'They make me sick'

MIKE KOREEN

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

It should be an enjoyable, rewarding assignment. "Go cover minor hockey for five days," the boss says every year on Dec. 26 when dozens of post-Christmas tournaments roll into town. "Find a good story about a kid, get their picture and write it."

Really, it's an easy gig. Pick any tournament and you'll meet dozens of remarkable kids, whose tales are familiar only to their friends and family.

But there is something else going on in these chilly rinks, something disturbing, even to someone who has nothing to do with minor hockey 360 days a year.

Watching parents making fools of themselves has become an annual holiday tradition for me, a 24-year-old single guy with no kids. Toronto may be the minor hockey capital of the world from Dec. 26-30, but it also plays host to a how-not-to-be-a-good-role-model festival. It's enough to make a young guy question whether minor hockey would be a good idea for a future child.

"They make me sick," Jack Ferguson, a scout with the Ontario Hockey League's Saginaw Spirit who has been working in hockey for 45 years, said of the few parents who tarnish the minor hockey experience for the entire crowd.

"I am tired of listening to them yelling and screaming or crying and whining about the calls. It's always a minority, but they are always there."

Among the class acts seen at arenas this time around:

* A woman, supporting the Valley Forge Minutemen at the Bell Challenge Cup peewee tournament at the Hershey Centre, standing up and bellowing at the referee almost the entire game. "You jackass," she shouted at one point.

* An enraged Markham Islanders minor midget assistant coach, after a questionable penalty shot call in the final of the Toronto Marlboros Holiday Classic tournament at Ice Sports Etobicoke against the Marlies, running over to volunteer tournament officials and blaming them for the ref's decision. "You should be embarrassed," he hollered.

* The Isles assistant and other fellow coaches continue mouthing off at the tournament officials after receiving their gold medals for winning in double overtime.

* A woman cheering for the Isles, after the game, going over to a tournament official and saying, "You're an ugly person. That's what happens to ugly people."

The list goes on. Two years ago, it was stunning to see police on scene when a shoving match broke out between parents and players at the Wexford Raiders Midget Showcase.

"Relax, it's just a game," Hockey Canada tries to remind parents in an ad campaign. Perhaps Hockey Canada shouldn't even try to instruct parents on acceptable behaviour. The bad apples are as rotten as ever.

"My wife doesn't even bother going to half my son's games," Gerry Hickey, the advisory director of the Canadian Hockey Parents Association, said. "She doesn't want to see the same guy freaking out every game embarrassing the other parents who are part of the team. We're trying to teach the kids not only to be good hockey players, but to be good citizens and to have integrity. When you've got parents screaming and yelling, that's not showing any integrity."

So what do parents say about their conduct? After the thrilling Marlboros Classic final, in a chat with a few nice parents of Isles players who did not do anything rude, one of them said something like, "You should have seen the last (Isles-Marlies) game. You should have seen what (the Marlies) parents were doing."

Memo to hockey parents: If your peer jumps off a bridge, do you follow?

Another said something like, "You don't know what it's like (to have a child playing a high level of hockey)."

She's right. I don't. But I do know this: A small number of parents are setting a terrible example for their talented children.

If you can't control yourself during a minor hockey game, what do you expect your kid to do in a tense situation at school, at camp or even in your own home?

Think about that next time a referee changes your life by calling a penalty on your son or daughter's team.


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