Last Saturday my alarm clock woke me at 4:30 AM. That would give me time to shave, shower, get dressed and drive the 44 miles to the ice rink where I had been assigned to officiate two youth hockey games. The first game would start at 7 AM. I arrive at the rink in total darkness and greet the one rink employee who has opened the rink as I head to the Officials’ Locker Room. My day has begun.
As I begin getting dressed my partner arrives and we chit-chat a bit before covering off on any details we will need to be conscious of as we officiate the two games we will be working. While these may seem like insignificant ‘house league’ games to mere bystanders, to the coaches and players, they know there is a scoreboard and each team will be playing hard to win. I have no problem with that. As for the parents and grandparents who will be in attendance, well, they may view the contest more like a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. As on-ice officials, we have come to expect that.
As my partner and I skate onto the ice, it is bitter cold and I know my fingers will be numb before the end of the 1st period (no, we do not wear gloves). My partner and I position the goals on the ice and here they come! Roughly 24 nine and ten year-old hockey players explode onto the ice. Their effort and enthusiasm even in warm-ups is both heart-warming and entertaining to watch.
During the warm-ups I make my introduction to the coaches of each team and I always make a point of thanking them for the time they invest in coaching their kids. I respect them for their efforts as they are, for the most part, very dedicated, caring ambassadors of the game. Then I cover my three key points as an official with each of them:
- Above all else I am here to keep your kids safe
- “I’m going to call ‘em like I see ‘em” (meaning penalties, goals, etc.) and yes, I am human, I don’t get every call exactly right”, and
- Let’s let the kids have fun.
As I skate away after making that introduction, I always contemplate that last point…Isn’t that what youth sports are supposed to be all about anyway, creating a fun, memorable experience for the kids playing whatever sport it is?
My partner and I take our positions on the ice for the opening faceoff and two ten year-olds line up placing their sticks on the center dot. Their cheeks are already flushed red from the ice-cold air in the rink, their eyes filled with excitement and anticipation. The moment takes me back to the days when I was a ten year-old playing youth hockey on outdoor rinks in Buffalo, NY. I smile at them both and always say the same thing. “Hey boys, it’s a great day for hockey! Let’s go!” And with that, I drop the puck and the game begins.
Both games went fine and as my partner and I undressed in our locker room there was little to discuss about the games, My partner left ahead of me and as I sat in the locker room alone, I thought to myself, At 68 years of age why are you doing this on a Saturday morning when you could be at home sleeping in bed? And the answer was quite clear to me. God wants me to be here doing this. It is part of my life that is so much more than work or obligation; it is a blessing and a special ministry.
Truth is, I am absolutely blessed to be able to do this at my age. God wants me out there on that ice keeping those kids safe and helping them to play a game they love. As strange as it may sound, I have come to believe that officiating hockey is another opportunity to share and live out my faith. And as I think about it and take it one step further, isn’t that what God wants from you and I in every aspect of our life? As faithful stewards living in God’s world, doesn’t He want us to make our entire life a special ministry, a ministry that is dedicated to and influences others for Jesus Christ?
I recently read an interesting article about Jaccob Slavin, a defensman with the Carolina Hurricanes in the National Hockey League. Slavin says this about his identity. “It’s more important to identify yourself as a Christian who happens to be a hockey player than as a hockey player who happens to be a Christian. It puts me at peace to know that God is in control of every aspect of my life.”
What a powerful testimony. Yes, as believers, above all else first and foremost, we are Christians who have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. And Yes, God is in control of every aspect of our life. Knowing that, shouldn’t everything we do, everything in our life, be thought of as a special ministry? I think so, and that includes officiating youth hockey games.