The Canadian Hockey Association is trying to get parents across the country to relax about minor hockey.
Yesterday it launched a campaign to encourage parents to think about what it would be like if their kids pressured them the way they pressure their kids.
One radio spot is a conversation at the dinner table, where a child informs her mother that her meat loaf does not cut it. Dad is going to start on dinner next week, says the daughter, while the mother pleads for another chance.
Titled "Relax, hockey is just a game," the campaign features television, radio and newspaper public service advertisements which the CHA will send across the country. It will encourage the media outlets to air the spots as public service announcements.
The advertisements come just as a series of cases involving overzealous and occasionally violent minor hockey parents have been featured in the press. It also comes as referees are leaving the game in droves no longer able to tolerate abuse from irate parents.
"It is definitely the issue of the day," said Glen McCurdie, director of insurance and member services at the CHA.
In Mississauga Ontario, a lawsuit was dismissed recently against Peter Higley, who was accused of putting a "bounty" on nine-year-old John Bijelic. In a separate case Michael Croteau is suing the New Brunswick Minor Hockey Association, for $300,000 because his son Steven was not named the league's most valuable player.
One of the worst incidents of violence came out of Cambridge, Massachusetts when Thomas Junta, 40, beat his son's hockey coach Michael Costin to death after a practice on .
Junta claimed he tried to avoid the fight, and that Costin started it. Witnesses told the court that Junta pounced and banged Costin's head on the floor repeatedly. Ironically, Junta approached Costin to complain about rough play on the ice.
Junta was sentenced to six to ten years in prison. The incident took place in front of several 11-year-old players on the team, including the sons of the two men.
The ad campaign was brought about not just by these incidents but by a larger issue. "It is an ongoing issue with respect to parents as a whole, parents in our arenas and the message they deliver to our kids and referees," said McCurdie. It is"more of a systemic problem not a knee jerk reaction to one specific problem."
According to McCurdie, the main concern for the CHA is the kids playing hockey. "You can get situations where the parent is so overbearing and overzealous that the kid simply doesn't want to play anymore," he said.
Ottawa District Minor Hockey Association president Hubert Sequin believes the problem is with a small number of parents. "You will always have that half of one per cent of SOB's," said Sequin.
"The kids who are most affected by the behaviour is the kids of the parents who are yelling," he continued. Sequin also stressed that in these situations the home team makes the decision on how to deal with the parent. Many of which ban parents from the arena, although he could not recall any such incidents in the past year.
One of the biggest concerns for the CHA is the abuse by parents of game officials. When informed of the new public service campaign Ottawa District Hockey Association referee-in-chief Mark Gallant said, "The referee program has been pushing the CHA to create more awareness on the issue."
Gallant said the abuse taken from parents is driving referees out of the game. "The CHA number for officials quitting over the past three years is around 33 per cent, not all of it comes from abuse, but abuse is definitely the number one factor," he said.
In a survey done by the ODHA referee association which lost 469 of 1436 referees between last season and this season, the referees who did not return cited abuse as their number one reason for leaving the game.
While there is a constant influx of referees to replace ones who leave the game, losing 10-12,000 referees across the country each year is a large number.
Carleton University student Theodore James Goertz who refs minor hockey games has seen many incidents of abuse: "I saw one ref who was afraid to walk to his car, he asked the police to escort him."
With this new campaign the CHA hopes to cool the passions of parents who take Canada's game too seriously. It wants them to remember to "Relax, Hockey is just a game."