EDITOR’S NOTE: Manitoulin Minor Hockey Association (MMHA) recognized three award recipients at a volunteer appreciation event held last Friday evening in the Mindemoya curling club. The MMHA presented the Jack Clark most deserving official award to Mike Payette, the Randy Thibault memorial award to Ron Cooper, and recognized Greg Lockeyer for receiving the Northern Ontario Hockey League Angus Campbell Merit award. Starting with this week’s edition The Expositor will be profiling one of the award winners over each of the next three weeks.
MINDEMOYA—Without hardworking volunteers behind the scenes, there would be no hockey for Manitoulin Island youth to enjoy. Three Island men, with more than 92 years of officiating, coaching and training between them, were recently recognized for their dedication in an inaugural Manitoulin Minor Hockey Association (MMHA) event. MMHA presented two new prestigious awards to Ron Cooper and Mike Payette, and recognized Greg Lockeyer for his recent award from the Northern Ontario Hockey Association.
Jack Clark was instrumental in recruiting officials in Gore Bay and was their referee-in-chief (RIC). He supervised and trained young officials both on and off the ice and is a well-known volunteer in the community. The Jack Clark Most Deserving Official award is given to an official who has played a key role in the officiating program on Manitoulin Island, someone who has been involved with assigning, instruction, administration and supervision of young officials, and whose involvement would be greatly missed.
“When I started officiating, Mike Payette was the standard,” said Mr. Clark. “He always reffed the toughest games and looked after all the officials, and he did this for a long time. People might not know how much he did for the organization but he was involved for 30 years plus and for many years, he carried the organization.”
Mr. Payette was nominated for the award by Greg Lockeyer, Bob Dumond and Bruce Wiggins, who wrote, “In over 30 years of being an official, he has held a number of positions while being a volunteer within the hockey community of Manitoulin and Northern Ontario. He was a long time official and worked his way up to a level three hockey official and took his officiating interest to a high level as well as he served as NOHA District 7 RIC for a number of years while also serving as RIC for Manitoulin for a period of time. He served as council director for District 7 for approximately six years. He also held the position of chairperson on the discipline committee for MMHA, a position he still holds.”
The nominators noted that when Mr. Payette began officiating over 30 years ago, he was a physical presence on the ice with both his muscular build and monstrous voice, allowing him to be seen and heard throughout the arena. He was a constant presence on the ice for the higher levels of minor hockey during the days when teams would accumulate between 400 and 500 penalty minutes in one season. Mr. Payette was also on the ice for many Manitoulin Panther games, often wearing the red bands for bantam and midget games.
Mr. Payette helped change the profile of referees and helped clean up other areas that had lagged behind. When he got involved, no longer were officials seen in odd-coloured track pants or non-black helmets. He was known to say, “If you want to get respect as an official, you must first look the part.” He believed in encouragement rather than criticism, and was responsible for getting fellow officials, Bob Dumond and Jason Thibault, to earn their level four status, leading to both Mr. Dumond and Mr. Thibault officiating for the junior Manitoulin Wild/Islanders teams when they were part of the NOHA Junior Hockey League.
Many officials who worked with Mr. Payette felt supported when he was alongside them. Long time fellow official, Bruce Wiggins, said, “I did a lot of officiating with Mike and he was instrumental in helping me keep my cool when things got stupid in a game.”
Although Mr. Payette no longer wears the black-and-white jersey, he continues to play a role in Manitoulin minor hockey, and has served by acting as chair of the discipline committee for a number of years. “When you look at the criteria for nominations,” the nominators wrote, “We believe all of these describe the characteristics of Mike Payette. We believe Mike never got the recognition he deserved in helping to properly shape the officiating program on Manitoulin.”
In a letter read aloud at the event, Mr. Dumond wrote, “Your kicking down doors with the NOHA and other branches, along with having a prominent voice at the table, enabled us to reach levels of hockey we would never have been capable of reaching on our own. I relished the countless hours we spent discussing rule interpretation, even if I was right and you were wrong. Honestly, some of the best times I ever had on the ice officiating were with you, my friend.”
“To say Mike was the anchor for officiating on the Island is an understatement,” said Mr. Cooper. “For many years, he was one of the guys on the Island who kept minor hockey on the right track.”