Camaraderie found in black and white

John Hack (Greg Sabatino photo)
Williams Lake hockey referees John Hack (from left), Cliff Philpot and Rick Miller and three of several officials in the lakecity who have been finding enjoyment in the job for years. (Greg Sabatino photo)
Cliff Philpot (Angie Mindus photo)
Roy Kozuki (Angie Mindus photo)

It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

The sentiment comes up time and time again relating to the men, women, boys and girls in stripes: the officials of the Williams Lake Minor Hockey Association.

While developing thick skin quickly becomes a prerequisite for the job, longtime lakecity hockey referees have nothing but good things to say about their careers, and the people they’ve worked with on the ice over the years.

In Williams Lake, Roy Kozuki, Rick Miller, John Hack, Cliff Philpot, Doug Warwick and Ian Robertson, to name just a few, all have upwards of 30 years experience donning the black and white.

Kozuki, an inspiration to both veteran and fledgling officials alike, is 75 years old and has been a referee dating back to his childhood. On the ice, he’s fun to watch as he zips up and down enthusiastically with a smile on his face, enjoying every moment.

“I say it’s been 35 years reffing, but I think it might actually be a lot longer than that,” Kozuki told the Tribune. “I’ve met so many different people involved in hockey and sports, and the camaraderie with my fellow referees young and old is a lot of fun. Especially the younger ones. I tend to really admire their efforts.”

The ‘oldtimers,’ as Hack refers to Williams Lake’s experienced crew of officials, have pretty much seen and heard it all.

Hack began his career as a soccer referee. He also officiated rugby, flag football and roller hockey.

READ MORE: Altercation with referee, 15, causes concern for bullying in B.C. minor hockey

“My first time on skates I was 38,” Hack said. “Ice skates, my first time was when I was 40.

“I can remember when I was taking the training Bill Young was the referee in chief and he’d throw a puck into the corner and say to me: ‘You know, skating is kind of a requirement for this job!?’

“But the real reason I wanted to become a hockey ref was because I couldn’t stand sitting with all the parents and I’ve just loved it. The camaraderie among the refs is my favourite.”

No strangers to verbal abuse from coaches, parents and even players, Hack and his colleagues said there’s been a marked improvement in recent years.

“I think minor hockey is doing a much better job of policing that stuff,” Hack said. “We have more senior and junior referees than we’ve ever had before, and I think the coaches are finally understanding how to coach and to stop refereeing.”

Kozuki agreed, and said over the years he’s seen the conflict between officials and coaches and players lessen dramatically.

Miller recalled a funny instance looking back where he and Kozuki were refereeing a Williams Lake Stampeders game several years ago.

“We were doing the lines for that Stamps game and Doug [Warwick] was the head ref,” Miller said. “There were line brawls all night long, and Roy and I were like flies out there. They were just throwing us around.”

Miller started his officiating career in 1982, but said as a school principal he’s been involved in organizing sports and athletics for much longer.

“I was doing soccer and organizing all the soccer referees and my brother said at some point: ‘Why don’t you get back into hockey?’

“My kids were playing and I thought, why not? It was a great way to get back in. I’ve always flooded rinks at the school [Mountview Elementary], and at the school I was reffing all the time, and I’ve just enjoyed it a lot over the years.”

Philpot’s transition into officiating was a little different. He’d climbed the ranks through rep hockey as a player and had a career playing junior hockey in B.C.

Fifty-years-old now, Philpot said he was 12 when he first took the officiating course.

READ MORE: Sportsmanship in the stands

“I reffed for a bit then, but then rep hockey took over and I played junior from ‘84 to ‘89,” Philpot said. “After that I coached, was doing rec league and around ‘92/’93 one of the guys asked me to ref minor hockey again.”

It was during 1996 season when Philpot got a chance to officiate games for the Prince George Spruce Kings of the junior ‘A’ BC Hockey League.

“I moved to Williams Lake in 2001 and wrote my ticket that year because the Timberwolves were starting,” he said. “I always enjoyed reffing, and the fun part with being with these guys is you’re constantly learning something.”

All said they put a lot of emphasis on making sure they protect the young referees and standing up for them if the situation presents itself.

“You’ve got to look after the young ones so they want to stick around,” Philpot said. “And I also just think the way the game’s called is changing.

“It trickles down from the NHL and the way they’re now treating how serious head contact, and hits from behind and things like that are.”

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