Monday, December 10, 2018

Be Like Willie

(name changed to protect the identity of a minor)

You might have a difficult task before you right now, or perhaps looming in the near future. Something daunting, terrifying, seemingly impossible. Formidable. Staggering. Intimidating. A challenge you don't want but can't avoid.

I'm going to try to help.

I'm going to tell you about Willie.

7:40, Sunday morning at a rink in northern NJ. I have an 8am game and am the only person in the referee locker room, almost ready to go. The door starts to open and I catch a glimpse of a mother for a second before something pulls it shut again.

A few moments pass before there's a knock. I say to come in. The door opens again and a young girl enters, decked out in a full kit of reffing gear. She's a wee slip of a thing, tiny, with a sheet of white-blond hair hanging down one side of her face. The woman I glimpsed and assume to be her mother has followed her in and is standing quietly off to the side. I smile as benignly as possible.

The girl unshoulders her bag, plops down in a seat, and pulls out her skates. "Hi! This is my first time reffing." There's a pause. "I'm kind of nervous."

Indeed, she looks very much so. Doing my best to set her at ease, we launch into conversation. She's eleven years old but small for her age. She plays PeeWee hockey and has been skating since she could walk. She passed the online test, watched all the videos, attended the seminar. Now it's time for her first game, and she's a little scared.

The assigner has given her half-ice Mites, which is the perfect place for her to start. Technically it's the *only* place she can start, since she has to be at least two years older than the kids she's officiating for. Generally, reffing half-ice Mites is a task akin to herding rambunctious puppies. There's no offsides, no icings, no checking, no real penalties. Still, that doesn't make it any less important of a job. She's responsible for the safety of a few dozen kids while attempting to teach them the rules of the game and trying to make sure they have fun  - all at the same time.

The other two refs arrive - one to work with me and the other to work the other half of the ice with Willie ("My name's Wilhemina, but I prefer Willie, if that's okay") - and her mom senses that her daughter is going to be okay. She leaves without making a scene, letting her know she'll be there watching. Willie asks me for advice, which is a bit humorous as I've only had my crest for three months, but I give her what others were kind enough to teach me: Be decisive. Be confident. Err on the side of caution. Hustle, hustle, hustle. Keep your head on a swivel. Deescalate. Have fun.

I check my phone. It's time. She asks me which route she should take to her rink and I offer to walk her over while her partner finishes getting ready. At Rink 3 the Mites are waiting, eager, itching to get out on the ice. She's not quite ready to head out yet - she wants to wait for the other guy to arrive. The coaches look over at her and offer smiles, which she returns. She spots her mom along the boards and waves.Yeah, she's going to be fine.

This story might have a much more satisfying ending if I could hang around and watch how she does (or lie about it), but I have my own game to get to. That's not really the point, anyway. I don't know which particular dragon you have to slay and I'm not here to belittle either it or your discomfort in handling it. I'm here to say I watched an undersized eleven-year-old girl face something that frightened her in order to step into a new world that most kids her age wouldn't dream of being able to attempt.

Willie did it.

I bet you can as well.

Go do it.

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