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Friday, Jun. 22, 2018
Petrin pleasantly pursues a passion for officiating
by Randy Pascal

It’s an early Sunday morning in late June, and it’s clear from the forecast that the day is likely to be anything but comfortable for the young athletes who have gathered at the Carmichael Arena, closing off their houseleague season with the Greater Sudbury Lacrosse Association playoffs.

One of the first to arrive at the venue, Gary Petrin walks in with a cooler filled with popsicles. On this day, he is neither a coach, nor a parent. He is, as he has been for some time now, a lacrosse referee, fully prepared to spend yet another summer day at the disposal of a local amateur sport association.

Sure, like all officials, he gets paid. Wages for referees, in many sports in the area, run nominally above minimum wage. The reality for almost every group that oversees officials in Sudbury, and virtually everywhere across Canada, is that they need more people. People like Gary Petrin.

A 58 year-old long-time resident of Northern Ontario, Petrin was born in Kirkland Lake, eventually moving to Sudbury just prior to starting grade six. Along with his two siblings, he was involved in the local sports scene, though never excelling to the point of pursuing any particular athletic endeavour beyond his high school days.

By the age of 15, he had donned the stripes, helping to provide a sense of decorum in games of hockey and lacrosse alike. By the time his early twenties arrived, Petrin would be called upon to coach his two sons (Dylan and Neil), assisting with both of the afore-mentioned sports, as well as soccer, and setting aside the referee’s whistle for twenty years or so.

As the schedules of his own children slowed down, in terms of sport participation, his would ramp up, once again, re-introducing himself to the officiating fraternity. “Refereeing was a way for me to talk to a plentora of kids, and not just one team,” said Petrin. “And, in the back of my mind, I was hoping that I could make a difference, somehow.”

It is that genuine caring side of the official that those who have seen Petrin in action, especially in more recreational settings, have witnessed time and time again. “For many young kids, when they get their first penalty, they’re going to cry,” stated Petrin.

“Not everybody, but quite a few. I found that if you talked to them a little bit, on their way to the penalty box, it seemed to help.” His mindset was steadfast, even as deterrents were ever-present. His father, an outstanding hockey player in his own right, who briefly contemplated a minor pro contract in the Detroit Red Wings organization, illustrated the thought process of many a fan, even after he himself had spent some time as an on-ice official.

“I remember my dad taking me to a game where he was all over the refs,” recalled Petrin. “He said, “I got mine when I was on the ice, they’re getting theirs tonight.” Understandably, the man who remains among the more recognizable faces in local sports, officiating hockey, lacrosse and football with regularity, is pleased to see that the awareness towards the issue of abuse of officials has increased substantially over the years.

“Lacrosse is the sport I enjoy the most,” said Petrin. “Just from the standpoint of the fans knowledge of the game (or more precisely, their lack of knowledge of the game), they don’t get at you too hard.”

It’s a setting where Petrin is very much in his element. “When it’s a little more relaxed, you can talk to the kids, and every mistake that anybody makes, can be worked around, whether it’s a penalty that I am calling, a goal that I’ve missed, whatever.”

“When you get into more competitive levels, there are higher expectations, and sometimes unreasonably high expectations.” Like most who tackle the challenges, it is the brethren of officials that provides the greatest source of happiness for Petrin.

“You meet some really good people – John Grant with lacrosse, Neri Fratin with football, John Dandenault, Pete Fortin (hockey) – just to name a few.” And much closer to home, the undying support of his wife, Sheila.

"She is very understanding about the time I spend with sports," said Petrin. "She is my sounding board when I get home, and I need to talk about some of the pickles and jackpots I have been in."

At the end of the day, many will recall their involvement with Gary Petrin in a very positive light. “I would like to be remembered as being fair with everybody, being aware of the kids and their feelings,” said Petrin. “It’s not going to work out every time, but coming to the rink happy is important.”

Coming to the rink happy, AND with a cooler full of popsicles, well, that is just priceless.

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