A World of Love and Hate: Life as a Roller Derby Referee

The jam just started. Both jammers are fighting their way through eight blockers, the pack. The prize, lead jammer, goes to the first one to make it through the pack. Both teams want the prize. They are doing everything they can to get it. My job is to make sure they do it within the rules. I am a referee.

What is happening in the pack can be described as organized chaos. Each team’s blockers are trying to help their jammer get through the pack while holding back the other jammer. Skaters are shifting around, trying to get position. Blocks are thrown.

Something big happens. A skater loses her footing. She falls and takes down an opposing player. A whistle blows. Major penalty: illegal block to the back.

I am an outside pack ref. I pass the penalty box just after she sits down. She shouts out at me, “I fell because of an elbow to the face! Where’s that penalty?”

Insubordination. That could be another major, but I let it pass. She is not pressing the issue, and she is already in the box. There might have been an illegal elbow thrown. I did not see it. Neither did any of the six other referees. We can only call what we see.

During a bout a referee can expect to be accused of being blind, of picking on or favouring players, of showing bias by picking and choosing when to call penalties. None of it is true, but that does not matter to the skaters playing the game.

So why do I do it?

When I decided to become a referee I had only been on roller skates twice before in my life. I had only ever been on any type of skates maybe a dozen times. I considered standing up on eight wheels to be a major accomplishment for me.

I was a one man comedy show as I tried to figure out how to cross the width of the track while staying up. Derby girls deftly skated around me. I was amazed by this. How were they able to avoid me when I did not even know what I was going to do next?

None of them laughed at me. All of them had pointers for me. They took the time to thank me. I was going to be a referee for them. They needed me and were doing what they could to let me know how much they appreciated that.

It is not just the referees that get that kind of treatment. Fresh meat are helped and propped up too. We all share an interest in the sport. We are all learning at every practice and at every bout.

Everyone involved in the game are pushing their personal boundaries. We all know that. No one is so much of a star that she or he is not willing to help someone else do better. All anyone will ask of you is that you try.

That is derby love. That is why I do it.



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