Don’t Ever Give Up
By: Maxwell Sparr
Back in 2004, when I started playing high school hockey on Long Island, our coach gave us a drawing of a bird trying to eat a frog, but the frog had its hands around the bird’s neck.
Written in the upper corner were the words, “Don’t Ever Give Up!” I will never forget sticking that drawing on my childhood bedroom wall and it stayed there long after I had gone to college. It wasn’t until recently that the drawing came back to me and really hit home.
At the advice of an officiating partner, I decided to attend PEOC Camp in Pittsburgh, PA this summer.
The program offers 3 camps, a youth development, an advanced development, and a prospect showcase. I wavered back and forth between the advanced and prospect, but at the advice of the same friend, I went for the prospect showcase camp. After officiating for only 3.5 years and being a little late to get my start, the weeks leading up to camp were a bit nerve-wracking to say the least. I kept telling myself, “You know what you’re capable of, you’ve done high level games, get out there and show them what you’ve got, and there is no downside.”
The week before camp we received an agenda, which included our fitness and conditioning assessments. Being a bigger guy and not in the best shape, this email really got that anxiety cranking.
The first day of camp arrived, I flew into Pittsburgh early in the morning to take in some sights and relax myself for what looked to be one of the most intense weekends that I have had in a very long time.
We met at our first classroom session, I took one look around at the other guys, and realized I was going to need to stand out from the group in a positive way. Luckily I saw a familiar face, someone who played at the same high school as me, albeit younger than I, but a familiar face nonetheless. Camp officially started with a brief classroom session and then we headed to the ice for skating drills and to be filmed for evaluation.
Being a goaltender my whole life, skating on player skates over the past 3.5 years has been a challenge, but something that I have been diligent in working on. The first few drills, I definitely lagged behind, and although in my head I knew that I was giving 100%, it was not enough. Never one to be shy, I immediately started to make some new friends on the ice and the ultimate turning point of the weekend was when I realized that I had the support staff to push me to be at my very best.
That first night concluded with me catching an edge and taking a big spill into the boards, but nevertheless I got up and continued on my way. Back at the hotel I said to myself there is no way I am going to make it through fitness and conditioning which was less than 12 hours away.
The next morning we headed to the rink for off-ice fitness and conditioning tests. Upon arrival the field we were training on it was soaked and muddy from the previous days of rain but our instructors felt that it was still better than the concrete, by the end, we all agreed. We were numbered off into groups for the 7 tests.
The four other guys in my group are the real reason I am writing this article. Knoxy, Vensko, Spinney, & Henny you guys ignited the fire within me that pushed me to give everything I had.
The first round of tests I said to myself, empty the tank, and put your best scores out there. Compared to my group, I did fairly well in a few tests, in others, not so much. We had a couple minutes to catch our breath in between rounds and lead instructor Zach Roberts, told us all that we would be surprised in the second round, boy was he right. Second round came and I pushed harder and was able to increase my scores in my most challenged areas. Albeit exhausted and sore, I walked off that field feeling the highest of highs. I knew that I made it through the hardest part of camp for me and the rest of the camp was a chance for me to show why I earned my spot to be there.
Over the next few days, we were critiqued on everything from mechanics, skating, positioning, game management, and more. The next classroom sessions and video assessments from each game were crucial into my development. Working with and being critiqued by the likes of NHL, AHL, ECHL, & USHL officials was an experience that is invaluable, and I will certainly never forget.
The last two days of camp seemingly flew by and before I knew it we were gathered on that same muddy field where I pushed myself to the limit and I remember feeling a sense of pride. A sense that I just completed one of the toughest tests I have ever been through. A test that many other officials don’t want to take and won’t push themselves to take.
We gathered as a full team one last time for camp awards which we had voted on the day before. All of the instructors stood in front of us to present the awards for The Officials Official, Move Valuable Official, and Most Improved Official. Giving out these awards were instructors who were past recipients, which I thought was awesome. First to step up was Austin March, an instructor that I had a connection with and had a few one on one conversations with throughout camp. Austin was presenting the Most Improved Official award, and sure enough after a brief intro about how the recipient was not only voted on by his peers, but truly embodied what this award was about, he called out my name.
What I felt at that moment was something that I hope everyone gets to feel at some point in their lives and officiating careers. That true feeling of accomplishment, a deep feeling of pride, that feeling that they gave their all, and that they never gave up.
Although there is always work to be done both on and off the ice, I walked away from that camp knowing that I can accomplish my officiating goals and make it to the next level.
Special thanks to the entire PEOC Prospect Camp Staff for pushing me to my limits and making me into a better official on and off the ice. Thanks also to the team of officials who had my back all weekend and I am proud to say are now my friends. Marchy, Knoxy, Henny, Vensko, Spinney, Bowser, Woldy, Boyo, Haggy, and Jarvie. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.