Eight parents are in the penalty box and officials are taking a no-nonsense approach to off-ice misconduct in a B.C. hockey league.

Vancouver Island’s minor hockey association has banned eight parents from attending their kids’ games this weekend, in an effort to protect the league’s referees from ongoing verbal abuse.

The Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association imposed the bans after two unrelated incidents last week, making good on an earlier promise to punish misbehaving spectators hurling abuse at on-ice officials.

VIAHA president Jim Humphrey says the abuse is getting out of hand, and referees are beginning to quit rather than endure the constant verbal attacks from parents in the stands.

“In the last seven weeks we’ve probably lost 20 officials already,” Humphrey told CTV Vancouver.

Senior referee Deb Lewis says she plans to hang up her whistle after this season. She says the abuse she endures is simply not worth it.

“It hurts,” Lewis said. “As an adult, it’s hard for me to hear those things and I honestly can’t imagine how it feels for a 14- or 15-year-old.”

Most referees in minor hockey are young and still learning their craft, which makes them vulnerable targets to criticism from the stands.

The Victoria Minor Hockey Association’s top ref says even he feels under siege sometimes.

“There could be games where you’re getting yelled at from the drop of the first puck,” said chief referee Kevin Tattrie. He added that younger referees don’t have the psychological training to endure verbal attacks from middle-aged parents shouting abuse at them on a weekly basis.

“A lot of parents are too emotional about their kids’ athletics, and it’s not as fun as it should be,” Tattrie said.

VIAHA president Humphrey has been trying to protect his referees from abusive parents and fans for some time now. Last month, Humphrey threatened to hold a spectator-free weekend of play in which no parents would be allowed to watch their kids’ games from the stands. He also added a fine for team coaches who disputed referees’ calls.

“A very small minority feel they have the right to verbally abuse and harass young men and women, frequently little older than the players in the games they are officiating,” Humphrey wrote in an open letter last month. “The vindictiveness is resulting in a loss of both promising young officials and senior officials alike, as well as making the game difficult for the players to have fun.”

Lewis says the fun goes out of the sport when parents lose sight of the point of hockey and start taking it personally.

“The kids are there to play hockey,” she said. “They’re there to play a game.”

With files from CTV Vancouver