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Putting the respect back in hockey

Fed-up officials announce mandatory anti-violence course

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The executive director of Hockey Winnipeg says disputes and conflict by a tiny minority of individuals consume so much of officials' time, it harms the game for everyone.

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The executive director of Hockey Winnipeg says disputes and conflict by a tiny minority of individuals consume so much of officials' time, it harms the game for everyone. Photo Store

If you're a hockey parent wondering why the game isn't improving at the minor league level, take a gander at Monte Miller's office.

Miller is the executive director of Hockey Winnipeg -- the man who's supposed to oversee the development of the sport for thousands of boys and girls -- and it seems the only thing he's developing is an ulcer.

"You should see my desk right now," Miller said. "It's ridiculous. Probably the last month, 75 per cent of my day has been typing out incident reports, reviewing emails. It's conflict resolution and mediation."

This is what it's come to for minor hockey executives and volunteers -- spending more energy and hours trying to investigate and address conflicts that arise inside arenas -- almost all involving overzealous and out-of-control parents.

"How do I put this politely?" Miller began. "It's very frustrating as a sports administrator to try to develop programs... try to move the game forward, yet I spend all of my day dealing with incidents like this; parents arguing in the stands, people yelling at officials. Everything gets bogged down. You're so mired in the two per cent of people that can't behave themselves that it affects the other 98 per cent."

On Wednesday, Miller announced a Hockey Winnipeg policy that will make it mandatory for hockey parents to complete a Respect in Sport online course beginning in the 2014-15 season. The course will cost $12 and take approximately an hour to complete.

Completion of the course by at least one parent will be registered in the Hockey Canada database, allowing the son or daughter to be registered to the local association.

The Calgary-based program is already established throughout Alberta, the Maritimes and Regina and is expected to be introduced by the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, the largest in the country, next season.

And Hockey Manitoba executive director Peter Woods, who attended Wednesday's press conference, strongly suggested the parental program will be mandatory provincewide "sooner rather than later."

"If it's not next year it will certainly be the year after," Woods added. "I see no reason why we wouldn't introduce this program."

One of the challenges for Hockey Manitoba, however, would be isolated northern communities where many parents aren't online. Registration would have to be done manually.

"That would become very labour-intensive," Woods said. "That's one of the issues Hockey Winnipeg doesn't necessarily have to address because there's a little bit more technology available in the city than in rural settings."

Regardless, Woods conceded it's an indictment of the hockey system that any program about treating other parents, coaches and referees with respect needs to be implemented at all.

"It's a bit bizarre," he said. "I've been involved in this sport for a very long time and it's a bit disarming that we have to introduce measures like this to control our parents."

Just last weekend, parents and coaches from two Manitoba minor hockey teams threw punches during a tournament in Fargo. That incident involved parents of eight-year-old boys from the River East Royals and coaches from the Selkirk Steelers and took place in a dressing room as the boys watched.

Although Hockey Winnipeg officials refused to comment on the Fargo incident specifically, Miller said: "I probably couldn't tell you on TV or radio what I think. You probably couldn't publish it. It's very, very distressing. So something needs to be done. We think this is a good first step."

Hockey Winnipeg president Don McIntosh conceded that completing an online course will not end incidents of violence or abuse. "It's not going to happen overnight," he said. "There's still going to be problems. It's about culture and education."

In fact, a study on the Calgary program released on Tuesday by Mount Royal University showed only a "marginal decline" in curbing worst offenders.

However, the same study found more than a third of 1,000 respondents said they would like to see the course repeated on an annual basis, along with awareness among parents about the problem.

"We've noticed over the past three years a definite improvement, a change and shift in what has been happening both on the stands and what's been happening on the benches," Donna Reid, a mother to three hockey boys, told the Calgary Herald. "Parents are holding each other accountable."

Woods added: "I think there's safety in numbers. When someone deviates from the rules, you can apply some collective pressures against those individuals. I think that will go a long way in managing this unacceptable aspect of our program. As a society, we're less tolerant of incidents like this. And we're a little more protective of our programs. If our sport is considered unsafe or unattractive, that affects our registration.

"Any time we can put our members in a safer environment -- either on the ice or in the stands -- those steps need to be addressed."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 13, 2014 A4

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