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By: Travis Cornwell

This past June, hockey officials across the state of Florida gathered for an annual softball tournament in remembrance of Jim Blankenship and Camden Nuckols. This was the first year of the tournament and over 60 officials participated, with four different teams making up each region of the state, which included, Central, East, West, and South.

Jim Blankenship was a longtime hockey referee in the state of Florida. He passed away in 2016 due to brain cancer. He worked at numerous levels of the game spanning from Junior to Pro. He was instrumental in setting up many of the other officials to have success. “If it wasn’t for Jim’s love of the game and desire to give back, a lot of us wouldn’t be in the positions we are in today,” said Official Ross Crimaldi.

Camden Nuckols was another official who was based out of Orlando. He passed away in November of 2015. He was only 25 years old. He also officiated high-level hockey games, paying his dues through the Officials Development Program (ODP). He was a former East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) Linesman, where he skated 61 regular season games and two playoff contests. His love for the game was his top reason for making tremendous contributions to the Officials Association.

The tournament was organized by official Jeff Ning. The games were played at Blackstone Park in Palmetto. It consisted of a round-robin format, where everyone would play each other one time. After that, the teams with the two best records
in round-robin play would then play in the championship game.

With many of these officials working games together for their local district on the hockey rink, you could see the group camaraderie out on the field. “It’s not often that everyone gets to get together outside of the hockey rink. Most of them will work their local games amongst each other and maybe get the opportunity to officiate with the others at other tournaments or at higher levels,” said Crimaldi. The other time they may see one another is at their annual classroom seminar,
where they go over rules, video, and other officiating techniques. Due to the pandemic, however, this has been held over Zoom for the last few years.

With all the officials that came out to be a part of this special day, not everyone participated in playing. Many strictly came for the social aspect as others helped with keeping score and commentating on the game. Ray Burtoff, who is an off-ice official for the ECHL team, Orlando Solar Bears, helped announce. The personalities
of each official were on display as everyone had a unique walk-up song when they stepped into the batter’s box.

Unfortunately, midway through round-robin play, the rain started to come, which put a damper on the afternoon and the tournament could not continue. Drew Chisholm, part of the South team, who has also worked in the ODP said, “Well, this is part of living in Florida but, I think the purpose of this tournament was met. It was great to see everyone.”

For a first annual tournament where you try to get everyone across the state involved, that can be very challenging. However, the turnout was great, and Jeff Ning discussed doing it again next year and having it be an annual event. “I feel like it did its job. I think we should do this again, 100%. The purpose was to get everyone in one place and have a good time,” said Ning. With the hockey season running from September through May, and everyone being so busy working games, it leaves them with a short window of when you can put something like this together that works for everyone. However, it’s something that everyone
was looking forward to when the tournament was being planned.

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