VAIL, Colo. — A man who sprayed a youth hockey referee in the face with Lysol after his son’s game in Vail last fall received a deferred sentence for harassment last week.
The ref he sprayed wants a tougher punishment, not in a court of law, but on the ice.
“We should be able to assess a minor penalty on the offending team,” Ron Groothedde said. “And their captain will go sit in the box for a couple of minutes.”
“And maybe the game is tied. And maybe the opposing team scores the go-ahead goal on the powerplay. You’re going to have to explain to your son or daughter when you’re driving home, well, you lost that game because I cost you a penalty.”
The incident from Nov. 6 is the latest in what Groothedde and other referees call an increase in bad behavior from people sitting in the stands at hockey games.
>> Video below is a 9NEWS interview with Ron Groothedde about being sprayed with Lysol by an angry parent in November 2021
“It seems the last 3 to 4 years around the country, around the world for that matter, it’s becoming different,” Groothedde said. “We’re having a lot of, let’s call them issues with parental involvement.”
“We’re losing probably at least 50 percent every year of people that sign up to try [being a referee] and they do it for a little while and then they just go I’m done… I’m not putting up with this.”
Groothedde recently retired from his position as state referee-in-chief for the Colorado Amatuer Hockey Association. The current referee-in-chief, Rob Cogging, told 9NEWS the pandemic has complicated the problem even more.
“COVID threw everyone a major curveball, as with everything else,” Cogging said. “A lot of people didn’t come back last year because they didn’t think there was going to be hockey.”
“This year we haven’t gotten a lot of that back.”
According to Cogging, there are about 70 percent fewer referees registered in the Denver area than there were before the pandemic, and official numbers are also way down in Colorado Springs and in Colorado’s mountain communities.
Cogging said parental behavior aimed at referees is certainly complicating the problem.
“It seems to have gotten worse in different times and different places,” he said. “They’re giving their all. They’re trying and they’re doing this to try to make sure there are officials on the ice so the kids can play hockey. And I think parents and coaches sometimes lost perspective on that.”
“When parents think they have the right somehow to approach officials after the game and give them their mind...that’s not your prerogative to do that.”
But it’s exactly what happened on Nov.6 in Vail. Groothedde was reffing a Bantam game during a tournament there when he says a man named Aliaksei Khatsianevich approached him in the scorer’s box.
“The dad in there is just screaming at me that I called too many penalties on their team and he slams the door in my face, it just about knocks me back on the ice.”
Groothedde said Khatsianevich grabbed an industrial sized can of Lysol disinfectant spray.
“I thought oh my god he’s gonna throw it at me,” Groothedde said. “I went to put my hand up and instead he walked up to me and just fogged me right in the face. Solid blast… and I don’t know if you’ve read the ingredients of a Lysol can.”
Groothedde agreed to press charges against Khatsianevich. He was charged with harassment, a class 3 misdemeanor. Khatsianevich pleaded guilty to the charge, received a deferred sentence and was fined $200, according to court documents.
“I don’t know what kind of switch goes off in somebody’s mind that says I’m gonna spray Lysol in that guy’s face because I don’t like the way he officiated,” Groothedde said. “But that has to come to an end. Period. There’s no place in sports for that. None.”
“We’ve seen assaults on hockey officials, we’ve seen assaults on basketball officials, on baseball officials. Why? You think your child is going to the pros and gonna come home with a big sack of money for you? I’ve got a statistic for you. One tenth of one percent (make it to the pros). You can apply that to any sport.”
In recent years, CHSAA, the state’s association for high school athletics, has warned that bad behavior from parents and fans across all sports has led to a dramatic drop in referees. It’s a problem sports associations across the country have dealt with, which seems to only have worsened during the pandemic.
“Honestly, some of the best games in the last year during COVID were when the parents weren’t allowed in the buildings. It made it such a great game because the kids could just play,” Cogging, Colorado’s current referee-in-chief for hockey, said.
“If I got to the airport and I start screaming at the gate attendant behind the gate… I’m going to be escorted out by TSA and probably have charges pressed. I don’t know why people thinks its okay to come and scream at the referee. It’s not right.”
Groothedde, who is originally from Winnipeg and has been around the game of hockey for nearly all of his nearly 65 years, has been a referee for the past quarter century. He said recent years have made him reconsider the job.
“There’s a rink down south, Family Sports Center, where they have kind of balcony seating,” he said. “We had a fight spill out with people over the balcony, fell over the balcony and they spilled out onto the ice and that kind of taught me we have to start doing something about this…this is getting out of hand.”
“I have zero problem removing parents from an ice rink. If you can’t be an adult and let your child enjoy the sport…let the kids play, let the officials officiate, let the coaches coach… whatever happens happens…It’s not going to perfect…nothing ever is. If you can’t just let that happen and enjoy that moment with your child, you don’t deserve to be in the building.”
Groothedde proposed the rule to add a minor penalty for bad parent behavior to the state’s hockey rulebook. He said the Colorado Amateur Hockey Association is seriously considering it.
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