In the United States, youth sports are a pretty big deal. Chances are that most people reading this played some kind of organized sport when they were younger, whether it was soccer, baseball, basketball, hockey, or something else. America’s extensive youth sports system is based around parents acting as coaches and teaching kids the basics of sports and teamwork. It usually culminates in a better understanding of the sport (and hopefully some fun) for the athlete, and for the coaches, the satisfaction of being a good parent through teaching children.
However, there’s one other role in the world of youth athletics, and that is the role of the referee. These are the true unsung heroes of any sporting event, and especially at the youth level. Their job is far from easy; there are many rules to be memorized, and there isn’t any kind of slow-motion replay to make calls easier. To the average person, the accuracy of officiating a youth sport might not sound significant, but it’s easy for the referee to draw the ire of parents who don’t understand the rules and who overestimate their children’s abilities. One might expect, therefore, that the referee has to be someone who has plenty of maturity and experience. This is not necessarily entirely true, however; some students here at IHS are training to be youth referees.
Since last summer, Alexander Whitehead ’20 has been going through the process of becoming a youth hockey referee in different leagues around Ithaca. He will be refereeing the 11-and-under age group. He first registered in August, and since then, he’s been studying up on the rules of the game. He said that “We have physical and online rulebooks, which we use to study [for] an open-book test. In this test, we are allowed to use our notes on the rulebook.” However, this test is not the only requirement for certification. Whitehead said that other steps “include watching online modules, which help you to learn how to position yourself and how to call penalties.” The referees-in-training also “had to sit through a long seminar, during which [we] recapped information given in the online modules, as well as physically practicing refereeing skills.” The seminar had some interesting moments; Whitehead noted, “When I got to the rink, we started doing our indoor session. We couldn’t go out on the ice, which meant we had to practice our refereeing on the soccer field. I thought that was pretty cool.”
It’s clear that being a hockey referee is a big commitment and takes a lot of time. So, why would anyone want to go through this? For Whitehead, it’s something that he’s wanted to do for quite a while. He said, “When I was younger, I had some older friends in Boy Scouts and hockey that were involved in refereeing, and they told me that one day I should try to become one. When I turned 15, I decided that I should have some kind of a job, and I wanted to become more involved with hockey too.” The monetary situation doesn’t hurt, either. “I know people who have made $140 for just four hours of refereeing,” said Whitehead. Becoming a hockey referee might not be the most well-known part-time job in Ithaca, but once you get past the training, perhaps it isn’t so bad.