By Ross Forman
She improved, advanced and blossomed into one of the best female referees anywhere – not just locally, but across the country and beyond. Just look at her officiating resume.
She has officiated the prestigious NCAA Frozen Four four times, including twice at the top-tiered Division I level. She also was a referee at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“I lived at the rink in college, so (officiating) was easy money. Over time I became addicted to the challenge of officiating the next game. The speed and skill of the players kept me on my toes and drove my desire to be the best. I have now turned my passion to teaching and educating officials on how to follow in my footsteps.”
Particularly local female officials.
Blair, who lives in Elgin, has been officiating for 19 seasons. She is the co-chair of the AHAI / IHOA Development Committee.
Her officiating career also has included games skated in the SPHL, seven IIHF Women’s World Championships from 2007-2013, the 2008 4 Nations Tournaments, and the 2009 U18 World Championships, including the gold medal game.
“I have been given some great opportunities from IHOA, USA Hockey and the NCAA over the years. I have been blessed with great hockey, fun memories and amazing friendships,” Blair said. “Refereeing the U18 WW Gold medal game was an unbelievable experience: a thrilling game that I had the best seat in the house.
“I worked for so many years to get to the 2014 Olympic Games – hard-work, dedication, determination and perseverance helped me reach my ultimate goal. My road to the Olympics can best be described as a roller-coaster of emotions, ups and downs, twists and turns, but in the end what a great ride.
“Officiating has taught me how to be a confident, independent person. The skills I have learned through officiating have changed my life.”
IHOA is always looking to bolster its roster of female officials, and Blair always wants to help female officials.
“Everyone can benefit from officiating,” Blair said. “Officiating offers something that not many other jobs can: the challenge of constant promotion and skill development. Officiating also can develop communication skills, leadership skills, mental toughness, confidence, assertiveness and responsibility.
“(The) favorite part of my officiating career has been the relationships I’ve built over the years – locally, nationally and internationally.
“Officiating is a great way for players to get additional skating-time and further learn the rules. When I played and officiated at the same time I had a huge advantage over other players because I knew how to play within the rules and not get penalized. It helped make me a better player.”
Female officials are not limited to only women’s hockey. In fact, a female official is now working in the ranks of men’s NCAA hockey. “I have skated a few semi-pro games and even the Blackhawks’ preseason camp games. The sky’s the limit when it comes to female officials. If you (have) the skills, you will go far.”
Blair said the biggest obstacle for female officials is, themselves. “Having the confidence to be an authoritative figure in a male-dominated sport is a challenge, but not impossible,” she said. “With appropriate rule knowledge and the confidence to hold your ground, this obstacle can be overcome.”
Blair said the biggest advantage female officials have is that there are fewer female officials, thus, they stand out.
Illinois has many up-and-coming female officials within the ranks, such as Samantha Cebulski and Haley Yates, among others.
AHAI / IHOA offers many programs to help all officials improve their skills to provide quality officiating for the local hockey community. Programs are in place to enhance skills, include mentoring, evaluations, and development. These programs offer game evaluations, on-ice mentoring, on-ice power skating and positional work as well as classroom sessions to discuss rule application and interpretation. All programs are free to any registered officials in Illinois.
AHAI/IHOA runs a mentor program for all officials that provides support and encouragement for new officials to gain confidence during their first few games.
“Since I was a kid, women’s hockey as grown exponentially and so have the opportunities for women who play, officiate and coach,” Blair said. “Imagine where we will be 10 years from now. Will be have women playing, officiating and coaching in the NHL? I sure hope so!
“Officiating offers so many great things for young players, but the No. 1 reason young officials quit officiating is because they don’t want to be yelled at by coaches and parents. As a hockey community we need to remember that everyone starts somewhere and all officials have to learn. Male or female, all officials are human and will make mistakes. Officials should never be afraid to make mistakes because this is how we learn. Perseverance is a great quality for officials to possess; failure leads to success.”
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.