Jana Milz had quite a memorable season, driving from the family’s Lake Forest home with her 17-year-old son Landon so he could officiate noteworthy games.
They made the trek to Southwest Ice Arena in Crestwood for Landon’s first game in a four-official system. They drove to Seven Bridges in Woodridge as Landon was working boys’ and girls’ AAA games. They traveled to Joliet for his NIHL Championship assignment and to Mount Prospect for the AAA state playoffs.
And that’s just the start of the journey for this Ref Mom. Just Consider:
“It’s a lot of fun. I really enjoy watching all of them (officiate); I am really impressed with their composure, confidence and professionalism,” said Jana, the lone family member who doesn’t routinely wear a black and white striped uniform.
Again, she’s simply The Ref Mom.
Jana, 51, was previously a neuroscience specialty healthcare sales representative for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and was also part of Pfizer’s Women in Leadership Initiative. Once she became the mom of twins (Landon and Alexa) in 2005, Jana became a full-time mom – and is known as the “Milz Family Logistics Coordinator.” She is originally from Waukesha, Wisc., and has lived in the Chicago area for 29 years.
Jana studied marketing and advertising at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was a cheerleader for the Badgers’ football and basketball teams.
Jana met Jeff in college – and they will celebrate their 27th wedding anniversary in June.
“Growing up as a hockey player, Jeff always wanted our kids to learn how to skate and all began skating lessons at 3 ½ years of age. They fell in love with it and wanted to play on (hockey) teams,” Jana said.
All played primarily for the Falcons during their youth hockey careers and the boys both made state championship appearances. Brayden was part of the 2019-20 State Champions Falcons Peewee Minor team. Alexa skated for the state champion Madison Capitols AAA Girls U19 team this past season.
“The kids are typically rostered on somewhere between 3-6 hockey teams per season. So, we have a very busy hockey family,” said Jana, who noted that her kids also are avid snowboarders. Plus, Landon plays golf and Alexa runs track and field.
Jeff is a trauma territory manager for Globus Medical. He sells orthopedic surgical trauma equipment and consults during orthopedic trauma surgeries. He is on orthopedic trauma call 24/7/365.
A Wisconsin native, Jeff played hockey, football and tennis while growing up – and his high school hockey team did not have an indoor ice rink in town, so it could only practice and play at opponent’s rinks or on outdoor ice.
“Officiating has provided Jeff a fantastic opportunity to work with our kids and get back involved in the game of hockey,” Jana said. “He really enjoys officiating with the kids.”
Hockey has bonded the Milz family.
Officiating solidified their passion, love and support.
“They are always sharing (officiating) stories, discussing difficult situations, which is a great way for them to constantly learn,” Jana said. “I don’t get to watch them officiate in-person as much as I would like, (but) I try to catch at least a few games a month in-person and sometimes I tune in to watch them on LiveBarn.
“I enjoyed so many games this (past) season; it’s hard to choose (my favorite). I enjoyed watching Brayden’s first game, seeing how quickly he developed. I always enjoy watching the family officiate together or watching someone officiate a new level. It was a highlight for me to watch Landon officiate the NIHL League Championship and the AAA State Championship because of the added excitement and atmosphere of the championships. I felt so proud to watch Landon officiate such important games and do so well.”
Jana said it’s always disappointing to hear anyone, especially adults (parents or coaches), yelling at any official. It’s particularly disappointing when the officials are young or new officials, she added. “(The yelling) is the part (of the game) that makes me the most nervous, but so far, my family members have managed this aspect very well. They ignore negative behavior and act when necessary. They also know that they have the support from IHOA,” Jana said.
“I don’t usually engage with argumentative fans because doing so never seems to improve the situation. On one occasion, I was near a fan at Brayden’s own game who kept yelling at the ref. I eventually commented that the official was only 14 years-old and was working the game and covering the ice by himself. Without that ref, we wouldn’t have a game to play. In that case, thankfully, the fan stopped yelling at the ref.”
Jana said that area parents who know or learn that their kids are officials are usually very interested in learning how it has worked for the kids and how the overall process works. “I am always very positive about our family’s officiating experiences and I try to share the knowledge that we have learned from it,” she said. “My kids and I always offer to be available as a resource to parents and players to help them get started.”
Jana said officiating flexibility is one of the benefits as each family member can request games that work around their schedule. Plus, officiating offers additional ice time and further helps keep the family active.
“Officiating provides great pay for something that my family loves and suits their existing skills while developing additional skills. There isn’t another job that I can think of that offers a better combination of flexibility, appeal and pay, especially for a busy teenage hockey player,” Jana said.
Fan behavior, and sometimes that of coaches, is the worst part of officiating, she said.
“This is a major deterrent that keeps people from pursuing officiating and leads to officials quitting. It’s unfortunate that this happens,” Jana said. “My kids have handled this aspect very well. They know to ignore the bad behavior and remember that they have control of the game.
“Officiating is a great job opportunity. Jeff and I were always hard workers and we started working at a very young age. We are so glad that there is such a great job opportunity like this for young hockey players, where they can get paid well for their skills and knowledge and have opportunities for advancement.”
Jana is a regular at the rink in Mount Prospect, as well as Heartland Ice Arena in Lincolnwood and at Lake Forest College. She watches the game very closely and will, at times, take photos or video clips – of the officials.
She doesn’t play or officiate.
“I wish I was a better skater. I can start, but I can’t stop very well,” she said, laughing. “I played many different sports as a kid, but never played hockey and neither did my immediate family members. Reflecting on the officiating I had when I was competing, one thing that stands out to me now is that I never questioned the officials and I certainly never yelled at them. I also don’t ever remember my teammates or coaches yelling at officials. Maybe it’s the sports that I played, maybe it was the era, or maybe I didn’t realize what might be going on outside of my athlete focus zone. As a hockey mom, however, I have been very surprised how common it is for athletes, parents and coaches to yell at officials.”
Jana praised IHOA for the support it has provided her family of officials and “creating such a positive experience for us.” IHOA has helped all her family members develop through course instruction, formal and informal mentoring, ADP (Advanced Development Program) sessions, and more.
“As a player, the ice time involved with officiating constantly helps improve skating skills and helps you understand the other side of the game,” she said. “Officiating also has helped with communication skills, confidence, presence, social skills, problem-solving and professionalism.
“Additionally, the connections, relationships and friendships within the IHOA community have been incredibly valuable.”
Final Thoughts From … Ref Mom Jana Milz
Advice To Anyone Considering Officiating: “Think about officiating before the youth season starts and proactively plan your required officiating training sessions early, especially if you are a teenage hockey player. Most people don’t think about officiating until after the season starts and games have already begun, which significantly limits, or possibly eliminates, opportunities to complete the required courses for the season. We always select one of the first officiating training sessions offered, well before the season begins. Otherwise, there is a very good chance there will be conflicts with hockey team tryouts, practices or games.”
Advice To New Officials: Request a mentor for the first (few) games, even if you don’t think you need one. There is always something to learn and there is so much great advice to be given. It’s always best to learn the best possible way from the beginning, rather than to try to correct later. The on-the-job guidance is extremely helpful and can help ease anxiety for new officials. Often, a new official will work with more than one mentor during his/her first few games. You can learn different things from different mentors. Our kids have been blessed by some truly amazing mentors. Our kids have learned so much from each of their mentors and they have developed great long-term relationships with most of them.”
Planning: “Purchase officiating gear early. New officials don’t need a lot of specialized gear, but in the current retail climate, inventories can be limited, and a lot of items are sold in August and September, making it more difficult to find items mid-season. Young/small officials may find it especially difficult to find gear in their sizes, so it’s best to get your gear as soon as possible.”