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The Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association has started banning abusive spectators from minor hockey games. The banning of spectators comes as part of the association’s attempt to put a stop to verbal harassment against players and on-ice officials.
The league has already issued bans to eight parents who were involved in incidents of abusive behavior. But these initial fan ejections may be just the beginning. The association stated last month that if incidents like this didn’t come to an end they would look into holding some spectator-free weekends, allowing on-ice officials, players, and coaches into the arena once the game begins. Banning all spectators from minor hockey games seems like a rash action, but it starts to make more and more sense all the time.

Over the years, there have been some frightening incidents at minor hockey games involving parents. The most startling incident took place back in October 2013 in Palm Beach, Florida, when Matthew Supran, an enraged parent, ran onto the ice and physically assaulted a player who elbowed his son during play. Obviously Supran’s incident is one of the most extreme cases of spectator-related abuse. But other actions, such as heckling officials and opposing players have become much more common place at minor sporting events.

Referees of minor hockey games are children, often only a year or two older than the players they are officiating. These kids are just learning how to properly official games and make the right call. Abusing these children as they try their best to make the right call is both unfair and malicious.

VIAHA president Jim Humphrey says the abuse makes it difficult for minor hockey leagues to find referees, as more and more would rather hang up the skates than deal with the insults and threats from enraged parents. In January, the association even had to cancel a few games because they could not find referees to officiate them. “In the last seven weeks we’ve probably lost 20 officials already,” Humphrey said in an interview with CTV Vancouver.

Abusive minor hockey parents have always been a problem for the sport at the grass root levels, so it’s nice to see that VIAHA is finally taking a stand to protect its volunteers against abuse. Banning abusive parents from witnessing games is the proper tactic. If you, as a reader, are lucky enough to be able to have children who can play hockey, remember that everyone on the ice is doing the best they can, not just your child. Hopefully the message that abuse must stop will be received before a few bad apples ruin the experience for everyone.

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