Greg Happ was trying to figure out his next move.
The lifelong hockey man was done supporting the minor hockey careers of his three children – Dexter, Lacey and Walker – in Weyburn, Sask.
“This is nowhere Saskatchewan so you either curl or go to the hockey rink,” says the 53-year-old. “I spent a year watching a lot of other people’s kids play hockey.”
His wife, Barb, came through with an idea.
“She said one day, ‘Why don’t you try officiating?’ I then found myself registering to ref. I didn’t know how whether I’d like it or not, but it has turned out to be a dream.”
Happ’s officiating service in Weyburn – he signed up in 2015 – has turned out to be a dream for the entire community. After taking on the role of referee-in-chief in Weyburn in 2016, the local officiating program has thrived – the number of registered officials rocketed from 35 in 2016 to nearly 70 today.
The key step Happ took to achieve this growth was assembling a senior mentorship team comprised of himself and nine other esteemed referees in the community. He leaned on their expertise to formulate initiatives that fostered the development of youth referees in the community and adult newcomers to the profession.
In addition to officiating games themselves, members of the senior mentorship team consistently support junior officials by offering clinics, completing in-game evaluations and hosting team-building social events.
Happ gives kudos to his wife for her support during hockey season as his job takes him “away from the house four to six days a week.” In addition to three or four officiating assignments, Happ conducts one to three formal evaluations and lends informal support at three or four games every week during the season.
He is also thankful for the support of the program throughout Weyburn. He says it has been paramount to its continued growth.
“They know that if we succeed with our refereeing program that it will lead to a better product on the ice,” says Happ. “Good officiating breeds good hockey.”
The positive word of mouth in the community has helped drive the growth of the program. Active recruiting is another key driver. Presentations are made to the Weyburn Red Wings Junior A club and the Weyburn Gold Wings Midget AAA female team each year to inspire players to try officiating.
Senior mentorship team member Alex Clarke, a product of Drake, Sask., has played a key role in growing the number of female referees. The 26-year-old says she “could count on one hand the number of female officials” in the community when she restarted her officiating career in Weyburn following her days playing defence at the College of St. Scholastica from 2011-15. Now, she says, there is “15-20, if not more in Weyburn alone.”
Clarke, who donned the stripes as a youth in Drake and Weyburn, says she likes to share her own story with members of the Gold Wings – she played for the team from 2008-11 – when she makes a presentation.
“I share my journey as a player in the past and how I came to officiating and recruit anyone of them who want to try officiating as a means to make money, a means to have more time on the ice to work on skills as players and to open up other avenues to stay involved in the game if long-term playing isn’t something they are able to pursue after high school.”
Clarke’s impressive resume helps sell the message. She has officiated multiple Esso Cups, worked the 2017 National Women’s Under-18 Championship in Quebec City, Que., and served as a linesman at the 2018 IIHF Women’s World Championship (Division I Group B) in Mexico City.
The successes of Happ, Clarke and company with revitalizing the referee program in Weyburn has been so notable that neighbouring communities have solicited Happ for counsel and support.
Happ says one of his key objectives for 2019-20 is to provide support to these locales.
“Some towns only have one or two refs, and some don’t even have any officials. It would be nice to help some of these smaller towns build their officiating program.”
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