On this gray day, I received word that an old friend with whom I had officiated hockey had passed away last month–quite suddenly it seems. He was 75 and had experienced some health issues off and on during recent years. Although I hadn’t seen or talked to him for a long, long time, the many memories of our hockey refereeing together came flooding back through the fog of time.
I had played hockey for a couple of years in the early 70s at Kent State following the tragic events of May 4, 1970. Once I graduated from KSU in 1973, I put my skates and other hockey paraphernalia in dry dock as I had other things to occupy my mind: a.) finding a teaching job; b.) finding a place to live; c.) buying a car; d.) all of the above. And the sport and my love of skating faded away. So my life took on a whole new meaning and direction as I ended up about 50 miles from St. Louis, a long, long way from home in suburban Chicago!
Fast forward from there almost seven years to 1980. The U.S. Olympic Hockey Team was creating its “Miracle on Ice” moment-in-time, and my interest in the sport was suddenly re-kindled. And I read an ad in a local paper stating that referees were needed for the youth hockey program at a nearby rink. I figured I knew enough about the game and had the ability to qualify for just such a position. Besides, most games would pay me something like $10.
I showed up at the rink and that’s where I met referee-in-chief, Stew. An insurance agent in “real life,” he became my mentor, tutor, and friend that day as we refereed several little kids’ games. I realized that I had lots to learn about the finer points of working games, even at that minor level of competition. Stew straightened me out in a very personable and kind way, and we worked many a game together over the next several years.
We especially became regulars working Men’s League games on Sunday nights–usually beginning at 10:30! By the time the game was over, usually close to midnight, we’d drive a mile or so to his office and refresh ourselves into the “wee” hours with cold beer and chips or popcorn. I still feel like hell when I recall trying to get up to go teach school on Monday mornings following our late-night games and post-game “refreshments” and crawling into bed around 3 A.M. But, then again, I was in my early 30s and I could do lots of crazy things and survive.
At some point, we got involved with officiating roller hockey on other Sundays, and that was a lot of work because we worked the games in gym shoes, not on skates. It was a lot of running, but I was in pretty good shape because of it. Regardless, the after-game refreshments continued. We were becoming well known around the league and worked lots of games through the winter months as well as some summer leagues.
Sadly, the “dynamic duo” had to hang it up as I was moving to Florida (1985). I thought I had worked my last hockey games with Stew at that point, but strange things happen. To make a long story short, my teaching career in Florida was short circuited with the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, since the economy of that part of Florida was tied very closely to NASA and the space program. In the meantime, my old job in Illinois came open again, and I was asked by my superintendent if I would consider coming back. I did, and, eventually, hooked back up with hockey and my friend the insurance agent, Stew!
It wasn’t quite the same since we were older and had other things going on in our lives, but we shared many more laughs and reminisced about those glorious days of “yesteryear” when we began skating and working games together and running up and down that roller rink every Sunday night. It was a road full of many fun times, many laughs, and many late-night memories.
I will often think of those times and, perhaps, someday dig my skates out of hibernation and lace ’em up once more for old time’s sake. And when I do, Stew will be yelling at me to position myself better along the boards, or pay attention to other parts of the game and not just the puck carrier, or dig into the cooler for just one more brew…
Traveling along the road with Stew was good. I thank him for his friendship and late-night adventures…MLA