Paula Parks worked her first international event as a judge at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 23 years later, as a member of the Field Hockey Canada officials committee, she remains an instrumental part of the Canadian hockey community. In honour of Umpires and Officials Week and 2021 being an Olympic year, Parks reflects on her 2012 London Olympics experience and talks about the sideline moments as an Olympic judge.
The Olympic appointment had been a long time coming for Parks. She had kick-started her career at the technical table at the 1999 Pan American Games in her hometown of Winnipeg and had been an international TO and Judge for 13 years. Working as a plant pathologist and officiating as a volunteer, Parks remembered getting the nod that her time had come to make the jump to the Olympic stage.
“I was at work when I got the email. I was absolutely ecstatic, just so excited. I just started phoning and emailing everyone; sharing the news.”
Like many Canadian officials, Parks didn’t get many chances to work on home soil. In fact, that 1999 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg was her first and one of her only international events on Canadian soil. For Parks, it was all about being available to travel and work whatever assignments came her way. And she made the most of them, stacking up experience along the way.
“A big part of it is availing yourself to the opportunities that do arise. Part of it is luck,” she said. “Sometimes though, you just have to look for any opportunity. I started doing local and Canadian tournaments, and from there I just tried to learn as much as I could at each event.”
Like athletes, umpires and officials spend years dreaming of and preparing for major events such as an Olympic Games or World Cup. Although she never participated in an outdoor Hockey World Cup (she was a TD at an indoor world cup), she remembers the lead up to the Olympics being very exciting.
“The notion that you are doing an Olympics; it’s so very special. What makes it so wonderful is you can share the experience with non-hockey people. They understand, they are familiar with the Olympics.”
Parks still remembers the feeling of getting off the plane in London and sharing a car with one of the hockey umpire managers into the city. She remembers the hype of the Olympic Games. The nerves, the excitement, the preparation; it was finally all real.
The Olympic Games for many are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The sheer size of the event is staggering. Everywhere you look, the Games are upon you: on buses, buildings, television ads, and anything else you can name. For traveling officials, once you touchdown three days prior to competition, the work begins. Meetings, outfitting, paperwork. The energy starts to build. Then, as Parks recollects, once everything is done, you walk to the pitch and it’s finally happening.
“The thought process is pretty much just, ‘I really can’t believe it.’ You’ve known for 11 months and done all the preparation but then it finally hits you right before that first game. Honestly, once the game is in play, it’s just another game.”
Parks, a 15-year veteran at this point, says the biggest difference is the size and grandeur. She had been to multiple Commonwealth Games, Pan American Games as well as other major hockey competitions. She still remains in awe at the sheer impressiveness of the Games. As far as multi-sport games, the Olympics takes the cake.
“Just the stature of it. It’s such a huge event. There’s so much more that’s going on. The hockey venue was right there with swimming, diving, basketball and track and field and other events. There’s so much prestige all around,” Parks said. “It was just totally on another level.”
Parks reflects on the actual in-game experience as almost secondary to the overwhelming experience of being in a major global capital at the biggest competition of her life.
“At the end of the day, it’s still a field hockey tournament like every other event. I never really got ‘used’ to being at the Olympics. But you do get in a rhythm like any other tournament. You start to feel comfortable, and you are there to do a job.”
Parks was one of several Canadian officials involved in the hockey competition at the 2012 Games. Wendy Stewart was participating as an umpire and Janet Ellis was an assistant technical delegate. According to Parks, it is often common to be the only Canadian at big events. Having that Canadian connection to Stewart and Ellis made the experience even more rich. Parks notes the ability to work alongside Janet Ellis (Field Hockey Canada Hall of Famer) as a particularly thrilling experience.
“It’s really special. It’s sometimes just reassuring to have other Canadians there. There is a wonderful bond with the other Canadians,” Parks said. “…and I finally got to work with Janet Ellis. That was so special for me.”
Parks completed her Olympic Games experience and flew home to Canada. She proceeded to continue as a TD and Judge at Field Hockey Canada and Pan American events. Today she sits on the Field Hockey Canada Officials Committee dedicated to strengthening the officiating and umpire community across Canada. She said she understands that there are limited opportunities for Canadian umpires and officials but urges young officials to take every chance they get to improve and get experience.
“We’ve had many good Canadian officials that just haven’t always had the opportunity or made the opportunity. I suppose one piece of advice I have is try to take as many opportunities as they can and gain as much experience as they can and then the appointments will avail themselves,” Parks said.
According to Parks, her experiences of international travel and bonding with people from all over the world are unforgettable. She feels forever connected to the hockey community through her volunteer work as an official and maintains world-wide connections to this day. She calls these people her “circle.”
“It’s like going to summer camp. It’s so wonderful. There are just more and more people that you get to know in your circle. Overtime, you meet more people. Then no matter where you are, you know at least a few people,” Parks said. “It’s a tremendous way to travel. All of these wonderful opportunities are given to you in spades. It’s a wonderful way to see the world.”
If you want to get involved as an umpire or official, please visit our Resources tab on our Team of Teams hub. If you would like to become a general volunteer, visit our Volunteer Opportunities page. Stay tuned for more ways to join our team!
Happy Officials and Umpires Week!