VANCOUVER — Hockey parents who swear and yell at coaches, referees and players during their kids’ games will be handed stiffer penalties next season by a British Columbia association that is taking aim at “rink rage” and inspiring officials across the country.
The Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association’s stance garnered more support this week as police in West Vancouver recommended an assault charge against a 45-year-old man. He allegedly grabbed an opposing player’s father during a game between the Hollyburn Huskies and the Semiahmoo Ravens from Surrey, B.C.
Two years ago, a Vancouver man who was videotaped tripping a 13-year-old player while coaching his son’s team was handed a 15-day jail sentence by a judge who said the punishment should be a warning to other parents.
Jim Humphrey, president of the Vancouver Island association, said he received widespread support after eight parents were given a one-game suspension for hurling abuse at referees, often teens themselves, who quit in frustration. Five more parents had to sit out the next game for repeat offences.
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“I’m hopeful that the mentality of our game will change somewhere because this has been a longtime issue, this booing and hissing and throwing stuff at the game officials.”
Humphrey, a former referee, said up to 60 refs stepped off the ice recently because of the toxic environment parents created.
He said a new policy means parents — step-parents included — must sign a code-of-conduct agreeing to behave themselves at games, where F-bombs from mothers and fathers in the stands can fly faster than pucks on the ice.
Don Delosse, whose son plays for the South Delta Thrashers, a peewee team of 11- and 12-year-olds, said he was threatened last week by a father who was angry after his son’s team lost.
“He turned to me and started mouthing off. I told him, ‘It’s people like you who are causing parents to be banned from rinks.’ He said he didn’t give a blank, blank, blank. And he said, ‘Why don’t you come over here?”’
Delosse said he’s even heard parents telling their kids to “take out” players in order to win.
“Some of the parents are just nuts,” Delosse said, adding that while kids often brush off a loss and chat with opposing players after a game, parents hold grudges and turn nasty with their win-or-else attitude.
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Humphrey said he will recommend that his association’s 21-member board require all parents to take a mandatory online course offered by Hockey Canada and the Respect Group, which was co-founded by former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy.
In the fall, parents who continue their “overzealous” behaviour after being banned from games will have their children cut from a team, Humphrey said.
One father’s money was recently refunded after he’d already been bounced from a previous association, meaning his 10-year-old son can no longer play, Humphrey said.
He said the mayhem from misbehaving parents often begins when kids turn nine or 10 and have developed the skills to start playing on teams, called Atom Development or Atom AAA in some parts of the country.
Parents who believe their child’s NHL prospects are being crushed by lack of ice time, poor calls and other players’ skills take their frustrations out from the stands, Humphrey said.
A national survey released last week by the Angus Reid Institute suggested 59 per cent of people who attended at least one youth hockey game in the past two years have seen a referee being berated by parents and 49 per cent witnessed that behaviour aimed at kids.
The online survey of 686 adults said 42 per cent of respondents called rink abuse “a very serious issue that is hurting the game.” The survey was conducted between Feb. 2 and 11 and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Scott Bannister, a coach with the Lewisville Minor Hockey Association in New Brunswick, said a zero-tolerance policy and the mandatory Respect in Sport online course haven’t made a difference to the most irate parents.
Bannister said he contacted Humphrey after hearing about the Vancouver Island association’s decision to boot abusive parents from games, telling him, “Wow. I got your back.”
He said barring parents is a good response but it would be difficult to enforce at the large multiple-rink arena where he coaches.
Instead, Bannister, who’s involved in minor hockey year round, said he has moved to dump kids whose parents continue with their verbal attacks and non-stop complaints against officials.
“I have no problem telling them that I won’t pick your son or daughter because you’re crazy,” he said, adding he refused to take the best goalie on one team to an all-star game in the U.S. last year because of his mother’s intolerable attitude.
Bannister and Humphrey agree that a small minority of parents are ruining minor hockey for others and that officials in sports including lacrosse and soccer grapple with similar issues.
Todd Jackson, a spokesman for Hockey Canada, which represents 3,500 minor hockey associations across the country, said 150,000 parents participated in the online Respect in Sport program in the 2014-2015 season.
It’s mandatory in all provinces except B.C., Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland-Labrador.