While serving on the board of directors for the Spokane Amateur Youth Hockey Association in the early 1980s, Steve Stevens Sr. wasn’t too pleased with officiating.
So, someone suggested he become an official himself.
“I said, ‘OK. I’ll give it a try,’” Stevens recalled. “The next thing you know they had me as the director of officials in Spokane and then the state. It was a pretty big jump in a hurry. But I was pretty well known in the area and everybody knew me, it was just natural.”
Stevens quickly shot up the ranks as an official at the state level, which eventually led him to the national governing body, USA Hockey.
Stevens became the Pacific District referee-in-chief in 2004 until 2018 before hanging up his whistle and clipboard in 2019. After nearly 40 years volunteering for hockey associations small and large, Stevens had to step away in an official capacity due to some health issues, but even now, the 79-year-old still helps out to this day.
For his unwavering dedication to officiating at all levels, Stevens was recently named the 2023 Chet Stewart Award winner. Stevens feels honored to receive the prestigious award.
“It’s nice to be recognized, and the thing that surprised me is the way that [USA Hockey] went about getting this thing going,” Stevens said. “I was surprised that they had me on that list, and I thought they’d have — you’ll like this — much older guys. But there aren’t many older guys.”
USA Hockey’s national referee-in-chief Dave LaBuda knows Stevens’ impact on hockey stretches in so many areas, not just locally in Spokane, Washington.
“He’s been a huge supporter and proponent of mentoring of young officials,” LaBuda said. “He’s made some really great contributions in that regard. He also was a major supporter and promoter of expanding and recruiting female officiating. Those two things I think are going to be great legacies for him.”
Stevens, whose day job was in the bowling industry for Brunswick, started officiating in 1981.
He served on the Pacific Northwest Amateur Hockey Association and was elected vice president from 2002-06. Stevens was the referee-in-chief for the PNAHA for 24 years until 2006.
Stevens — who started out as a youth coach in 1979 and earned his advanced level coaching card — also managed officials for the NorPac Junior Hockey League from 2000-18 before being appointed an officiating advisor and evaluator of the USA Hockey officiating program.
“His big challenge was to continue to recruit enough officials to service the hockey community while it was growing quite quickly on the West Coast, and he did that,” LaBuda said.
During his 15 years as Pacific District referee-in-chief, Stevens implemented many positive changes. He initiated a district Female Officiating Development Camp, helping the female sector grow exponentially under Stevens’ guidance; it became the first district to have a sign language person designated for hearing-disabled individuals; and it was the first district to designate a person exclusively for the disabled hockey section.
Stevens was assigned to help oversee 17 national tournaments during his tenure.
He logged plenty of miles traveling to and from rinks for tournaments and meetings.
“They had me running all over the country, national tournaments and everything else,” Stevens said. “I got a lot of travel in, a lot of travel.”
Stevens has always had a ton of support from his wife, Geri, who he’s been married to for 54 years. She was the treasurer for Washington officials for 27 years, so she knows exactly what he was dealing with for so many years, Stevens noted.
Stevens underwent two back operations prior to him retiring from hockey activities. In 2018, he had a heart attack, and he knew that was a sign for him to slow down.
However, he’s still mentoring young officials.
“Now and then they’ll call me up and say, ‘Hey, we want you to look at this kid,’” Stevens said. “My health hasn’t been all that good, but I take a chance on it.”
It’s been hard for Stevens to step away from the rink, as he’s always kept one foot in the door.
Aside from his daytime profession, hockey has been Stevens’ life for nearly 45 years. He wouldn’t want it any other way.
“For the most part I enjoyed it, I really did,” Stevens joked. “The thing is that, just that travel alone could get you, but I got used to it and kind of liked it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.