A volunteer hockey coach in Newfoundland has been given an outrageous one-year suspension for skipping the opening and closing ceremonies of a hockey tournament, and his team has been fined $2,000. Given that he and his players decided as a team not to attend the events because so many of them were studying for and writing university exams, the decision sends the wrong message about the importance of education for athletes.
The Junior B tournament in St. John’s took place April 17-22, smack in the middle of exams at Memorial University. Many of the games were scheduled during school hours. While other coaches apparently weren’t hindered by this, Brian Cranford of the Mount Pearl Junior Blades was barely able to put together the minimum 12-man roster. In a effort to further minimize the time demands on his players, he and they agreed to skip the opening ceremony and closing awards banquet as a team.
A month later, Mr. Cranford received an e-mail from Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador, the branch of Hockey Canada that oversees junior hockey in that province, informing him he had been suspended for a year and the team fined $2,000. He appealed the decision to Hockey NL, but his appeal was denied.
There is a dispute over whether Mr. Cranford knew he had to have a representative at the opening ceremony and banquet; he says he didn’t know it was a requirement, while Hockey NL says it was a clearly stated rule. What is clear is that a one-year suspension for skipping a ceremonial puck-dropping and an awards banquet is completely out of proportion. Mr. Cranford did not instigate a brawl, or order a player to injure an opponent, or punch a referee. No, his crime was to make a statement with his players about the importance of their university education.
Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador has since insisted that its decision was the right one, and further adds that it is in “no way suggesting that hockey is more important than education.” Until it reverses this heavy-handed sanction, most will assume that that is exactly what it is suggesting.