The Whistleblowers

A hockey game doesn’t start until the ref drops the puck.  A soccer game doesn’t end until a ref blows the final whistle.  A touchdown doesn’t count unless a pair of striped arms are raised in the air and strike three doesn’t get called until the ump does a few dozen wild gyrations culminating in an emphatic fist pump.

Scores don’t get tallied, faults aren’t counted, times aren’t recorded and trophies aren’t awarded without an official present to control the activity.

In short, there is no such thing as an organized sport without a ref, an ump, a judge or an official of some type.

Now good luck trying to find one for that rescheduled game this Saturday because Zebra’s are scarce in these parts.



The Ref

Numerous articles have been written about the shortages of qualified referees in Field Hockey, Lacrosse, Ice Hockey, Football, Soccer…well, every sport you can think of pretty much.  As a result, certain disputes have arisen due to a parent or organization official having to step in when an ump couldn’t be found and often, the few refs available are working multiple games in short order and occasionally in two different locations at the same time.  Or maybe it just feels that way.

We like to dump on the refs.  We boo them when they come onto the ice.  We hang them in effigy. We give them all manner of unqualified medical diagnoses and suggest certain physical acts that may not be possible for the human body to achieve.  It does make one wonder who would chose to be a ref in the first place.  So I asked one.

A resident of Brewer, Mark Relford is a retired USAF Pilot, Monday Night Hockey legend and Soccer Referee.  He writes:

“I began officiating around 2001 after watching my son in travel soccer.  It’s now 2015 and I still enjoy the activity and interaction with young people on the soccer pitch.


I thought I could contribute to the sport because of my experience as a spectator, seeing both good and bad practices on the field.  I began training in both NFHS (high school in the fall) and FIFA (spring, summer travel) soccer.  There are some differences between the two, but the principles are the same.  Starting out in FIFA, I ended up being a line official most of the time since I was a newbie.  This position is usually filled by younger people, because the pay is minimal compared to the center official, and reasonable experience is needed for the latter.  I later moved between the “line” and “middle” positions and only officiated FIFA for a few years.


NFHS soccer is better suited for me because they normally use a two-official system, reducing the physical and mental impact. Since I started this venture when I was in my late 40’s, there was a definite physical toll since I am not a natural runner.  The other issue is mental, coping with the sometimes intense activity between athletes and the banter from coaches and spectators.  I stopped reffing the Varsity level after a few years because of both issues and now exclusively do JV and Middle School games, which are very enjoyable.


Our local board of soccer officials is always understaffed, so if anyone familiar with soccer is interested in getting exercise, fresh air and being involved with the kids, we have annual training classes to prepare people for this venture.  The money is good for the time involved, and you can pick your preferred schedule via an electronic assignment system.”


We need more people like Mark and probably fewer people like myself who only have time to say we need more people like Mark.


And we, as fans and parents and coaches need to remember that we need our refs.  We need them whole and healthy and even if they do need glasses they don’t need a spear to the back or a punch to the head.  Screaming at zebras doesn’t help them.  It scares them away.


During a lacrosse game this last spring a coach, upset by what he perceived were some unfair calls, was reminded by one of his assistants that, “it’s a kid’s game” and he should not do what it looked like he was about to do after getting tossed from the sidelines.  Luckily the guy listened.


There are, of course, bad refs out there who make consistently bad calls.  There are refs in over their heads and even the best of them miss something from time to time.  We need to do our best to remember that no one’s going to lose a scholarship over one game or one call.


The Maine Prinicpal’s Association has a page dedicated to who to contact in a number of sports if you’re interested in officiating.


The Maine Amature Hockey Association will conduct a clinic for on-ice officials on Sunday October 11th the Alfond Arena, University of Maine, Orono – 8:30 to 3:00

For more info:


And remember, officiating isn’t just for adults.  As the BDN’s Ernie Clark wrote in his profile of Tom and Zach Grant, teens can be involved as well.


As for myself, I think I might get a bit later in life, though hopefully before I can’t keep up anymore.  Coaching, PRing, teaching and that whole playwrighting thing does eat up a chunk of time.  But hey, I’ve already got the glasses!

In other news: Hockey practices have started up with registration still open for the Maine Jr. Black Bears and the Brewer Youth Hockey Witches.

Highlight the continuing effort to get more girls involved in the game this coming Saturday, October 10, 2015 starts off International Girls Ice Hockey Weekend.
The MJBB will participate by offering:

1) Floor hockey for girls hockey players at 2:30pm at the UMaine Rec Center

2) Attending the UMaine Women’s hockey game vs. Quinnipiac at 4:00pm at the Alfond

3) Skate with the UMaine Women’s team after their game at 6:00pm.

This is open to all girls of any age, whether you’re registered for a team or not.

Go to www.mainejrblackbears or for more info.


And speaking of young women playing hockey, check out 3-time Maine Captain Jenn More’s blog:  as she details her professional life playing in the Swiss Women’s A League for Ev Bomo Thun.





Travis Baker

About Travis Baker

Travis Baker grew up playing baseball, basketball, football and soccer. There was a brief stint with karate and a briefer one with fencing but he would not return to the glory days of youth sport until he moved to Maine and had a couple of boys, Zane (11) and August (7), of his own. Inspired by his lads, he learned to play hockey at the age of 35 and now plays every Monday night in Brewer. Thanks to a number of former students, he’s learned a wee bit about lacrosse, field hockey and track and field. When not helping out in his kid’s activities, is the award-winning playwright of One Blue Tarp and Hair Frenzy, both of which premiered at the Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor. Travis is the author of Night and the Texas Sky, and numerous short stories and essays. He is married to the founder of Maine Yoga Adventures, Holly Twining. Currently, he coaches hockey, baseball and serves on the board of the Maine Junior Black Bears as the PR Director.