KidSport launching a training program for hockey and soccer referees
They're the people you only notice when they're messing up, but without refs, there's no games, so a new initiative has been launched to fund the training of a new generation of whistle-blowers.
KidSport Calgary & Area and the Calgary Flames Sports Bank have initiated Project REF. It will fund the training and certification of young referees for local sports and also provide them with all the equipment they need.
Kevin Webster is the CEO of KidSport and is excited about the program.
"As we look at the families we support and the kids we're trying to help get into sport, we want to make sure they have every opportunity available to them," he said. "Officiating and becoming a referee is just one more of those opportunities that they can look at."
For 28 years the organization has helped provide equipment and registration fees for low income families with hockey and soccer being the most popular. Webster says so far this year it's helped more than 1,200 kids in over 50 different sports with registration fees and provided equipment to over 20 different sports. He's seeing a lot of interest in Project REF, which officially launches in mid-March.
"Without really publicizing it too much yet, we've got over 60 kids that have shown interest," Webster said. "That's across 12 different sports from swimming to gymnastics to hockey and soccer, which are the sports that we have launched it with here."
Kevin Kobelka is the executive director of Hockey Calgary and says his sport saw a reduction of more than 20 percent of referees as a result of the pandemic. Now it's struggling to make up those positions.
"I think a program like this is great to bring new kids into the sport to be an official and to continue to build that (referee) pool, it's a very important tool for us," he said. "If you get one or two that move through then that's great, it's one thing to get them, but another to keep them and that will be our challenge moving forward."
Jordan Stewart is the technical leader with the Calgary Minor Soccer Association and says the training costs for its referee program can be a barrier for some.
"It's $137 to take the course to become a referee and then you've got some equipment costs on top of that which is about $150 to $180 for the actual uniform and some other paraphernalia," he said.
Stewart says minor soccer saw the same sort of decline in its referee pool as Hockey Calgary during the pandemic and is looking forward to seeing who applies to Project REF.
"We're really excited about this," said Stewart. "We think that this could be a pivotal moment to start bringing more people from a diverse amount of backgrounds into refereeing and really add a component that we probably haven't seen in our local referee scene before."
Webster would like to see the program be a permanent option for young athletes through KidSport.
"I see no reason why we wouldn't continue this and only grow it from here," he said. "Not only the certification side, but maybe the leadership side that these kids need to stay in as an official and gain those additional skills that as a player you wouldn't focus on that - maybe we can help them with to even strengthen their role as an official in our community."
Learn more about Project REF here.