WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — As a youth ice hockey referee, 16-year-old Braelyn King has grown a thick skin.
But it wasn’t until a verbal confrontation during an ice hockey tournament in Warwick last weekend that she considered stepping away for good.
“This wasn’t the first incident, so I’ve just gotten vulnerable,” she said. “I want to stay on the ice, but it’s really hard.”
King, who grew up playing ice hockey, was refereeing a game between 9- and 10-year-olds at Thayer Arena when a handful of parents from one of the teams didn’t agree with her officiating.
“I was getting ready to drop the puck and they were going on and on and on,” she recalled.
King had to kick one of the parents out of the rink, who ended up leaving with another parent.
But by that point, she had already started breaking down.
“I gave my puck to my partner and was like ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t continue’ and got off the ice,” King said.
King said this isn’t the first time she’s experienced the wrath of spectators, adding that it’s an ongoing problem.
“Parents are yelling at teenagers like we don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing because we’re underage,” she said. “It feels sometimes like they’re targeting us.”
Her father was there when he saw his daughter nearly burst into tears on the ice.
“She’s an athlete,” Marc King explained. “We’ve traveled up and down the East Coast for all sorts of events. Those events are supposed to be about having a good time and making lifelong memories.”
While Braelyn said she considered quitting on the spot, she opted to return to the rink and is refereeing this weekend.
Braelyn hopes that by telling her story, parents and other spectators will think twice before degrading those who are just trying to do their jobs.
“I feel like if parents are going to yell, they should at least know what they’re talking about,” she said.
Though she decided not to throw in the towel, Braelyn plans to steer clear of larger tournaments, since most of the incidents have involved parents from out-of-state teams.