BOSTON (CBS) – Massachusetts Hockey youth programs are dealing with a severe referee shortage, and according to the organization, the main reason is abuse from coaches, parents and players.
Hockey referee Eugene Binda says he's seen it all in his more than 40 years of officiating on the ice.
"Chokeholds, punched a couple of times. I think that's what is escalating the fear out there because we don't know what people are going to do anymore."
The abuse is enough that the Massachusetts Hockey Association (MHA) says it's down nearly 900 referees, almost half of its roster, leading to game cancellations and referee burnout.
Since the start of the current season, Mass hockey said it has already seen several "troubling incidents."
One official needed a police escort after a game featuring 8-year-olds. In other instances, Mass Hockey said a female referee quit in the middle of a series of games because of parent harassment, a parent came onto the ice trying to get to a referee, and a parent went into the scorer's box to berate an opposing player over a penalty committed against her child.
"These are just a few examples of what is going on every weekend," Mass Hockey said. "The constant harassment over calls, over the split-second decisions they are making on the ice has taken its toll."
Parent Megan Murphy says it's important to teach her 7-year-old son, Keegan, good sportsmanship. "When he's looking up at the stands and seeing parents behaving badly it sends a mixed message," said Murphy.
The MHA believes the abuse has escalated because rules were tightened last year increasing penalties and suspensions not just for players, but parents and coaches as well.
"Ninety-nine point nine percent of parents are great," said Bob Joyce, President of the MHA. "We do over 2,000 games a weekend, 100,000 games a year, and one or two incidents bring attention."
"I think there's intense pressure on kids to succeed, and if a ref gets in the way, it's not the kid's fault; they take it out on the official calling it," said Binda. He said the goal is to make sure each and every player gets to play the next game.
"I think parents sometimes have a hard time getting out of their kids' shoes. They are invested and some take it too far," said Megan Murphy.
The organization urged parents to take steps to correct their behaviors and asked them to talk to their children about doing the same.
Anyone found abusing officials will be subject to discipline that can include being suspended or banned from attending games.
"Again, we ask you to practice patience and good judgement," Mass Hockey said. "The children are all watching us and following our example. We all need to make a better effort to respect the officials and keep them working."
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