Tillsonburg’s Kirstie Jones will be refereeing her first Eastern Canadian Ringette Championships this weekend.
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“I’m excited,” said Jones, a veteran referee at many A and AA provincial championships. “I love it and I enjoy it – I’m definitely excited because you have the best of the A teams there, you know it’s going to be great ringette. It’s going to be a cool experience, I’ve never been out east before. I’m excited for the other two officials going from Ontario – I know them very well. I’m just excited for a good weekend of solid ringette. It will be neat to see some of the hometown people out there too and share the experience with them.”
Jones had been booked for the 2020 Eastern Canadians, but the event was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Halifax is hosting this year’s A-level Easterns, April 14-17, while Regina hosted the four-province Western Canadian Ringette Championships, which are separate from the AA nationals.
Jones did not have her refereeing schedule a week before the event, but knew it would be busy with ringette in U14, U16, U19, and U18-plus (open) divisions.
‘Exhausted’ is what she expected.
“That’s kind of your end-game tournament where everything you’ve worked on throughout the season comes together. It should be the best that you feel on the ice all season.
“At the Ontario AA championships you get your schedule the night before every day. It’s usually 3-4 games a day – it’s exhausting – but your games the next day are based on your performance as well. You are evaluated on every single game that you do, which is great because you get the feedback.
“It is a lot of pressure but you want to be consistent. Every referee goes out there thinking ‘I want to ref the best game for everybody.”
She knows there will be an occasional problem, there will always be coaches (or fans) yelling. But if she can come out of a game consistent, she ‘wins.’
“The higher level you go… they’re very vocal, very passionate. Most of them at the AA level, they know the game because they’ve played it at a higher level, or someone on the bench has. More or less they’re willing to have a conversation with you rather than scream at you. They’ll ask you something and then you can have a conversation about why you made the call – and they will understand that.”
But there are also some, at any level, who are very vocal, who maybe don’t understand all the rules, and want everything explained.
“Everyone knows who they are. But if you’re a new ref and they’ve never seen you before, they’ll be even more vocal – until you kind of lay that groundwork.”
It does require thick skin, she nodded, and that’s something she had even at the age of 16.
“You have to. But having a thick skin, it’s definitely progressed over the years of having those evaluations. Those evaluators can say ‘Here’s some tips on how you can deal with this…’”
She also wants to give back to the sport and encourages young referees, as her mentors did.
“If the interest is there, you always encourage them to take the course. ‘Give it a try, see if it’s for you.’ There are many things in place to help them succeed, too. If they’re new referees, especially young referees, we try to do shadowing games. I would skate next to them, and it would be a lower level game, a bunny game, and any questions they have I’m standing right there. There’s still some first-game jitters but it’s kind of a comfort to have someone right there knowing that ‘if I make a mistake it will be corrected.’”
A ringette goalie from the age of eight, Jones added hockey to her on-ice repertoire in high school and university, while continuing in ringette.
“I had the opportunity to go to Dorchester but I chose to stay in town and play with my friends.”
She is now a goalie on a Tillsonburg women’s ringette team, and before the pandemic also played on a tournament team. A Monday night adult pick-up game also proved to be popular for players returning to the sport, and some of them transitioned to the women’s team.
“It’s nice with ringette that you can still play as an adult. We actually have a pretty good (women’s) team, I don’t think we’ve lost too many games,” she smiled. “Yeah, still got it – we all still got it. I still have a competitive edge.
“I’ve always loved playing the game and refereeing is just a different side of it. I love them equally.”
Jones, 32, started refereeing ringette when she was 14, and after one year off returned at the age of 16 – and she’s been refereeing for the past 16 years.
“Growing up as a goalie… I love goaltending now, but I didn’t always love it. I like to skate too. So it (refereeing) allowed me to get some skating in too.”
Mistakes happen – and any referee in a fast-moving sport will admit that.
“I guess everybody who wants to officiate a sport wants to come in and do a good job,” said Jones. “You want to be that referee that people can look at and say, “I’m happy they’re on the game.”
Joining the POD (Provincial Officiating Development Program) kick-started her higher level refereeing. She is currently Level 4C and referees up to U19 AA – every level except National Ringette League (NRL), which requires Level 4D. That is her goal in the next year or two.
“Getting to where I am has taken years and to move up in ringette there is a long process. You have to be evaluated numerous times, you have to attend numerous clinics. You always have that feedback.”
She has also been a hockey referee, and baseball umpire, but those are different challenges.
“Being a female ref in hockey, I felt it was more of a disadvantage because I was a women – I’m not very big. In ringette, especially at the elite level, there is a really good balance of both male and female refs, and no, it doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female. It’s strictly ability and the willingness to learn and take constructive criticism. The referees I know at the top level, they are both men and women, and they are just awesome people. It’s a very nice balance in that sense.”