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Take a lesson on being a good hockey parent

City minor-league officials eye mandatory program

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Jason Thor, president of the St. Boniface association -- seen with his sons Evan (left) and Alex -- is on board with the plan for mandatory parent training.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Jason Thor, president of the St. Boniface association -- seen with his sons Evan (left) and Alex -- is on board with the plan for mandatory parent training. Photo Store

It might not be long before Winnipeg hockey parents start showing a little more respect.

Hockey Winnipeg executives will soon debate whether parents will have to take -- and pay for -- a mandatory program sweeping the nation, aimed at reducing the increasing number of conflicts flaring up in arenas.

Executive director Monte Miller said Hockey Winnipeg presidents will meet Feb. 10 to discuss the proposal to establish Respect in Sport, an online tutorial designed to prevent parents from either screaming at each other, the referees (most often minors themselves) or coaches.

The program costs $12 to take and lasts about an hour. It's not a test, it's a tutorial.

"It's not a pass/fail thing," said Wayne McNeil, who co-founded Respect in Sport along with former NHLer and Manitoban Sheldon Kennedy.

"This isn't about beating up on bad parents. Our philosophy is to help good parents to be better. It's about arming you with the right tools. Kind of like deputizing parents.

'This isn't about beating up on bad parents. Our philosophy is to help good parents to be better. It's about arming you with the right tools. Kind of like deputizing parents'

-- Wayne McNeil, co-founder of Respect in Sport

"I think we'd be naive to think a program would change a (bad) parent," McNeil added. "But they might be a lot more conscious of their actions."

The program has been mandatory in Calgary since 2010. It's now mandatory in all of Alberta, every Maritime province, the city of Regina and several individual minor hockey associations. Next season, Respect in Sport will be adopted by the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, the largest in Canada.

When mandatory, at least one caregiver in the family must get a credit for taking the course before his or her son is allowed to play.

Miller said Hockey Winnipeg has considered the program for at least a year, largely due to increasing reports of confrontations at minor hockey games.

"It's something more noticeable than in years past," he said.

"It's getting a little more prevalent. Maybe it's time we put our membership through it."

However, Miller noted the program must first be approved by the 10 minor hockey association presidents that make up the board.

"There's a lot of questions we need to ask about getting this thing implemented," he said, adding if the board approves the proposal on Feb. 10, the wheels could be put in motion to have it in place by the start of the next minor hockey season.

At least one association president is already on board.

"Absolutely," said Jason Thor, president of the St. Boniface association. "Any time you can put that in place, there's no harm. It's getting worse and worse each year."

Thor has coached minor hockey for seven years and currently has two preteen sons playing. The family practically lives in arenas, and Thor said it's become commonplace to witness parents in confrontations -- yelling at coaches (even their own), screaming at referees or threatening other parents.

"You can go to any rink in the city on any weekend and see this happening," Thor said. "It used to be they had a sign up at our arena that read, 'Dad, stay and watch your son play.' Now we should be putting up signs in arenas that say, 'Dad, please stay away.'

"Is it going to help? I don't know. If it eliminates one incident it's probably worth it."

Thor feels more for minor hockey referees, who are mostly teenagers themselves making a few extra bucks.

"We have a hard time retaining officials," he noted. "They can make minimum wage working at McDonald's. Nobody yells at you when you say, 'Here's your burger and fries, sir.' "

McNeil said the program includes such pointers as the 24 Hour Rule, where it's suggested parents, if they are upset, refrain from reacting until the next day if they have an issue with a coach about a lack of ice time for their child.

"Ninety per cent of the time, 24 hours later it doesn't matter," he said.

"People do things in the heat of the moment."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2014 A8

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