Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hockey Zebra, 73, Not Ready to Give Up Stripes

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hockey Zebra, 73, Not Ready to Give Up Stripes

Article excerpt

At least somebody in North America will do whatever it takes to get into a hockey game.

Bill McKenna of Crestwood hasn't let age, injury and abuse stop him from officiating amateur games here.

McKenna, who will turn 74 in February, is the oldest hockey zebra in America. He learned to skate on the Carondelet Park pond six decades ago. He now is what you call a deliberate skater. This has advantages.

Say he takes a wayward slash to the ankle, as he did last month on a faceoff, and an infection sets in near the bone and threatens amputation.

Say he waits three weeks, gets out of danger, jams the tender joint into a skate and barges out for a junior varsity game, as he did Sunday at Affton.

He never has to fret about losing a step. He was barely more worried about losing a foot.

"Would I go back out on one skate?" he said. "On a peg leg? Sure I would. People ski with one leg all the time."

Adele, his mate of 48 years, has made peace with his passion.

"He gets some pretty good hits with the puck sometimes, or he takes a bad fall," she said, "but he wouldn't give it up for anything."

McKenna no longer works high school varsity games. The players are lippy and the parents are worse.

"Why take all that abuse?" he asked.

He refs for the preteens and works only the lines for jayvees. "You just hear people yell at the referee, not the linesmen," he said.

But at a jayvee game last year, a man heckled linesman McKenna until he blushed. "He may be old," an admirer said, "but there's nothing wrong with his hearing."

The McKenna antennae pick up the occasional you're-too-old static. "I guess they're right," he said, "but I ain't gonna let that stop me from doing the game I love."

Only one player refuses to play if McKenna refs. It's the one player he loves: Michael McKenna, 11, a goalie and Bill's only grandchild.

As McKenna tells it, the lad said, "Gramps, `I'm the only kid you call by name. I wish you wouldn't ref my games.' " When nudged, Gramps conceded, "Well, I think he let one in, and I might have said, `Right through the old five-hole, eh, Michael?' "

Local hockey organizers disagree with the eventual heir to the McKenna fortune, such as it is for a retired state highway engineer. …

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