Weyburn’s Alex Clarke became a referee a few years ago to fill the void hockey left behind after she quit playing. Little did the 24-year-old know she’d be making history as a member of the first female-only officiating crew to work a Prairie Junior Hockey League (PJHL) game.
In September, when the Drake native was first approached to officiate, she knew she had to be a part of it. Being the goal of the late Jason Mercer, a former PJHL referee-in-chief and leader in Saskatchewan’s referee division, Clarke felt it was special.
“Just to be one of the officials on the ice to honour (Mercer) and to do this in his honour — it’s very humbling,” she said.
According to Barry Schrader, the Saskatchewan Hockey Association’s development of female officials coordinator, Sunday’s game between the Saskatoon Quakers and Regina Silver Foxes is symbolic.
“This is something that we’ve finally accomplished in the hockey world — it’s never been done before,” said Schrader.
“It goes to prove that hard work will get you to those top level games — not only in the PJHL but the Olympics. I really feel some of these girls will get there one day.”
While officiating an Olympic-level hockey game is on Clarke’s bucket list, she said her only mission this weekend is to inspire other women who are interested in reffing.
“I just hope that they see the opportunity and the passion and the hard work that goes in it. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it,” said Clarke.
There are currently 268 female officials registered in Saskatchewan, which is up from 237 last season. Schrader believes those numbers confirm how the province is skating in the right direction when it comes to women reffing hockey.
“The barriers are knocked down. The (male) players are learning to respect these female officials on the ice — not only because they’re female, but because they know they can do their job,” he said.
While Clarke admitted lady officials aren’t completely free of discrimination in the hockey world, she said getting on the ice Sunday night with three other strong and talented women goes to show the milestone Saskatchewan’s achieved.
“It speaks to the opportunity that there is after playing — that it’s not just men who love the game, it’s women too.”
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