Dale Jackson was Kingston's only black referee

When Dale Jackson started playing hockey as a kid in the 1970s, he was always the only black player on the ice. There were no role models who looked like him.

After finishing playing minor hockey and moving into the working world, he became a role model himself – as a referee in Kingston. For the past 27 years, he has dodged flying pucks, been accidentally hit by errant sticks and tossed many coaches from the game for arguing with his calls.

Jackson has decided to retire from minor hockey officiating at the age of 58. Today, he sees many children of colour on the ice, whether at public skating or chasing the puck in minor hockey. “It’s really nice to see, really nice to see,” he says.

His father was in the military, which meant that he was posted in several cities across Canada, including Petawawa, Dartmouth and Kingston. During his youth hockey days, he never faced any racism from his teammates but when the squad traveled to an away arena, he heard slurs from the other players and the fans.

When he was 13, his father was posted to Kingston and he has remained here ever since. Since becoming a referee almost three decades ago, he has been the only black official in Kingston minor hockey.

The first thing he learned was the importance of being in the right position on the ice. Not only is it essential to see the action, but positioning makes it tough for coaches to dispute a call. “If you are in position and saw the play, there’s not much that coaches can argue about,” he says.

Over the years, he has learned to spot fans who will cause trouble. “It’s usually the parents who are standing by the glass. They will yell and scream and point at things. They’ll yell to their kid like the kid can hear them and is going to pay attention. A lot of times, they don’t really know what they are talking about.”

Similarly, coaches who yell at their players and the officials usually aren’t the best at teaching skills and earning respect. He has been forced to eject a number of such coaches from games. “You tell them: ‘You gotta calm down.’ Then they cross the line with their yelling and you throw them out of the game.

One incident in particular was nasty. “I didn’t hear this, but my linesman reported that a coach had used a racial slur about me. We had to kick him out of the game and then write a report to the league about the decision.”

He has become a role model for players, coaches and other officials. One tournament he was officiating included a team from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Reserve near Belleville. “They were excited that I was refereeing because they had never seen anyone of colour officiating before. They came up to me and chatted and shook my hand.”

As a lifelong Boston Bruins fan, he was thrilled to run into Willie O’Ree in an Ottawa elevator a few years ago. O’Ree was the first black player in the NHL, skating for Boston in 1958. He later played in Kingston with the Eastern Professional Hockey League. Today, of course, there are a number of black players, including Evander Kane of the Edmonton Oilers and Ryan Reaves of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He was also thrilled to have the opportunity to play in a Boston Bruins Alumni game in Kingston, serving on a line with Kingston’s Ken Linseman and Rick Middleton. He scored two goals and notched three assists.

When officiating kids, he says it’s essential to take on a coaching role rather than just sending delinquent players to the penalty box. “As I got older, I talked to the players a lot more. I reminded them to keep their stick on the ice and to focus on the puck, not the other players. If I do call a penalty, I explained to them that ‘if you had just done this instead you would have been fine.’”

He especially enjoyed officiating women’s and girls’ hockey. “The women seem to have a lot more fun out there. If they fall or make a mistake, they laugh at themselves or laugh at their teammates.”

After 27 years, he’s decided his body needs a break. He has had a separated shoulder, several concussions, been accidentally body checked and hit by sticks. “It was never intentional, just players not controlling their sticks. It all just takes a toll on you over the years.”

Nevertheless, it’s been a fantastic experience. “I had a great time and have no regrets. I will miss going to the rink and chatting with the other men and women who officiate.”

“I still run into former minor hockey players who say they enjoyed me officiating and they miss me. It’s nice to hear that because you don’t often hear it on the ice.”