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(Kevin Van Paassen)
(Kevin Van Paassen)

Nova Scotia volunteer takes stand against bullying hockey parents Add to ...

Wayne McDonald hopes his resignation will open some eyes, get people talking. Better still, the former Halifax minor hockey volunteer would like to see parents in Nova Scotia forced to take the same Respect in Sport program made mandatory by Hockey Calgary.

That, McDonald believes, would remind parents what is acceptable behaviour when it comes to players, coaches and referees at minor hockey games and hold them accountable. That wasn't happening for McDonald, who resigned late last week as vice-president of the Timberlea Amateur Sports Association after being verbally abused and threatened by bitter parents.

At the root of that anger was McDonald's decision making. His job for the last four years was to move players to different teams to maintain a competitive balance. By doing so, by ensuring every team had a fair chance at winning, McDonald invited the wrath of hostile adults who called him at home, work, on his cellphone and left hissing messages.

He responded by resigning, then sending a letter to the Chronicle Herald explaining why. His story on the newspaper's website has drawn more than 20,000 hits and almost 150 comments, the majority of readers backing McDonald and chastising the parents for acting so childish.

"It was team-balancing. It's rec hockey," McDonald said Wednesday. "But it's all become that hockey helmet mentality. You walk into a rink and you don't have to show respect for anything. I got no respect and no support. It was just a terrible experience, and I love hockey."

McDonald is aware of the RIS initiative founded by former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy and made mandatory this season for Calgary parents whose children play minor hockey. The deadline for at least one parent taking the online program was last Friday. If they hadn't completed it, their child was not allowed to practise or play.

As of Wednesday, almost 12,000 kids were good to hit the ice, leaving 230 families who hadn't finished the program or simply refused.

Darren Cossar, the executive director of Hockey Nova Scotia, said his organization has already had two RIS presentations and is impressed with the message it sends and how it empowers the well-behaved parents to corral those who stray.

"We're debating how we implement it," Cossar said. "Do we make it mandatory? How we do cover the costs? Do we increase fees? Do we cover a portion? It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when and how."

Asked about McDonald's resignation, Cossar replied he was "shocked to see a volunteer come to that point. I was disappointed for Mr. McDonald that it had to end that way. Hockey Nova Scotia put in an abusive-parent policy six years ago. I feel bad in this case because Mr. McDonald was threatened and it was a missed opportunity to deal with that situation."

Three years ago, McDonald dealt with a parent who was furious that his son, an 11-year-old goalie, had been moved from the team McDonald was coaching to another for competitive balancing. The father threatened to assault McDonald outside an arena. Employed at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, and instructed in how to defuse tense situations, McDonald backed away. The parent received a letter warning him the police would be involved if anything else occurred.

That episode ended with a positive resolution.

"The dad apologized to me. I ended up coaching his son again three years later, without a problem," said McDonald, who is hopeful his resignation can also lead to something good.

"I dedicated a lot of hours to hockey and I'm heartbroken I can't do it," he added. "But I have no problem standing in the line of fire [on this issue]"

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