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Referee shortages causing a strain on Whistler sports

Whistler referee in chief Steve Brooks hopes to recruit as many new refs as possible ahead of the new hockey season
Referee
With referee numbers dwindling over the years, minor sports around the province are seeing the effects.

In his 20 years of working as a referee and umpire in Whistler, a shortage of officials is something Whistler’s current umpire and referee in chief Steve Brooks has become accustomed to.

But since the outset of COVID-19, things have only gotten worse, and Hockey Canada estimates the number of officials in B.C. has decreased by approximately 30 per cent.

“I would say that every year that I’ve done it, there’s always been a shortage. You can almost never have enough—you always need more,” said Brooks.

When short on officials, referees and umpires are often forced to officiate at a level above their capabilities, which can create a cycle of poor officiating, verbal abuse and, ultimately, people deciding to not continue as a ref, Brooks added.

“So the more we have, the more we can put people in the right spots for their capabilities,” he said.

“And the more people that I have on my team [of officials], the better it is for the players, because now they’re getting the people that are better qualified for whatever level of play they’re doing.”

While there can often be a challenging element to officiating, Brooks doesn’t want that to be a deterrent to anybody who has been thinking of signing up, as there are also many benefits to officiating, especially for young players still learning the game—who can start reffing as early as 12 years old.

“The benefits are, No. 1, if you’re involved yourself in that sport, becoming an official helps you understand the game itself. The long-term impacts of that is your game would improve as your understanding of the game improves,” said Brooks. “And if it’s the sport that you love, it keeps you involved in the sport, and it helps the community by getting out there and making it so that people can come up and play in a tournament or league games, and not always be wondering, do we have any officials? Do we have enough umps? And what will the quality be?”

With the hockey season right around the corner, for those looking to get certified, there will be a referee clinic in Squamish on Oct. 16, followed by one in Whistler the following week on Oct. 23. And to incentivize people to sign up to become a referee, Hockey Canada has set the registration fee at $5 across Canada.

For beginner officials, who will be working U9 games, the wages start at $20 per game. However, the wages increase drastically for higher levels of hockey, starting at $40 for a referee and $31 for a linesman for U11 hockey all the way up to $70 and $50 for the U21 age group, respectively. Meanwhile, wages for adult hockey in Whistler are set at around $50 per game for approximately one hour of work.

For more information on clinic dates and times or any other questions regarding officiating in Whistler, those interested can reach out to Brooks at ric@whistlerminorhockey.com.