Chief blows the whistle on lacrosse

CPO2 Robert Cook

CPO2 Robert Cook

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Chief Petty Officer Second Class Robert Cook spent a few weeks this summer with a whistle between his teeth.

He was one of 91 referees from around the world who officiated the 47-team quadrennial 2018 Men’s World Field Lacrosse Championship, July 12 to 21 in Netanya, Israel. 

“It was my honour not only to be selected to represent Canada, but also as the only active member of the Canadian Armed Forces,” said CPO2 Cook, who is also the head referee with Juan de Fuca Lacrosse.

He attended two selection camps before finding out he had been picked as one of 15 referees from Canada to officiate in the tournament. The normally mild-mannered CPO2 Cook admits he had trouble containing his emotions after receiving a phone call from Andrew Corbould, Canadian Lacrosse Association Officials Chairman, in February telling him he was going to Israel.

“I take great pride in being a referee and I was the only one from Vancouver Island selected and one of five from British Columbia.”

He has officiated in three national championship tournaments, but this was his first international competition. Match officials at the world championships are volunteers and not paid for their work, but tournament organizers do cover the costs of their accommodation and food.

It was his first trip to the Middle East and he described the well-known Mediterranean resort town as “scenic” and beautiful.

He officiated in 10 games at the Wingate Sports Complex during the tournament including seven on the field, two as a Chief Bench Official, and one as a Bench Manager.

The tournament was played in seasonally hot and humid conditions with daytime high temperatures often approaching 40°C.

The highlight of his trip was refereeing an 11th place match on the penultimate day of the competition between Jamaica and Wales. Jamaica won 11-7 in a tight-checking physical contest that was televised live by U.S. sports broadcaster ESPN. CPO2 Cook admitted to having a few pre-game butterflies before stepping out onto the field.

“I have refereed Senior A games at the Q-Centre before but was a little bit nervous before opening faceoff in this game,” said CPO2 Cook. “I just told myself this is just another normal lacrosse game, and then it was all routine and felt more comfortable after a few minutes into the game.”

The United States defeated Canada 9-8 in the championship game to claim their world-leading 10th title.

Two other referees attending the tournament were also current serving military members, one from the German army and the other from Australia’s air force. The trio got together for post-game food and drinks one evening and CPO2 Cook said the bonding and camaraderie helped ease the tension of being in the spotlight and made him feel more comfortable.

CPO2 Cook, 52, began his naval career in 1987 and has spent that time in Victoria. He was previously involved in lacrosse as a house league player while growing up in suburban Montreal, and later tried his hand at coaching in Victoria. He started refereeing youth games with the Victoria Field Lacrosse 15 years ago.

He says he was first approached by the Victoria Field Lacrosse organization to referee matches. A senior official with the club said there was a shortage of referees to provide mentorship to kids and they felt he fit the bill.

Today, as the club’s Head Official he teaches younger referees the fundamentals of being a good referee.

“It’s extremely gratifying to take someone that hasn’t reffed a game before, teach them, mentor them and watch them progress to a higher calibre and levels of play,” said PO2 Cook.

His job of refereeing at high profile tournaments this summer isn’t over yet. CPO2 Cook will referee the U18 Field Lacrosse Championships of Canada, Aug. 29 to Sept. 2 in Oshawa, Ont.

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