‘Just go out there and enjoy the game’

(Photo courtesy of morguefile.com)

Bad behaviour at youth hockey games is nothing new, but one Windsor-Essex man thinks it’s going to slow down its growth.

Rick Fedak, president of a local referees’ association, reached his breaking point over the weekend when he saw young referees taking abuse from parents at two youth hockey games in which his daughter played.

During the games between teams from Lakeshore and Tilbury, Fedak watched as a young referee, around 17-years-old, became the target of insults and profanity by a handful of people sitting in the stands.

“After the game was done, these fans were leaning over the glass, a couple of them, and they were just yelling at him,” Fedak told BlackburnNews.com. “I was ready to say something, but I can’t. I was just to say that the situation, [the referee] handled it very well, very professionally. Some of these kids are just starting to officiate, and after a year, they’re quitting.”

Fedak said police were eventually called, but the situation was brought under control quickly and the officers soon left. But, as a former player himself who has spent years officiating, Fedak said this kind of conduct from fans has always been bad. It just seems now to be getting worse.

“I’ve seen in travel hockey where they’ve had to call the cops for fans fighting in the stands. It’s getting totally out of control,” said Fedak. “I’ve seen people who have been banned from arenas because they can’t control the way they act. It’s a lot worse than when I’ve played travel years ago. It was never that bad.”

The typical situation is that fans get upset over a call that did not go their team’s way and then get over it, but Fedak said this goes beyond that. He pointed out that the only reason these youth hockey leagues exist is through the dedication of volunteer coaches, referees and staff, and if there are no officials because of turnover, the games just won’t happen.

Several high-profile incidents have made the news this year. In February, Ontario Provincial Police reported that dozens of parents took part in a brawl following a hockey game in Simcoe, though the minor hockey league later told BlackburnNews.com that the account given by police blew the incident out of proportion. The National Post reported in September that two people were arrested following a bizarre incident in Lethbridge, Alberta. A 10-year-old player whacked a referee with a stick, and one person was soon seen being violently shoved to the ice.

Fedak has just one message for hockey parents.

“Just go out there and enjoy the game,” said Fedak. “Go out there and enjoy watching your kid play. Cheer your team on. Is every call going to be perfect? No, it’s not, but you know, at the end of the day, as long as your kid’s playing a sport and being happy, to me that’s all that matters.”

-With files from Maureen Revait