Today’s episode of The Officially Official is a young female referee for one of my ultimate favorite sports…ICE HOCKEY!! I played a little growing up in Colorado, but really got into it when I went off to college. Now, I play for DWHL recreationally and WACH Vipers competitively! I looovvveee the sport!! Not only does the sport make this episode important, but the fact that this referee is female!! Hockey is such a “mans’ sport” that gaining respect on the ice is tough for a player and referees. But once you gain that respect, females can display equality, even superiority!
LeeAnna Morris is a fresh adult, having turned 18 in March. Morris is originally from one of the coldest cities in the United States … Fairbanks, Alaska. Fitting that she is a former Ice Hockey player turned hockey referee. Fairbanks, The Golden Heart of Alaska, home of two ice rinks, but during the winter, many of the ponds freeze over making for great pond hockey. Alaska doesn’t have an NHL team, and was home of the Alaska Aces for the ECHL, until 2017 due to poor attendance, poor sponsorship and Alaska’s poor recession economy. The Alaska Aces were a three-time winner of the Kelly Cup, which this year the Colorado Eagles were back-to-back champions!!!
Morris recently relocated to Connecticut in hopes for rekindling her fire for officiating. Morris started officiating when she was 12, starting with Mites (u8), Squirts (u10), then PeeWee (u12). She worked her way through the age groups and eventually officiating local tournaments in Fairbanks. Before turning 18, she started to lose hope in officiating, feeling stuck. She reached out to the hockey community — which I can attest to, is one of the most supportive communities I have ever witnessed. The community encouraged her to take a risk, move to a location where hockey was more prevalent, where she could gain more experience. Morris made the move, she had only been in CT for a few weeks.
Growing up, Morris followed in her older sister’s footsteps as a hockey player. We all know them as Rink Rats, those kids who are always at the rink, mornings, afternoons, evenings, weekends, weekdays, Morris was one of those kids. One of the downsides to playing ice hockey is the cost – the constant upgrade in the equipment of growing kids, ice time, travel time – depending on the level, costs can be anywhere from $600 to $5,000 per season. Because of the costs, Morris couldn’t afford to try out, keep up with the gear and travel, but she didn’t hang up her skates. At age 12, she decided to become a referee for the sport she grew up around.
When she was a young player during a game, she wasn’t happy with how the officials were calling the game. After making a sly comment to the referee and getting a minor penalty, her coach encouraged her to become a referee and be the change you want to see. She was determined to “show them how it’s supposed to be done.”
Morris loves officiating. She loves being able to continue to be involved in the hockey community. Because of the size of Fairbanks, she is able to referee her old teams and give back to the community. However, she enjoys being able to travel and meet new people. As an added bonus, it is the best seat in the house to watch a hockey game (and get paid to do so!)
One of the best games Morris officiated was in 2016 for the Pacific District Girls and Women’s Tournament. It was her first time wearing the orange armband – meaning she was the head official. She was able to officiate a team from her hometown and it was broadcasted online. One of her best games!
On the flip side, there are always “bad” games to officiate. Morris has two games that stick out to her most that can be considered “bad games.” The first was a PeeWee game when she was 14 or 15. A play became dangerous, as a player used his body to defend and ended up knocking the goal off with his head. The player didn’t get up, and as Morris blew the whistle, the puck rolled into the back of the net. Morris’ call was no penalty, as the defensive player played the body but lost footing. The defensive player’s coach became irate and was eventually ejected from the game. The spectators were not supportive of the call, as most of them started booing from the stands.
The other game was more centered towards the parents after the game. Squirt-level players are still developing, and most of them don’t know how to control themselves. One player was skating with her head down and collided with another player, knocking the wind out of her. Morris tended to the player, and the player assured her she was OK. After the game, the player’s mother approached her and grabbed her arm. With a grip, the mother told her “You need to learn the game, there should be checking allowed.”
Officials are often viewed as “less than,” and people tend to forget that they are humans, too. Morris wants to remind everyone in any position that the officials are there to do a job: enforce the rules in a safe and fun manner, on and off the ice. If there is a call that you didn’t like, then step up and become an official…take a class, learn what an official must do to be in the position they are in. Having a strong association that supports you is another key point for a successful official. Being able to have an association that backs you in calls, that will correct you in wrong calls is a huge component to a successful official.
As technology continues to evolve and become more present in professional sports, Morris doesn’t believe that technology will ever replace officials. As most officials have noted, there are pros and cons to technology. It helps when you can’t see a play when you need to review a play for the puck placement. She believes that the coaches should coach, players should play and the officials officiate.
Morris had a pre-game ritual, just like any other athlete. She shows up 1.5 hours early, on the dot. Once she’s dressed, which is a ritual in itself, and on the ice, she does a couple laps, but they must be clockwise. Then moves into static stretches. She always starts with the right then to the left. Morris will always drink 2 full water bottles and eat a piece of toast before the game. Getting dressed, she always starts with shin guards – left to right, socks – left to right, pants – left to right and finally, helmet on with the left hand. As a hockey player, I even have my own formula for putting my gear on! Some might call it superstitious, other will call it pre-game prep, whatever you call it, it can throw your whole game off if not followed correctly.
Just like any 18 years old, Morris has a life outside of sports. Morris touched on her latest relationship that ended in 2017 after more than a year of dating. Morris taught him everything he knows about hockey, she even taught him how to skate! The relationship became long distance, but the strain on the relationship became more than what they could handle. Morris spends her free time still engaging in hockey! She likes to watch hockey highlights and official highlights. One of the more well-known officials in hockey is Wes McCauley, and Morris is working hard to work under him!
Morris has found her dream job. After her first season officiating, she was hooked. She advocates for others to become an official. Her short-term goals are to officiate college games, then move to the Olympics, work with Wes McCauley and meet Paul Stewart. Long term is to be able to make a living off of officiating.