There is a shortage of minor hockey officials in 100 Mile House, a problem being felt across Canada.
Wade Balbirnie, head referee for 100 Mile Minor Hockey, said everybody is struggling to get volunteers these days, whether it’s coaching or officiating for all sports.
The biggest challenge as he sees it is, “People just aren’t willing to step up anymore.”
Last year, he had four senior officials including two individuals well into their sixties. Quite a few officials were brought in from out of town to help cover games, said Balbirnie.
“I probably got a call a week from other towns looking for officials.”
Most of the time, he told them he didn’t have the luxury of sending them officials to help because “we have to try and cover our own games.”
“Ideally I’d like to have 10 senior officials and 10 to 15 younger ones and hopefully we can run a balanced schedule,” he said.
Emily Tinney was 11 when she became interested in officiating. She had been skating since she was two or three. Before a girls’ hockey team was officially formed Tinney and a group of girls would have side practices.
She bonded with one of the girls, Emily Menzal, who was an official and encouraged her to get certified when she turned 12.
The next season Tinney said she signed up, took her course and “was officiating.”
Balbirnie said another of the challenges to the game is most of the young officials also play hockey. The minor hockey scheduler does their best to make sure everybody is getting games, Balbirne said, and sends everybody out of town when they have a local tournament.
“Well, there goes all the officials out of town,” he laughed.
He said when he moved to 100 Mile House in 2007 they had six Midget house teams and a Midget rep team plus all the other teams in minor hockey at the time. Last year there were 13 teams in total in 100 Mile House.
Enrollment in hockey is still reasonable, though, so Balbirnie does not think the community is in any danger of losing minor hockey. But lack of officials could mean the teams will play less games.
Tinney said her first year of officiating was slightly overwhelming.
“Here’s a game you’ve known your whole life and now they’re throwing a rule book at you. Now you need to know the rule book now you (are the one making the call),” she said.
“It’s a different game, it takes the game of hockey and changes it into something else.”
She found a new side to the sport she came to love as well.
It was a nice way to make a bit of pocket money. “The way I looked at it I was getting paid to skate,” she said.
The age group from 2007 are now entering their 30s. Hopefully, Balbirnie said, some of them start having kids who get into hockey and encourage their parents to involved in the officiating themselves.
“We have a fabulous facility here so it should be put to its best use.”
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The pandemic contributed to the shortage as well, he said. People have gone away from the sport and found other things to do.
“I’m cautiously optimistic this year some of the people who expressed interest last year will come out,” he said. ‘Those still sitting on the fence about officiating, come out and give it a try, it’s not a huge commitment.”
He hopes to put on a coaches clinic mid-September a the South Cariboo Rec. Centre. At that time he’ll have a better idea what the numbers are in terms of officials.
For more information on officiating contact the Minor Hockey Office at 250-395-4344.