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Orillia soccer club takes stand against on field abuse to support teen referees

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Rising abuse on the field has resulted in a decline in teen referees across the province, prompting an Orillia soccer club to take action.

"In the last few years, it's been difficult to keep a teen referee working," said John Copp, Orillia and District Minor Soccer.

The club has added adult mentors for young officials to combat the verbal and physical abuse from parents and coaches.

"They [abusive individuals] distract and detract from the whole experience," Copp said. "There's nothing enjoyable about sitting beside someone screaming at a 13-year-old that's playing or a 13-year-old that's officiating."

Unfortunately, incidents of teenage referees being pushed, swarmed, and even assaulted by adults are not uncommon.

One extreme case occurred after an adult was ejected from a men's league game.

"That individual proceeded to the parking lot and went into the trunk of the car and pulled out a machete and chased that around the field with actually a machete in hand," recalled Johnny Misley, Ontario Soccer CEO.

In response to such abuse, Ontario Soccer plans to follow the lead of the United Kingdom by equipping 50 officials across the province with body cameras starting July 1.

Misley said the cameras would serve as a visual deterrent and provide recorded data for disciplinary actions and follow-up investigations.

Tracy Vaillancourt, a University of Ottawa professor, is part of a research team studying the mental and physical effects of abuse on referees.

"Heightened cortisol levels and the like," she noted. "Those things impact memory and performance. All of those things. It's going to impact virtually all aspects of their functioning because we know that's what violence does to kids."

Despite the prevailing negativity, Copp wants to focus on the rewarding experience refereeing can provide, particularly for young individuals.

He believes that a minority of games and individuals cause bad experiences and calls for organizations to hold parents and coaches more accountable.

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