With his referee gear on, Jim Smith stood on the ice with a microphone in hand.
Smith gave the spectators in the stands a little background about himself: he was in the Air Force for 30 years before becoming a referee, working games all the way from 12U to the college level.
Another official spoke to the crowd about being a Gulf War veteran who was honored to serve his country.
The officials who worked the “Honor the Game” Tournament were encouraged to address those in attendance before every game.
The 12U “A” tournament was put on by Minnesota Hockey to focus on sportsmanship and camaraderie practiced by players, coaches and spectators. The event was held at the TRIA Rink, which is the Minnesota Wild’s practice facility, on Nov. 1-3.
“It was really just to bring awareness to people, especially parents, in the stands that officials are doing the best they can — it’s for the kids,” said Glen Andresen, executive director of Minnesota Hockey. “Yelling and getting frustrated really isn’t going to do anything to help, it can only hurt.”
One of the ways tournament organizers wanted to drive home the fact that officials are regular people was having them share their story to spectators prior to each game.
“Really hard to yell at a guy like that who’s doing it for the right reasons,” said Minnesota Hockey Program Manager Mike Terwilliger. “I thought it set a nice tone for how the parents were going to treat them.”
The impetus behind the tournament was in February, Terwilliger was in charge of a 12U tournament in which the players, coaches and fans berated the officials the entire time.
“That’s always a hot button issue for me,” Andresen said. “It’s really hard to comprehend how there’s this culture that, ‘Well, it’s okay to yell at officials — that’s just what we do.’ We just completely forget that they’re human and make mistakes like all of us. We wouldn’t be able to do these events without these officials who aren’t making their living off officiating at youth sporting events. They do get paid, but it’s side money. We need them. We need more of them and we’re going to lose them if it’s accepted that you can yell and scream and tell them how terrible they are that they’re ruining the game for the kids.”
Eight 12U teams participated in the tournament: Armstrong-Cooper, Anoka, Bloomington Jefferson, Cambridge-Isanti, Le Sueur-St. Peter, New Ulm-Sleepy Eye, St. Michael-Albertville and St. Paul Capitals. According to Andresen, the event went off without a hitch.
“It was great,” Andresen said. “We absolutely have plans to do it more, at a the girls level, too. Some of the things we witnessed went over a lot better than what we expected.”
Before each game at our Mn Hockey’s “Honor the Game” PWA Tourney, the refs introduce themselves to the fans. It’s been great! Awfully hard to yell at them after hearing their story and they’re going to do their best. This is Todd @MinnHockey @PCA_Minnesota pic.twitter.com/P8AfuCDzEg— Mike Terwilliger (@twigmaster) November 2, 2019
Another way to bring sportsmanship to the forefront was after each game, Minnesota Hockey had the fans from each team exchange handshakes. Andresen was worried parents would think that was too cheesy and would not want to do it.
“I heard people saying, ‘Why not just do this after every game?’” Andresen said. “That’s really kind of what we wanted to hear and think about. Why can’t we just do some simple things around sportsmanship, like handshakes or letting the officials address the crowd before the game, letting them know like, ‘Here’s a little bit about who I am and I’m going to make mistakes. I’m not trying to,’ that type of thing.
“There’s some common-sense things we can do in youth sports, we just don’t think about them.”
Terwilliger said shaking hands with opposing fans can be a little tougher for people to do.
“One person in the survey said, ‘Please don’t make me do that again,’” Terwilliger said. “That was for sure out of his comfort zone, but that’s okay.”
Minnesota Hockey representatives addressed the teams prior to their first tournament game and tried to drive home the importance of good sportsmanship. The coaches were challenged to have zero bench minor penalties over the weekend and that was accomplished.
“I thought the overall vibe to the weekend was really good,” Terwilliger said. “There were hardly any people moaning and groaning about any of the calls that the officials were making. We talked to the coaches before the first game on Friday and the kids, just to remind the kids what the weekend was all about. It was about high-level competition and trying to win, but also focusing on being a good sport.”
In addition, a player from each team was recognized for exceptional sportsmanship and leadership and was named an “Honor the Game” captain. Those players received a signed puck from a Minnesota Wild captain, which was presented like a trophy by the game referees.
Minnesota Hockey received plenty of positive feedback from how the tournament was run so smoothly and without incident.
Since the tournament turned out to be a hit, Andresen and Terwilliger are planning for it to be bigger and better next year.
“We plan to keep this going and add a little bit more to it,” Andresen said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.