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Between the Stripes: Ron Buckner

By Mike Ross, 05/24/19, 12:45PM EDT


The term "referee" originated in soccer. Originally the team captains would consult with each other in order to resolve any dispute on the pitch. Eventually, this role was delegated to an umpire. Each team would bring their own partisan umpire allowing the team captains to concentrate on the game. Later, the referee, a third "neutral" official was added; this referee would be "referred to" if the umpires could not resolve a dispute. The referee did not take his place on the pitch until 1891.

Everyone knows sports at the high school level is all about the kids. These games are meaningful. There’s a good chance there is a trophy the end of it. But something that goes overlooked more often than not is those who officiate the games because they are seen as the individuals who punish or ruin the game. That is simply an untrue statement. The refs are human. This is their job. They call it as they see it and spoiler alert: THEY’RE HUMAN. They make mistakes.

Before you head into the long weekend, I sat down and spoke with Ron Buckner. Easily one of the best referees we have in the LHSHL, let alone the entire southeast region.  

Ron has been a part of hockey in the state of Florida for decades. But the sunshine state is not where he hails from. “I was born and raised in Maine. I got my first pair of skates and started playing at the age of 5. Throughout the years I played travel and high school hockey. I got my first taste of officiating in the last few years I lived up north. When I turned 23, I decided to move to Florida. The year was 1988, I honestly had no idea if I would ever put skates on again let alone play the game again. The Lightning wasn’t around, and my number one priority was to go and get a satellite dish so I could still follow the (Boston) Bruins and Red Sox. Through work, I became friendly with a guy that played roller hockey over in Lakeland. One day I took a chance, I honestly thought it was going to be a joke, but it was good competition. Before I knew it, I was on a travel roller team and we actually went all over the state to play.”

Becoming a referee isn’t something that happens overnight. There’s a process you need to follow and there’s no one better to walk you through it than Ron. “First you need to go on USA Hockey’s website and register as an official just like you do as a player. once you register, you look for a seminar. Sign up. They usually start in July or August. Once you attend the seminar, you have online modules to complete. Then there’s a 50-question open book test for first-year officials. You have to complete a background check and Safe Sport. It can be overwhelming. Some people finish all of that in a few weeks to a month, some take longer. After you’ve covered all of those steps, you’ll get a patch and a completion certificate in the mail. From there, you need to reach out to your area’s “Referee Scheduler”. (in Tampa, its Ron Buckner!) I’ll set up a time/game for you officiate a game with me or another veteran official who will more or less show you the ropes and be someone you can look up to throughout your career as an official.”

Ron is pretty much the G.O.A.T when it comes to refereeing hockey in the state of Florida. He has been doing it at a high level for years and for the last 15 years, he has been at the forefront of the high school hockey level. Just like all the greats, he looks to get better at his craft on a regular basis. “I watch other referees. I look to see what they do, where they stand out there and I what they are looking at.”

One thing you can’t plan for is how people react during a game after making a call. But Ron is a seasoned veteran who has a method for handling players, coaches and, parents. “No matter what, there are always going to be some unhappy people. Some handle it well, some don’t. When a coach is upset and getting animated. I always I say, I’ll talk to you in a minute. That gives the coach time to settle down. Then I skate over to him or her, say what needs to be said, hear what they have to say, and then we go back to hockey.”

Folks, in regard to on-ice antics, Ron has seen it all. He has stories for days on what he has seen from players, parents, or coaches. “I once saw a high school kid fight 3 players on his own team. One right after the other. Afterward, he skated off and never played again. Another time, there was a coach who couldn’t skate at all. He coached practice from the bench. He didn’t really command the respect of these players. One game, the players more or less had a mutiny. They didn’t go with his lines. They made their own. Nobody was coming off when he looked to change. He about had it when them, so he started throwing all the sticks, water bottles, and clipboard onto the ice. Obviously, I tossed him out of the game. You can’t do that. As he’s walking to the door on the other side. He gets about three feet from actually opening the door, he slips and boom! Falls right now. The whole venue started laughing. I’ll never forget that.”

Ron is a great guy. When he’s not on the ice you can more than likely catch him on course, getting his golf on. He is a huge part of the LHSHL and we are grateful to have him