It’s a defining moment isn’t it? Your first paycheque is something you’ll likely remember. Mine came from the local hockey league for my dutiful service as a minor hockey referee, or linesman to be exact. Every hockey game has two linesmen and a referee. The title of referee belonged to the boss, usually an older man. I remember one portly, greyed and hairy referee in particular because I once walked in on him the change room while he was bent over wearing nothing but a jock strap. Our small town arena did not have separate change facilities for male and female referees.
I don’t remember much about pay, other than that it existed. I don’t think was a real job according to modern employment standards. It probably bordered on volunteerism, offering a small honorarium for the two or three games you officiated a week. If I remember the timeline correctly, my first job as a minor hockey referee was actually an exit strategy from the game of hockey.
I began playing hockey at age nine and continued through to age fifteen. The hockey league in our tiny town did not have girls teams, so I had played with the boys and the two or three other girls who toughed it out. Once puberty hit, the boys’ shoulders started filling out. Body checks were introduced to the game, and I had my bell rung a few too many times. I was once slammed so hard into the boards that the steel cage on my helmet bent out of shape and wouldn’t close properly. At that point I chose to avoid brain injury and retire from hockey.
Coming to terms with the fact that I couldn’t continue playing hockey because I was a girl was made easier by having an option to officiate the game. I was very proud to don the zebra stripes, and the paycheque was great incentive too. But I quickly learned it too was a man’s world, both from the awkward change room experience and the intimidation I received from coaches and players. I’m sure the male officials received the same number of awful taunts and threats from the bench as I did, but the ones that were directed as me included references to ponytails, flirting and other supposed trappings of the female life. I didn’t feel welcome in my hometown hockey league at all.
Despite this, I look back on my many years of minor hockey and my first paycheque fondly. Hockey games, road trips for tournaments, summer training camps, and team bonding were some of the my best pre-teen experiences. They even led to an unprecedented opportunity to play on a Belgian women’s hockey team later in life – one of only nine teams in the entire country. Make no mistake, I was a terrible hockey player, but the Belgians were excited to have a real Canadian hockey player on the team, even just to warm the bench.
My first job was a great experience because it forced me to adapt to a foreign (and hostile) environment. A motivational speaker once told me that leadership comes not from the successes you achieve but the shit you have to slog through to get there. I enjoyed working in the company of the other officials. These were a group of men and boys who loved the game so much that they were willing slog through the shit just to see the game go on. I’m not sure that I was the first female official in the league, but it is highly that likely I was the first underage female official. This earned me my first stamp in my pioneer passport.
Your first job really is a bit of a shot in the dark, but like any job, it’s all a part of your curriculum vitae.