Dwayne Weber: Whistleblower

Nobody likes a snitch.

Someone who tattles on others for their wrong doings, ones they hope to get away with.

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Yet that is essentially the number one duty for a hockey referee.

They are there to de-escalate situations, keep players safe and, yes, call out players for breaking the rules.

Workers often have their performance scrutinized by employers, those above them on the seniority ladder.

Referees are looked at as scapegoats by rabid fans, never heroes.

Their favourite team lost by one goal? You bet it was that referee’s fault for not calling a penalty back in the first period.

Their team won after scoring four power-play goals? No praise to the officials for calling so many penalties.

A thankless job, yet one Dwayne Weber has been doing for the last 40 years.

The Wilkie native who moved to North Battleford in 1986 knows he’s far from a fan favourite, but thinks it’s too easy for others to judge.

“They should try reffing to begin with,” he said with regards to fans getting on his case during games. “It’s a totally different side of the game from a player to a ref. It’s different positioning wise and everything.”

It’s hard to imagine someone would willingly do a job where they are berated night in and night out, but perhaps that wasn’t on 11-year-old Weber’s mind when he started.
“A friend of mine asked if I would help him out, and I enjoyed it,” he said.

Just like players, as an official gets older they begin moving up in age groups.

“As you get older you get up to higher hockey,” he said.

In 1989 Weber officiated his first SJHL game and likened the experience to being called up as a player to the next level.

“There’s a guy who assigns the officiating crews to games and back then they saw me doing games and asked if I’d be interested in doing junior games,” Weber said.

Weber is now that “guy” who assigns officiating crews to SJHL games, although once he retires from officiating at the conclusion of the 2014-15 SJHL season he will no longer be that guy.

“I was thinking of backing out of all of it,” Weber admitted. “I teach and assign and all that stuff, so I thought I’d back out of all of it, and then maybe come back. But for on-ice I probably won’t come back at all.”

Weber says his plans are to continue working his day job at Valley Ford.

When teaching younger refs about getting into the game, Weber says he tells them it’s important not to take things people might say to heart.

“Parents you always have yelling,” he chuckled. “Because their kids are all going to the NHL. I always feel sorry for the younger refs in the lower levels, but it does get better as you move up. I just tell them not to have their radar ears on, just let it go, do the best job you can and come out better off than them.”

Fans might forget that refs are people too, as Weber’s wife Donna chimed in.

“We have two boys, and when the youngest was little, Dwayne was doing a game in the middle of the afternoon, so I decided to take the boys to this hockey game,” she explained. “So at the game someone yells ‘Weber you suck!’ and my youngest one goes up, taps him on the shoulder, the guy looks at him and my son says ‘That’s my dad!’ The guy turned beet red and didn’t say a word after that.”

Weber says there’s a line when it comes to getting on a ref’s case.

“Most of the stuff you don’t take to heart, when they get personal I don’t like that,” he said. “You hear a lot of things like ‘shake your head and see if your eyes move’ and things like that.”

Having a short memory is just as important.

“That’s the stuff you have to let go of,” he said of holding grudges against specific players or coaches. “It builds up on you and that’s where you end up making your mistakes. There are certain players that you know are going to be problems all the time, but you’ve got to try and let that go. You’re always going to have guys yelling, but that’s just part of the game, I guess.”

When it comes to officials having discussions with coaches on the bench, Weber says most times it looks worse than it actually is.

“A lot of them are because coaches are all up about a call from before,” he said. “Sometimes you’ll see the arms going up and down, but they aren’t really that angry.”

Being in one profession for four decades, you’re bound to see some changes throughout the years. Officiating is no different.

“I think the speed has picked up because they’ve opened the ice up a lot more for the players,” Weber explained. “When they added no-touch icing that’s helped a lot of players by preventing injuries.”

Before no-touch icing was brought into the game, a defending player would have to skate back to their own zone and touch the puck for the play to be whistled dead. This resulted in races for the puck between opposing players, with a few falling feet first into the boards resulting in gruesome leg injuries.

Any hockey fan knows that every game doesn’t always go perfectly without a dangerous hit, a player getting hurt or worse.

“I was doing a midget game and a young boy had actually died on the bench,” Weber said. “He had heart problems, and we had to get the ambulance and that kind of thing.”

Even regular events can be frightening for an official.

“A lot of checks from behind makes the hair on your back stand up,” he said. “One second a guy could be skating and the next he won’t be walking.”

Much like players, officials have to travel to games. Except they don’t get to travel on a bus with 30 other people, they have to get themselves to the games, wherever they may be scheduled.

“You can travel a long ways reffing,” Weber said. “When the boys were growing up I missed a lot of their hockey because of reffing. I remember one weekend, Friday I left to do a game in Flin Flon. So it’s six hours there, then six hours back home. The next night I was in La Ronge, and on the way home from there I got a call saying I had to be in Kindersley Sunday afternoon.”

Driving yourself to the game can sometimes be the most dangerous part of the job.

“We were coming back on the Biggar highway one time, and it was snowing so badly I could barely see the road in front of me,” he reminisced. “I had to stick my head out the window so I could see the line on the road.”

Busy schedules aren’t something everyone can handle, referees or otherwise.

“Some people don’t like that many days in a row,” he said. “You can get burned out if you do it too much.”

It’s not just employees that feel the strain of a busy schedule either.

“Yes and no. At times it was tough because we had two boys growing up,” said Donna. “The challenge was trying to be at their games because Dwayne was always gone. You get used to it and you just expect it after awhile. It was a drastic change after the boys were done hockey and then I had nothing to do and he was always gone.”

“Now that I won’t be on the ice she’s got to put up with me all the time,” Dwayne quickly laughed.

Fans might think refs are out for no purpose other than to screw over their favourite team, but Weber says their job is something they take seriously.

“Probably making the call,” he said when asked what the most difficult part of the job is. “You want to make the right call every time. I’m just trying to help with the game, is the way I look at it. You want to be consistent all the time, that’s what the players want and that’s what the coaches want.”

Weber has shown consistency throughout his career, as has he been the recipient of numerous accolades.

He was voted by his peers to work the lines at the 1997 SJHL All-Star game, and received the “most deserving official” twice in his career.

“It makes you feel good about it,” said Weber. “You just have to do the best job you can. Eliminate your mistakes and keep moving forward.”

Humble, Weber was quick to mention those who helped him along the way.

“I was able to do all this stuff because both boys and my wife allowed me to,” he said. “She was good enough to let me do it,” he said with a big laugh.

Weber is scheduled to work his last SJHL game at the Civic Centre in North Battleford Friday when the North Stars host the Melfort Mustangs.

There is a rule barring officials from working playoff games in their hometowns.

Weber is still undecided on how much, if at all, he’ll help out with the game after this season.

“We do a lot of reports on refs, which is the only way to learn and move up,” he explained. “They want me to do more of that now that I won’t be on the ice but it takes a lot of time.”

Weber and his wife say they plan to visit their eldest son Randy in Bonnyville, ALTA. often, especially since they will be able to see their grandchild regularly.

Four decades of dealing with players and coaches will surely give Weber the patience to handle a young grandchild.

© Copyright Battlefords News Optimist

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