Massachusetts youth hockey is staring down a referee shortage, the officials’ association said Tuesday. They’ve lost 900 referees — down about half from the regular 1,700 to 1,800-person roster.MASSACHUSETTS:
Officials are quitting in droves because of the harassment and abuse coming from parents, coaches and players, the association for referees Massachusetts Hockey said.
Bob Joyce, the president of Massachusetts Hockey, said bad behavior by parents has long been a problem, but this year there has been a wave of referees that chose to simply hang up their skates.
“It’s just a few bad apples, really, that kind of spoil the bunch,” Joyce said. “99.9% of our parents are great, but it just takes a few that create uncomfortable situations in the ranks — abuse of officials, coaches harassing officials, kind of not understanding that, just like coaches and players who make mistakes, so do officials.”
Some games have been canceled as a result, but more often the remaining referees are taking on more games than usual, he said. Joyce worries that other referees picking up extra games — often seven or eight in a weekend — will lead to burnout.
In one incident this season, he said, an official was scheduled to referee three games in a row and faced repeated harassment from parents and a coach.
“And at the end of the first game, she just packed up her stuff and said, ‘I can't do this anymore. It's just not worth my time and effort,’” Joyce said.
Referee shortages across sports at the youth level have been “alive and kicking” for several years, said Tara Bennett, the director of communications for the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.
“It’s at times very challenging for individuals,” Bennett said, of referees enduring behavior from spectators. “People are very passionate about their sports, and they’ll certainly be vocal about that.”
Other problems, such as scheduling conflicts for those with other jobs, also make it difficult to build up a stable of referees.
“We’re not seeing as many teachers that are becoming referees,” Bennett added, “which, if you think about it, with their schedule, after school ... that would be a natural transition.”
The hockey association referred to its anti-harassment rules in its statement, which includes banning parents, coaches, and players from future games if they’re found to be abusing officials.
“There are three elements that go into the game,” Joyce said. “If you don't have players, you don't have officials or you don't have coaches, you can't play the game.”