It is Tuesday morning in Manchester and Mike Laleune, a referee from Halifax, Nova Scotia is happy to be here. Laleune was a minor official at the 2006 Worlds in London, Ontario and is working as a referee at the current World Championships for the first time.
Perhaps one of the most positive developments that have occurred in international lacrosse over the past four years has been the improvement in the refereeing standards and Laleune provides us with his insights as to why this has occurred. “First of all, all the Canadian referees had to pass through a rigorous screening process before they were even selected to travel to England. Then, once we arrived we had to write a 2 hour exam that was the most comprehensive refereeing exam I had ever seen and then complete a six hour fitness test. After each game we referee, we are subject to a 45 minute debriefing on our performance on the field”. This is the life of a referee in Manchester.
The rigour at which Laleune is being put through his paces is not by accident. Don Blacklock, the Deputy Referee in Chief of the FIL who hails from Barrie, Ontario says that a comprehensive plan was decided upon coming out of the last World Championships in 2006 and that the FIL has been working hard to raise the refereeing standards over that time frame. Blacklock says, “the assessment program is really important because the rules tend to be uniformly well known but are interpreted in different ways in each of the member countries. The post-game assessment program allows us to mould the international refereeing contingent as a group and the result should be greater consistency in the way the game is called”. The FIL has also placed particular emphasis on improving the flow of the game, and for the most part Blacklock says “we are happy with the results”
Canada plays England later today and the biggest challenge in the Team Canada camp is focus. So far, the team has played well and there are no major injuries to report. However, the players have now been in England for nine days and the sameness of the athlete’s village routine is starting to weigh on the players. Tonight’s game will be the last of the round-robin portion of the tournament and then the players will have a day off.
Referees have always played a significant role in world championships and the 1978 Team Canada was a case in point. Two National Hockey League referees with close ties to the Brampton Excelsior’s Lacrosse Club were an important part of the 1978 World Championship Team. The first of these two was Ron Wicks. According to Mike French, the former Cornell and Team Canada star “Wicks was the manager of the 1978 Team Canada and a wonderfully genuine guy that looked out for everyone on the team”. French adds, “John McCauley on the other hand was our defensive coordinator and one of the toughest guys in lacrosse, a real ball-buster who would push you hard to get you to win – everybody just loved his intensity’. Throughout the 1970’s the two top senior teams in Ontario were Brampton and Owen Sound and Brampton usually won. French ads, “Wicks and McCauley brought that winning attitude to every team or organisation they belonged to including Team Canada. As a guy that played for Owen Sound throughout the 1970’s I was really happy to have Wicks and McCauley on my team for a change”,
Ron Wicks and John McCauley were extremely successful NHL referees but they were not field lacrosse referees. Indeed, at the 1978 World Championships, each country was instructed to bring a referee and Canada did not have a single field lacrosse referee in the country. Instead, Canada brought Bob Derlan, a referee from Syracuse who had refereed several exhibition games involving Team Canada and had shown a genuine interest in teaching the Canadians the field game. As Johnny Mouradian recalls, “Derlan was terrific and he really helped explain the game to our players and later helped get our national refereeing programs off the ground. Derlan was Canada’s designated referee at the 1978 Worlds”.
With Canada’s Gold medal victory in 1978, a small wave of excitement was unleashed for the field game and three important centres of interest in field lacrosse in Canada began to emerge in Peterborough, St Catharines and Victoria, but there was still no organisation tasked with recruiting, training and assessing referees in Canada. Finally, in 1980 the Ontario Lacrosse Association stepped in and began the slow process of creating a field lacrosse organisation. Not much happened in the first two years but in 1982 the task was taken over by Jim Price who took on the job with gusto.
Price recalls “at that time, the OLA had a pretty good box lacrosse referee program but our knowledge of the field game and the tools with which to teach it were non-existent”. Price adds “fortunately we had help from two important sources” The first was Bob Derland and Jake Curran from US lacrosse. “these two fine gentlemen opened up their refereeing instruction clinics to us and let us copy all of their manuals”. The Australians were similarly supportive with Graham Reddaway being particularly helpful. Price points out, “because the Australians didn’t have the NCAA program to deal with, the Australian manuals and training aids conformed perfectly to the IFL standards that Canada was attempting to adhere to at that time. We took the Australian manuals and exchanged the word Australia with Canada and we were set”. Price adds” the US and the Australians were terrific in helping us get our fledgling referee programs off the ground in a hurry”.
The program that Jim Price and other put in place served Canada well for the next 15 years. Price had the foresight to get other provinces involved in the program early and a small corps of referees began to emerge that refereed in Canada and could be supplied to International competitions. However, Canada started experiencing in the 1990’s the kind of issues that the IFL was dealing with over the past decade which included inconsistency in the interpretation of the rules from province to province. That’s when Stew Begg, then Referee in Chief for Canada stepped in and the National Officials Certification Program (NOCP). The result was a comprehensive training program that was supported by a strong infrastructure of manuals and well trained instructors and backed up with the use of national championships as a method of grooming the elite corps of referees. The NOCP forms the backbone of the Canadian refereeing development program to this day.
The success of these programs is evidenced by the sheer number of referees and assessors from Canada at the 2010 World Lacrosse Championships. Canada has 9 referees in Manchester and 4 assessors making the Canadian contingent the second largest after host England. As important, Canadian refs are receiving strong reviews from their assessors and the senior refs and evaluators are receiving several enquiries from nascent lacrosse nations to help them set up their own trainings programs.
Perhaps the strongest endorsement about the referee program comes from the young refs that are here from Canada. Ryan Dutkus, who is 25 and from Welland, Ontario was a time keeper at the 2006 Worlds and is a referee in Manchester. It has always been Dutkus’ dream to ref at the “Worlds” and in order to live that dream he gave up football so that he could ref CUFLA. Dutkus says ‘ the experience in Manchester has been awesome and because we referee so many high quality games back home, we feel we can ref at the world class level even though many of the Canadian refs are much younger than the refs from other countries’. Brent Colombe, who is also 25 and from Welland is really enjoying the experience. Coulombe says that “so far it’s been a wonderful experience and it’s been great meeting refs from so many other countries”. Ryan Metcalfe who is 25 and from Toronto is similarly excited. “2010 Worlds have been a great experience and I have really enjoyed the process of learning to work a game with refs from two other lacrosse cultures”.
The Canada versus England game is now only a few minutes away. In the warm up, the English seem more interested in the game than the Canadians. With national anthems and pre-game rituals now out of the way, the game commences with Canada holding possession and the English goalie being forced to make a spectacular save. A minute later Corey Small feeds Rhys Duch and its 1 to 0 for Canada. Thirty seconds later Garrett Billings scores on a feed from Mark Steinhaus and its 2-0 for Canada. But then a bit of complacency sets in and its England goal and Canada’s lead is cut to 1. Lewis Ratcliff, the Victoria B.C based attackman for England ties it up two minutes later to the delight of the English crowd.
Canada continues to play a somewhat listless game until Kevin Huntley scores a nice goal on a feed from Brodie Merrill. Brodie Merrill then scores on a give-and- go from Dan Dawson and Canada leads 4 to 2. John Grant scores just before quarter end and the Canadian’s are up 5 to 2.
The second quarter is similarly all Canada and the score at half-time is Canada 13 and England 2. The second half is a bit more of a grinder as the English refuse to accept a blow-out from Canada and the rain comes down in heavy sheets, soaking the turf field. Canada does not score in the third quarter and England scores twice as the quarter ends 13 to 5 for Canada. In the fourth quarter the weather clears and Canada begins to turn it on a bit, finishing the game with a 17 to 6 victory. It is now on to the play-off round.
John (Gus) McCauley was a larger than life character whose legacy stands over the game of lacrosse. While McCauley never referred a game of field lacrosse, he was an integral part of the 1978 “Miracle in the Mud” lacrosse game which really served as the impetus for the development of field lacrosse and the refereeing program in Canada. For that and so many other things that he gave to the sport of lacrosse, John McCauley will be inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame later this year. McCauley’s name will also live on in other ways including the annual tournament that is held each year in Brampton that bears his name, by his son Wes who was the mascot of the 1978 Team Canada and is now an NHL ref and by his nephew Brent McCauley who is the Referee in Chief for all of Canadian Lacrosse.