Pursuit is a sports feature series highlighting Athletes, Coaches and Staff and significant sporting events from North Bay and the surrounding area.
For Alex Parker, a good thing happened when she was least expecting it. “I got the e-mail and kind of freaked out a little bit.”
Parker was selected to officiate the Eastern Canadian Ringette Championships in Dieppe, New Brunswick last month.
“I found out at the beginning of March and if I'm being honest, it was a bit of a surprise this year. I wasn't expecting the invite this year, I was hoping for at least next year.”
Parker says the tournament was “an absolute blast” and she was one of three on-ice ringette referees selected from Ontario to go to the championship, along with two provincial-level evaluators for the tournament that included 27 teams from Quebec, PEI, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Ontario, with players in the U14, U16, U19 and 18+ age groups.
“If you look at the number of officials in Ontario, you could say there is a lot of competition. It is an unreal feeling to know that my name was even on that list as a consideration, let alone actually get the invite,” says Parker who was also part of the group that got to do one of the final games.
“Which was pretty cool,” says Parker. “Again there's the selection process to even get there and then you’re being evaluated based on how you do over the weekend. If you have a terrible weekend you're not seeing a final. My fellow Ontario refs and I ended up getting to do the underdog team final which is a big deal for anybody in our referee world who understands it, it is a huge deal to be able to do a final at a national event like that and to be able to do it at the eastern Canadian championships is just something else.”
During the weekend tournament, Parker was on the ice for 10 games, which makes for a busy weekend.
“Throughout the season we’re usually doing tournaments that run Friday to Sunday and you're ready to go for approximately four games, but when you get to provincial and national events you tend to be on the ice a little more and by the end of the weekend you're ready for a good rest,” she says, adding it is a physically demanding job.
“You certainly notice when you’re out of shape,” she says.
“Coming back from COVID I went two years of not even lacing up my skates and the first tournament back was our AA provincials and I got on for the first game and looked at my partner at half time and said, ‘I regret my entire life right now, I don't even know why I'm on the ice!’”
Parker says in ringette there are only two refs and they are moving up and down the ice with the players the entire game.
“Positioning is huge, you need to be at the net before the play gets there because we have crease violations, so if you have somebody on a breakaway you don't want to be that person who gets the call wrong. There is pressure but it's fun to be able to go at that speed and knowing that you can go for that many games in a weekend it feels good, it feels very accomplished,” she says.
Parker didn’t foresee herself participating in the highest level of ringette as a referee. Growing up she played the sport and had hoped to take that all the way.
“To be honest I'm not actually sure what got me wanting to ref, I think it was just another one of those excuses to be on the ice. When I was a kid my parents thought I was crazy because I just wanted to go to practice because I loved to skate, that's all I wanted was more opportunity to get out there and skate.”
Born and raised in North Bay, Parker played from a young age and got involved with the coaching side, helping out her younger sister's team. “Her coach was a rock star and took me under her wing and said, come on out and move rings around and show the girls some drills. I also volunteered at the ‘Learn to skate’ program, I was just always trying to find a reason to get on the ice and help kids on the ice and turned that into a job.”
Parker was a camp counsellor and on-ice instructor at Eagle Lake ringette camp for eight years. “I was trying to stay involved on the coaching side, but I was so involved with playing and I travelled so much for playing, so that got a little bit harder, and then I got the bug with refereeing and coaching ended up on the back burner. As soon as I turned 14, I said I'm going to be a referee and apparently, I'm pretty good at telling people what to do so I got good at it,” says Parker.
Parker says Half of refereeing is the relationship you build with the players on the ice.
“If you're out there to prove that you're the one in charge and that you're the one in control and that I can kick you out if I want to, that's not the relationship you want on the ice. Being humble is such a huge part of it and I had a referee who officiates at the World Championship level and he was one of the ones that really put that into perspective with me. Watching how he officiates a game is what I like to model my behavior on the ice. He has that calm demeanor and he's just so in control of this game but I'm not here to ruffle feathers. We're trying to set the expectation that we are humble, but we are there to enforce the rule book,” says Parker.
“Why instigate? You make them have a reaction and now you're having to kick them out and there are suspensions, and so why make something bigger than it has to be?”
Parker, who is the Manager of Recreational Therapy at Barclay House Retirement Residence, says both her refereeing and her full-time job are not the ways she thought she would find herself working in sports.
“I was living and breathing for sports growing up and so I had hoped to go into that in some capacity. At the time I was thinking of sports management as a possibility but once I got into the numbers, I just said it wasn’t for me and I had to think of a different way to do that. I switched programs a lot until I finally got some convincing from longtime local weightlifting coach Larry Sheppard.”
Parker says Sheppard convinced her to get into his “Strength and Sport Conditioning Program at Canadore College.
“He said to me ‘Just get into the program, get yourself a diploma, and figure your stuff out’ and I ended up doing the program and ended up in Recreation Therapy and from there it all fell into place. At the end of the day, what I do at Barclay House, it's almost not even sports that I'm doing unless you want to call balloon tennis or Wii Bowling a sport, but the whole idea is on the importance of recreation,” she says, adding the COVID-19 pandemic showed just how important that is.
“I don't think anybody ever understands how important recreation is until you go without having it. We assume that we can just sign up to play soccer or we can be at the rink anytime we want but when COVID hit, the big thing I kept hearing was ‘My mental health is suffering because I'm not allowed to go to the park or I'm not allowed to play hockey’ and recreation therapy is just so important with that. It just goes to show that every fun thing that you do, that's recreation, your pastimes, and your hobbies, that is recreation. Recreation Therapy is basically taking the fun stuff and improving people's lives.”
Parker says one of the ways to achieve that goal is to find ways to modify those activities, so it suits people of all ages.
"I had one lady come out and play Wii Bowling and she said ‘I haven't bowled in years, it's great and I can do it from a chair!’ Our aim is to give people that purpose and to be able to include absolutely everybody. It doesn’t matter whether you deal with kids, seniors, or teenagers, it's always there.”
If you have a story idea for the ‘Pursuit’ series, send Matt an email at [email protected]