Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Back in my day... (aka what referee certification means)

I'm a regular reader of HockeyRefs.COM - and particularly the forums where we officials carp and prod eachother over the little things. In one topic I asked about who was reaching their Level 4 and why they might not want to. One fellow from the north-east had a very vitrolic comment about his experience getting the Level 4 certification and then not getting called to do state championship games. I have a few thoughts (you doubted?)

For my readers (all 2 of you) USAH has 4 levels of certification, Level I requires attendance at a seminar and passing an open-book 50 question test, Level II and III have a closed book test administered at the seminar, and Level 4 requires a tougher closed-book test and an on-ice skating ability test. Neither is a joke, the written test asks questions like: "Given the following situation, choose which penalty options are allowed" with a list including essentially every penalty option in the book - there are 6 chapters and more than 30 individual playing rules points in the "Play of the game" section with 200+ pages of material (not including positioning, rule interpretations, and presentation guidance material in 4 additional 50+ page manuals).

For the on-ice portion you must receive a score of 27 out of 30 points covering speed (3 points), balance, form, control, ability to skate with your head and eyes on the playing area (not looking at your feet) and so on - graded by local evaluators who dont mince words about the official's individual failings.

Further, according to the district rep at the seminar, approximately %40 of all officials that attempted Level 4 registration last year (04-05) actually qualified.

Now given all of that information you might wonder, isnt an official that has passed these hurdles qualified to work an NCAA game? No - NCAA and all of the professional leauges certify their officials separately, with even more difficult on-ice testing including the infamous 3 minute drill (skate from one end zone faceoff dot to the far end dot and back for 3 minutes, you must be able to do at least 12 laps to be considered mediocre). Ok, so what about JRs, national exhibitions etc.? No again, USAH has a special selection process for the top tier games, officials are selected to work these events based on exposure, expected future progress, experience and lastly certification. Sometimes they make exceptions for certification to allow exceptional young officials to work these high level events, but they never, ever, assign officials to work these events because the person holds a Level 4 card.

Ouch! Now here is a fellow that worked hard, passed a difficult test, took time to attend a seminar that probably wasnt in his hometown, and paid a few more bucks for the priviledge to have very senior folks, some of them pro officials, dress him down for an hour on the ice. Shouldnt he feel dissapointed that no development camp games came his way?

NO. Period.

Just for argument's sake say there are 40,000 registered officials in North America (USA and Canada) - whats the percentage that gets to work Tier I Junor exhibition games? Perhaps 100 total (as referees, we'll skip linesmen for the moment). Most of them want to work the NHL, or at least think that would be a great thing, so with all of those hungry peers competing for a miniscule number of slots where does the Level 4 certification put you?

Nowhere, essentially. If there are about 2000 some Level 4 certified officials in the US (and a larger number of Level 4,5,6 officials in Canada [they have a finer gradiation of high level officials]) you still have to be in the 98% percentile of just those Level 4s to make it to the high level games, and 5 or six nines out to make the NHL. Shoot, I should be done now, I passed the test, I did all the hard work, right?

On the other hand as an older official the Level 4 has a strong value to me, not for reaching the National JR's exhibition in Lake Placid (though I wouldnt turn it down) but because it proves to me, and my peers that I care, and it keeps my skills sharper than sitting on my tail watching the over-blown NHL pros squander the fans ticket money.

Finally my advice to those who think Level 4 isnt worth it 'cause they wont get the call to work Lake Placid:

I know plenty of older officials that get the call, including a 48 year old who was in my seminar on Sunday (and passed his Level 4 for the first time ever after 20 years of working games) who is getting the chance to attend the CHL camp. He'll never work NHL, but then 40,000 officials registered in North America will never get to work the NHL - get over it - he did - and his continued hard work earned the respect of every official in that room, including the RIC for the district.

That being said, its hard not to be a little bit green over the youngsters that make it on the fast-track. Once I learned to be a coach and mentor to them its been a lot easier taking my handful of AAA games a year for what they are worth. On the other end of the spectrum on Sunday were a 16 year old that I've been mentoring for 4 years, and a 17 year old I've evaluated - both passed their tests and will most likely pass me by on the way to districts, nationals and potential Pro careers. C'est La Vie.


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