Photos by Down’n’Out Photography
What do you call roller derby without referees? We don’t know, but we’re pretty sure it wouldn’t work. Roller derby depends on volunteer officials (some off skates and some on) to enforce the rules, track penalties, keep score, run the penalty box, set up the track, and help keep everyone safe. Basically, without them, there’s no game.
To help you become an educated fan of our favorite sport, CCRG ref Admiral Mayhem answers our questions about what derby officials do! Read this educational Q&A, then show off your derby savvy at our next bout: July 12 at The Garden’s Ice House.
Admiral Mayhem: First, let me just say that all views and opinions are my own and in no way should they reflect upon the WFTDA, Officials, Charm City Roller Girls affiliated Officials or Charm City Roller girls. They are solely my personal views and opinions and should be taken only as such with no consequence to anyone else.
Miss Dirt: How would you describe the experience of being a derby ref?
Admiral: Being a ref for roller derby is such a unique experience in this sport. I feel like I am in the calm of the storm. Especially when I am working the inside of the track with derby girls racing around each other. The mindset of being a ref is this stressful calm as well. Keeping your mind clear to think of all the rules, enforcing safety, watching for penalties, keep the game fair and fun can be immensely stressful. Some people joke that I have one of the best spots in the house to watch the game, but the fact is that I don’t see the score or pay attention to who is winning and losing. I am doing so many other things that those fall to the side. I do watch derby from time to time and take breaks to watch, but I’m usually off duty and not reffing in order to do so. I personally love officiating. I find great enjoyment in it and love the sport and am very happy to be involved.
Photos by Down’n’Out Photography
MD: How did you decide to become a ref, and how long have you been involved in the league?
Admiral: I’ve been involved with Charm since about 2011. I started as a skater. As I became more proficient at skating and derby, I was able to go to scrimmage practice and start blocking. I quickly realized that getting hit and hitting others was not for me. During that time I was helping out as a Non Skating Official, learning the rules and helping anywhere I could. I became a ref because I still love skating and wanted to be involved. Not only do I officiate on skates, I am also able to officiate off skates. NSOing is wonderful to do if you are starting out or dislike skating. NSOing is also incredibly important in order to keep track over everything that is going on.
MD: What’s one rule you really wish everyone understood?
Admiral: There are so many! Right now it is star pass procedures because the new rule set has made them more complicated and easier to achieve at the same time.
MD: So, could you tell me in your words how a star pass works? I was sitting with some new derby fans during the last bout, and they were pretty confused by that, and I could barely explain it to them.
Admiral: Let’s pretend that you are the jammer for my team and that I’m the pivot (the skater with the stripe on their head). A star pass occurs when the jammer hands their pivot the jammer’s helmet cover (the cover with the star on it.)This hand off has to be hand-to-hand. As the jammer, you can’t throw it to me or pass it to someone else to give to me. Also, the pass has to happen while we are both upright, inside the track boundaries, and not penalized. You can’t transfer the rights as jammer and all the powers thereof to a person that has to go sit a penalty for 30 seconds. So, having done all these things correctly, the jammer is able to give their pivot their position and powers. This transfer happens at the handoff. When you take the star off your helmet, you become an inactive jammer. When you hand it to me legally and LET GO, I become the inactive jammer and you become a blocker. When I finally put the cover on my head, I’m a real jammer! This last point of wearing the cover is very important, because you can’t score points if you aren’t wearing the helmet cover.
Photos by Down’n’Out Photography
MD: I hear one of the best parts of being a ref or NSO is that you’re needed practically everywhere and get to visit a lot of different places/leagues. Have you gotten to do much travel as an official? What’s that been like?
Admiral: Very true. This is really my first year focusing on traveling to other leagues and participating away from home. It’s been an invaluable experience learning from other officials and also experiencing the style of gameplay of other leagues. I personally think the best part of officiating is pointing and yelling at people 😉
MD: I know officials aren’t supposed to get hit, but that does seem to happen sometimes. How risky is your job?
Admiral: I’m not going to say that being an official is not risky, both for skating officials (SO) and non-skating officials (NSOs). We are all involved in a contact sport with people hitting each other on 8 wheels. Things can get dangerous. But as an official, the risk of injury is much lower as an SO and even lower as an NSO. But things happen. As an NSO that is working the penalty box, if the penalized skater coming in is going too fast when they sit in the chair, and they can go flying back and hit you (this can get a penalty by the way, and if it is bad enough it is an ejection.) The risk of getting injured or hit as an NSO is very, very small, but always a possibility. As a skating official, the risk is higher. We are on skates and in the thick of it with skaters. Technically, SOs are not supposed to get hit and there are penalties to enforce that, but things happen. I tend to jump over a lot of skaters who miss a hit and fall to the inside of the track. I’ve been hit a few times, and once where I got the wind knocked out of me. I know of other SOs who have been seriously injured. The number of injuries we acquire as officials is small in comparison to the multiple broken ankles, cheekbones, and fingers that I have seen skaters rack up. So being an official is not risk free, but it is less risky than being a skater.
MD: Since refs don’t have to be at every skating practice, it seems like the time commitment might be easier, but you still have meetings and other responsibilities. How much of your week is typically spent on derby stuff?
Admiral: Personally, almost my entire week is spent doing derby stuff. I would say 6 out of 7 days on a light week. The biggest misconception I hear is that people think that if you can’t skate, go officiate. If you don’t want to skate or are working up to skating, being an NSO may be right for you. If you want to be a skating official, there is a lot of time that goes into becoming a better skater. We have to be faster than the fastest jammer, skate laps around the outside of the track, and be able to haul butt backwards when everyone changes directions. This is essential because if you aren’t in the right place to see a penalty, you can’t call it. We also spend a lot of time reviewing, discussing, and teaching the rules to ourselves and the skaters. There are 74 pages of the current rule set with several additional pieces of paperwork for officials. Did you know that each penalty has a special verbal cue by which to call it by? This time commitment is a bit more flexible though. I chose to do that many days a week, while others do not. And that’s all good, because everyone has different goals and prior commitments, and we have a bit more leniency worked into our structure.
MD: Wow, we don’t often think about how much skating skill is required for refs. That’s pretty intense. Do you guys do skating practices, or do you have to do that on your own?
Admiral: A bit of both. On Monday when we have practice, we try to use the rink with you all, but there is only so much we are able to do in that shared space. Wednesday scrimmage is both skating and practicing all that we do. Some days we will meet up and skate around the lakes in Baltimore to practice endurance. We try to fit it in there 🙂
MD: And finally, for folks who are interested in becoming officials, where do they start?
Admiral: Anyone interested in officiating in any capacity, both on and off skates, can contact us at referees@charmcityrollergirls. Go to the contact us part of the charmcityrollergirls.com website and you can find the link. Also, if you attend a game, feel free to come up to me and ask any questions in between games or at the end. I have my name stamped across my back and wear a funny hat when I’m out of stripes. Go team Zebras and Flamingos!
With your newfound knowledge of who makes derby amazing, come out to see the refs and skaters in action! Our next bout is on July 12 at The Gardens Ice House in Laurel. Doors open at 5:30 and the first whistle is at 6:30. Bonus: You can help make derby great by getting involved! We are always looking for officials, especially NSOs. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.