Skater of the Month: Officials Edition
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Q. How and when did you come to join the Outfit? A. The first roller derby bout I ever attended as a fan turned out to be the Chicago Outfit's inaugural bout back in 2008. I fell in love with the sport and attended every bout I could that summer. I wanted to get involved however I could, and the best way to do that was as a skating referee. I happened to know a referee who worked with the Outfit—Phil Doe—so that was my ticket in. The Outfit's second season was my first as a referee. One hundred fifty bouts later—all with the same pair of shorts, mind you—I am still around.
Q. What are some challenges as a referee? A. It is rough to admit to oneself that no one in the audience is there to see you and the only way anyone notices you is if you screw up. (The simple fact that anyone is reading an interview with a referee right now is astounding.) If anyone, say, approached me after a bout and asked me to sign their program, I would have to assume they were doing it on a dare from their friends.
And with roller derby still being a relatively new sport, the average fan does not have a complete understanding of the rules beyond how basic scoring works and the fact skaters can't block other skaters in the back. Looking back on times when the crowd was confused by a call I made and booed me despite the fact I know I was making the right call—albeit an esoteric one—I want to send myself back in time to sit in the crowd so I can explain to them why the referee who looks a lot like me is making the call he is. Make it possible, science.
Q. What is something most people don't know about your role in derby? A. In my opinion, it takes a nerd to be a good referee. Nerds are obsessed with being right. I do not mean a nerd will not admit being wrong; I mean nerds spend an inordinate amount of their free time internalizing things so when the time comes, the chance of them being wrong is as small as possible. Think about it: being pointed out as being wrong is straight-up nerd kryptonite. So your good roller derby referees have spent time dreaming up outlandish scenarios—"What do you do if one skater jumps on the back of another skater who then takes a whip off a referee right as the power is going out in the venue?"—so they are prepared for what to do when any one of those scenarios happens in a bout.
Q. Have you ever been an official for any other sport? What? How was that experience different or similar to derby? A. My officiating experience before roller derby was practically nothing. The summer after I graduated high school, I was a referee for youth soccer to help pay for 3 minutes of classes at college in the fall. I was a crew of one, so I did not have anyone to back me up, while I always have 6 fellow referees in roller derby. The only thing I remember about that summer is not having any pockets during games, so I was forced to tape my yellow and red cards under my shirt directly to my skin with packing tape.
Q. What keeps you officiating in the derby world? A. I go through phases of being obsessed with a single thing before reaching the peak of my skill in it. Right before I started doing roller derby, I got into the Scrabble tournament "scene" (if one can call it that). Despite spending dozens of hours studying, I never really rose much above that bottom division filled with women in their 80s. Getting absolutely destroyed by some 14-year-old genius kid pretty much ruined it for me.
With roller derby, my obsession has gone on far longer than it has for anything else before it. I am fairly sure I have yet to peak, and the game remains exciting to me. The sport changes enough every year to keep it fresh, and I am afforded uncommon opportunities. I never thought I would ever be involved in, say, France competing against New Zealand in anything, but I found myself as a referee for a bout featuring teams representing those countries last year in the Roller Derby World Cup.
If/when my skill and interest in being a referee does peak—and hopefully, that is far away—I find it hard to believe I will walk away from the sport. There are a bunch of things a dude can do to support women's roller derby that does not involve wearing stripes.