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Officiating Recruitment Efforts Pay Off in Great Falls

By Jessi Pierce, 10/18/23, 10:15AM MDT

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How Great Falls, Montana is making officiating a part of the community

Officiating directors and association representatives are no stranger to facing hurdles and challenges when it comes to recruiting. But it’s the innovative ways in which some have approached those tests that can be truly enlightening and inspiring.

Ken Speidel is one such example. Speidel, the head officiating representative for Great Falls, Montana, took one look at the have nots, and has slowly but surely turned them into officiating haves.

“Montana’s kind of an isolated state,” Speidel explained. “Hockey is not as big as it is in Minnesota, Wisconsin, places like that, so we have a lot of trouble finding officials. Most of our state doesn’t have ice year-round, we certainly don’t in the Great Falls area.

“Recruiting is tough just because we don’t have that base of people up here. You have to find a referee, and that in itself is difficult. You have to find one that can skate — something no other sport has to deal with, so it’s tough.”

Speidel and company started aggressively recruiting officials roughly three years ago to attempt to recoup the loss of some of their longstanding officials to retirement. With a shift in focus to prioritize recruitment, Speidel saw their efforts rewarded, nearly doubling their prospective recruits heading into this season.

We Get Paid for This?!

Speidel grew up playing hockey. Like many of us, it’s a love of the game that kept him coming back well after his playing career was over.

“I went to go be a coach and they said, ‘You can apply but we have a lot of coaches, but we need officials, can you skate?’ I didn’t even know it was a paying position,” Speidel recalled with a laugh. “That got me thinking, I wonder how many people out there just don’t realize who we are.

“We started some radio advertisements. We started going to our community day at the Iceplextwice a year, including once a year when they open up the building for free with various events, free public skating, learn to play and all of that. We decided to set up a table in the rink and try to get their attention and distract them from other things and get them interested in what we were doing.”

In addition to educating prospective officials on the paying gig, Speidel knew that they needed an increase to further garner interest.

“We also went to the City of Great Falls Job Fair with homemade flyers and some provided by USA Hockey that we found on the website which was very good. We wanted people to know that being an official provides a lot of job satisfaction for our team.”

Community Engagement

The more Great Falls residents learned about officiating, the more support there was. Speaking engagements at the local colleges where the hockey coach is encouraging his players to get involved in the local community through efforts like officiating, and backing from the local youth association has Speidel’s troop now sitting at 15 board members and 13 recruits.

The local league, Great Falls Amateur Hockey Association, has really supported us, as has the Iceplex,” said Spiedel. “We have had tremendous support from the local community, not only in the pay increase but in pushing us into the community and making them aware while helping with active engagement.”

“Wherever we go, we make sure people don’t have the wrong perception of officials. We’re not just getting abused and it’s not this nightmare that I think many do believe. In fact, it’s been the opposite. We have parents coming up and thanking us, congratulating us, and have served as a reminder that without officials and all of those involved in the game, we wouldn’t have hockey for the kids. And that’s what is just as important as our own officiating retention.

“I’m so proud of what we’ve grown into and can’t wait for that to continue.”

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