By Mark Lichtenfeld.  Originally published at

As you recall, last week’s column was all about excessiveness. Level 3s questioning superfluous evaluations, as in twice in a matter of days. It seemed a waste of time, money and overall resources, and left the veteran zebra feeling slightly mistreated and mistrusted.

And then there was the Level 4 seminar I attended last Sunday, which was the complete opposite of every adjective utilized in the aforementioned paragraph.

Look, I’ve been to 26 seminars in my career, and for most of them, the surroundings were pervaded with distinct overtones of uptight officials, staff and registrars. God forbid you chose the wrong toll booth with a broken gate and arrived at 8:03 on a Sunday morning. And let’s not talk about that pair of officials from Alaska on a business trip who got lost on the way and were initially denied admittance until a veteran Level 3 forced the registrar to back down in consideration of the out-of-town referee brethren. I’m not talking states or districts here, though all those involved know who they are.

But I’m in a different district now and for the first time, this district scheduled a Level 4 seminar. And it was a whole different world from what I was used to. The USA Hockey Pacific District referee-in-chief was there. Another USA Hockey staff member from out-of-state ran the show. Cordial. Cool. All class. Spent the first 15 minutes asking the participants to introduce themselves, their backgrounds and their individual goals for the upcoming season. The guy seemed to care. Smooth way to get the session started.

Next was an hour-long discussion about expectations for Level 4s and a general introduction to the skating test and closed book requirements. Now, I’ve been to Level 4 seminars for half my career, but this was the first Level 4 session for most of the officials in this district. And these guys were 25-40 years old on the average. Still, everyone was treated with respect, without the slightest hint of intimidation that I’ve often noticed at these seminars. The classroom session was on-point, totally relevant and anything but excessive.

At 10:30, it was skating exam time. For us older guys, this is always the agonizing part. For too many years, the exam seemed to be administered by hot-shot kids laughing along with board members in the stands who often seemed to take sadistic pleasure in overemphasizing cross-unders, v-starts and other crazy skating techniques that no one ever seems to remember actually doing in game situations.

Lots of us older guys felt at a disadvantage because we would always score higher on the closed-book test than we did on the skating exam, and though this would appear to be fair on its face, in fact, the instructors would “hint” to the questions we would be seeing on the closed-book exam, thereby assisting the younger guys – which is the equivalent of incorporating an age handicap on the skating test to even things out. However, I am unaware of any such age-related handicap skating-test scoring, which is why guys like me detest the giving away of closed-book answers during the seminar itself.

But not here. The youthful skating instructor took the time to point out deficient skating techniques during the warm-ups and seemed generally interested in helping the skaters pass the exam. There was no laughing in the scoring bench. And the younger officials appeared to show respect to the older guys, often cheering them on. It was as if the 20-somethings wanted to say, “Good for you for attempting the skating test at 56 years old. Hope I’ll be able to do the same.” Classy.

Finally, it was closed-book exam time. Sure, there was a hint of apprehension as the tests were handed out. The questions are often incomprehensible, many times calling for differing answers based upon a reasonable interpretation of the facts. But not this time. Maybe it was because of excessive studying and preparation, but OS found the closed-book to be fair and comprehensive. And what’s more, the instructors never gave a “hint” at the questions we would be seeing. That’s called treating veteran officials with respect.

Fifteen minutes later, the seminar was over for me. No written sign-out. No proof of attendance signed in triplicate. “You’re excused,” advised the instructor after taking my exam. Yup, 11:55 a.m. and I’m already on the way home. Nice.

Concise. On-point. Respectful. That’s how I describe last week’s Level 4 seminar. And like one of the instructors said, “Officiating’s got to be fun.” What a contrast from past seminars where the entire operation is run like a well-oiled, for-profit business enterprise where the participants seem to be treated as faceless chattel appearing at the pleasure of the local association. And though my current district has 10 percent of the registered members of other districts, which by its nature I suppose allows for increased cordiality, some of the larger associations need to reign in the attitude, if you know what I mean.

So there you have it. Registration complete. It started on August 7 when I began my online modules. Two months later, I’m done. Overall, one of the best registration experiences in the last few years. Still excessive. You know, all the mods and SafeSport. But last Sunday was respectful. And since final impressions stick with you, OS leaves this year’s registration process on a positive note.

That’s what a quality seminar does. And this year’s Pacific District Level 4 seminar was the best I’ve attended in 26 years.

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Reprinted with permission.