Purveyors of penalties

John Browne
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Officiating can be a thankless job, but love of sport and competition keeps these three locals motivated

They rarely get credit for a good game, and if they have a less than perfect one, there's always someone to blame them for a loss.

But, just like the players, officials are in it for the love of the game.

They are human and, like the players, they sometimes make mistakes. However, most times they get it right because they care as much about their performance as the athletes who put it all on the line.


Fred Wakeham got into basketball officiating basically because he couldn't make the Brother Rice high school team in 1973.

And to be fair, those were tough teams to make.

"Brother Martin Cull approached me and asked me if I might be interested in attending a basketball referees clinic, which was being conducted at Memorial University," said Wakeham.

"I figured it would be a great way to stay involved with basketball," explained the St. John's native, who was tutored by legends of the game, Frank King and Bill Redden.

Wakeham, a level 5 SJABO (St. John's Association of Basketball Officials) and a CABO (Canadian Association of Basketball Officials) level 4 official, says the highlight of his career was working the 1999 AUS men's final before 8,500 fans in Halifax.

"Saint Mary's, who won that game over Acadia, went on to win the national championship," recalls Wakeham.

He also noted Newfoundlanders Saj Joseph, Richard Brenton and Mark Seaborn played for Acadia in that tournament.

Wakeham, who has received provincial and national awards for his contribution to the game, has been involved at the executive level locally and provincially for the past 25 years and says he's travelled all over the province and most of Canada through officiating.

"It's not so much knowing the rules as applying them and being consistent," says Wakeham, when asked what's the most important thing that makes a good official.

He also said being a player or coach helps.

Wakeham is one of those officials who really seems to enjoy what he's doing.

Wakeham said criticism from coaches doesn't bother him much, but it depends on "the delivery" of the critics.

"Most coaches are not a problem," he said. "Coaches should ask questions, but mostly they just comment or scream. I have received constructive criticism over the years from coaches and players, but usually not in a game setting."

He said he can't control criticism from spectators. However, he added, "depending on the level of ball, it may affect me because you are concerned how the fans' behaviour may affect the players and the game."

Wakeham said officials like to communicate with each other before and after matches on a regular basis.

"We almost always have a pre-game and a post-game session to discuss the game. If we had any unusual issues, we'll often discuss and, if necessary, we'll contact the person responsible for rules clarification."

The 53-year-old, who plays recreation basketball and conducts clinics for novice officials and veteran officials, said how long he will continue to officiate depends mainly on his health.

He pointed out three local officials - Bill Hurley, Harry Power and Tom Gulliver - are in their 60s and still going strong.

"These guys are an inspiration," he said.


Colin Abbott is perhaps better known for his world-class softball skills, and that's the reason he gave up playing hockey to become a referee.

Abbott, who is from Portugal Cove, had played one season in the Avalon East Hockey League, after a successful junior career - which included getting drafted by the Verdun Junior Canadiens - when he decided to take up officiating in 1995.

"When I started playing ball at the top level, I really didn't want to get hurt on the ice, say in April, and miss the softball season," explained Abbott. "I quit playing hockey because of softball commitments."

One of Canada's most outstanding hitters, Abbott has played on several International Softball Congress championship teams earning MVP status three times.

Abbott said he had no aspirations to be a hockey official as a young man, but it was a way of staying around the game when he decided to give up playing.

He said the local referees at the time included Bas Whelan, Bill Abbott, Gary Gulliver and Wayne Mercer and he looked up to them.

"I wanted to do their level of hockey and so I realized I'd have to be as good as them," said Abbott.

And all of those officials were willing to help him out, he added,

Now a level 5 official, Abbott quickly earned a reputation as a no-nonsense, fair official who excelled at keeping games under control.

He says the key is consistency.

"At any level, if you let the players on the ice know exactly what you are going to call, it should be no surprise when the ref makes a certain call. I've been around so long people pretty much know my style anyway," he noted.

His softball play these days is limited to the St. John's senior league, but he continues his hockey officiating, doing at least two games a week either at the junior or senior level although he does a "scattered" midget or high school game.

Abbott couldn't recall any specific tough game that has stood out over the years.

"The old Avalon East League, when they played two games Friday and Sunday nights, were tough games to do because it was in-your-face and it was before the rule changes that have cut down and hooking and holding."

The 41-year-old says he'll continue to officiate, "as long as I can physically still do it."

He said the recently introduced two-referee system has probably prolonged his career.

"Hockey is so fast now and there's no red line, so having two referees makes it physically easier to do a game," he said. "You don't have to run around like a chicken with its head cut off."

See EDMUNDS, page B3

Mike Edmunds was basically given an ultimatum - be a player or be an official. He chose officiating.

And everyone is better for it.

Edmunds laughs and says he had a bit of a card problem when he was a teenager in that he kept picking up yellow and red ones and, given the option of making some "pocket money" as an official, he decided, with a little encouragement from veteran official Brian Walsh, that calling a game was the way to go. As he explains it, he'd been playing at the U-17 all-star level while officiating, and Walsh, who was director of officials at the time, basically told him to pick one.

It's kind of ironic that the now the 30-year-old corrections officer from St. John's had a bit of a discipline problem as a youth soccer player.

"I was getting in trouble on the field and had been suspended for a couple of games and because I was also an active referee, I was suspended two weeks from officiating.

"That was a big time eye-opener for me because I was really starting to like officiating more," said Edmunds, who credited Walsh, his family, his fiancee, Natasha, along with Jean Thompson for helping and encouraging him along the way to national-level status.

"I like being in the position of authority where my decisions could make sure the game turns out correctly. I have confidence in my refereeing that the right decisions will be made throughout the game," he said.

Edmunds said the game has changed in the way officials deal with players these days.

"Obviously, knowing the rule book helps, but it's also about knowing the players and being able to talk to them at certain times during the game to keep things under control. The old school way was always just to show them cards."

Edmunds says he tries not to let anything said on the field to get to him and when the game is over, "It's all forgotten," although when a spectator blurts out something personal he admits to having aggressive thoughts towards that person.

A national referee, Edmunds has officiated five of the past six provincial Challenge Cup finals as well as the North American Soccer League (NASL).

His biggest assignment as a national referee was last year when he did a game between Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers in the NASL (Division 2 Professional League). Both teams were elevated to Major League Soccer (MLS) this year.

"Going in," said Edmunds, " I knew the game was going to be tough because they are big rivals who were looking to make significant moves in the standings.

"After the game, I was totally, 100 per cent mentally drained," Edmunds said. "I thought I did a decent job and my evaluator said I did a really good game."

While part of a referee's job is the interaction with players, some can really test your patience, according to Edmunds.

A few years ago, he was about to start a game in Montreal when he was approached by an Impact player.

"He came up to me and said, 'Hey, big guy, you look nervous. Don't forget, if you screw up you are on national television,' and he was serious," said Edmunds.

"I said, 'I'm from Newfoundland, I work in a jail and this is a holiday for me, so I'll do fine.' But I told him I saw his last game and he made a lot of mistakes at right back.

"I told him he needs to focus on his game. He smiled and walked away," said Edmunds.



Organizations: St. John's Association of Basketball Officials, Avalon East Hockey League, Verdun Junior Canadiens International Softball Congress North American Soccer League Professional League Major League Soccer

Geographic location: St. John's, Acadia, Canada Halifax Saint Mary Portugal Cove Vancouver Whitecaps Montreal Newfoundland

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