This past weekend, CCDD’s Dolly Rogers competed in the RDAC Eastern Tournament. The Dolly Rogers came in 7th, losing all three games by just a few little points. While this was terribly frustrating, the overall experience allowed this budding travel team to taste real competition. It was an honour to play teams whose skills matched ours, that it inevitably came down to the last jams. And due to such close results, it was agreed, after all three games, that the teams should meet again. In derby, this is regarded as making friends and CCDD’s relatively recent arrival on the derby scene makes such friendships invaluable. It breeds respect on and off the track and that off-the-track respect builds the sport’s credibility overall. But there is one relationship that continues to be a challenge and this challenge was exceptionally evident all weekend, with so many players (myself included) repeating derby’s four-letter word under their breaths, in anger and frustration. REFS.
Every sport has referees. If I were a pro-level ref, I’d probably sleep with a gun under my pillow because that player-ref relationship can be SO volatile. The ref’s your best friend when the call’s in your favour, and when it’s not, you’re making a ref Voodoo Doll on the bench between shifts. One need only scratch soccer’s surface to see how unpleasant a ref’s life can be. And while players lament after games, rehashing bad calls, refs defend their actions and, like players who exercised poor judgment, refs must also live with their mistakes. Players and refs have more in common than they realize.
BUT. There’s always a BUT. And when it’s a player (me), writing about refs (them), there’s definitely a looming sense of doom. Do I blame some of this weekend’s results on poor reffing? I sure as hell do. I got two majors that upon video replay (damn technology), these majors were most definitely not warranted and changed the course of our first game. One of our jammers got a major during the last jam of the second game. Was the penalty warranted? Possibly. But had all the jammers on the other team committed the same foul without it being called? Absolutely. So was her call fair? Yes, as far as the scope of the rules go; no, as far as the way the game was being called. So, now that I’ve (fairly) managed to enrage any zebra reading this, I will now attempt to explain that as much as I’m bitching about the level of reffing at this tournament, I would also now like to take responsibility for it. Under no circumstances should the refs be blamed for this weekend. Nor should they be blamed for a game you played last week. Or a game you played last season.
Derby is in its infancy. These are the dirty beginner years, where the rules are constantly in a state of flux. Derby is fighting some harsh stereotypes, trying to establish and perpetuate legitimacy, all while training athletes, using coaches with little experience (compared to other sports), and trying to establish some kind of reliable officiating. This is a tall order for both the establishment of derby and for each struggling league, with a shoestring budget and few committed volunteers. It takes years to develop solid refs, just as it takes years to truly develop solid skills as derby players. And right now, the sport is booming, with thousands of women (and men) strapping on skates and giving this whole crazy mess a shot. But derby reffing just isn’t attracting the same level of interest. And because it’s up to leagues to ensure its refs are trained, we have no one but ourselves to blame for any unsatisfactory reffing in this sport.
Each league owes its refs the same level of attention it attributes to its players. Each league owes it to its refs to challenge them, the way each league challenges its players. To achieve this, leagues need to commit to a common standard and they need to enforce that standard. And leagues need to exercise a lot of patience in the meantime because this will take a lot of time. And it’ll be worth the investment. Right now, I know that one of CCDD’s refs calls a short 20 feet. So when he’s on the track, I tell my players, dude calls it short. Stick together. Another of CCDD’s refs calls a long 20 feet, so when dude’s on the track, I know I can tell my players to take some chances. It’s unusual for a team captain to base game strategy on how she knows refs will call stuff. Such knowledge gives you an advantage over another team that should actually never factor into a game situation. The game should depend on the team’s skills, their ability to adapt and their ability to pull out all the stops within the scope of the rules. Period.
So what does all this mean? It means that this tournament taught CCDD that ref development has been overlooked. That refs are key to the game, not just in helping it run, but in developing players. By enforcing the rules in terms of a common standard, the sport can achieve a level of consistency that will contribute to its legitimacy and its development. Reliable, solid calls build better players. Accepting that neither reffing nor playing will ever be perfect is accepting a climate and a culture that is present in sport. Accepting and adhering to a standard means that teams won’t have to be told to “cut the refs some slack cuz they’re new and this is their first time reffing.” We heard that this weekend. I can’t imagine how those new refs felt dealing with such fast-paced games. We met one poor girl who walked out of a game because it was too overwhelming. That shouldn’t happen. It’s like throwing a freshie into an RVRG Vixens game. If you want to break and discourage people, that’s the way to do it.
So, derby world: CCDD would like to shoulder some of this responsibility. We will train and develop our refs. We will use leagues like RVRG and MTLRD as examples. We will seek to provide our refs with a place to learn and we will run events to help our refs build their skills so that they are fully prepared to take on bouts and tournaments. We will encourage our refs to invite more experienced refs into our ranks to see how it’s done. And we will encourage our refs to go out into the derby world and get whatever experience they can. And when we’re ready to serve as a true example of reliability, we in turn will provide the expertise and knowledge we gain to assist those who are looking to improve their own skills. This us-against-them culture has to come to a complete stop and “refs” should just be a regular ol’ word.
Last Friday afternoon, I hopped in a car with 3 girls in the first steps of an adventurous weekend where we would stare unknown competition in the face—we were on our way to a Fresh Meat tournament in Toronto. Little did I know that I would have so much fun, learn so many new things, meet so many great people and see so much fantastic roller derby!
I was travelling with Wry and Ginger, Sugar and Spite, and Tarawatt, and the general consensus was that we were crazy nervous and a little bit scared…but we were confident. The Dolls and our coaching staff have been training us, working us out, and strategizing with us for months, so we felt like we had the knowledge and training to get out there and give the other teams a run for their money.
If there was a theme to the weekend (other than the tournament theme), it was probably “Find Out How Much You Can Sweat!” It was hot and sunny outside and sweltering indoors. Just standing still indoors made me sweat from places that I didn’t know could sweat…gross but educational. After a quick warm-up and stretch outside, we made our way inside to gear up and pump ourselves up for our first game. At the tournament, our games would only be 20 minutes long each, so we knew we had to be quick and efficient in each jam.
The first game was a blur. We were evenly matched with the GTA Debutantes and we only collected a few trips to the penalty box. The second to last jam was a big point scorer for the Debutantes and we were 17 points behind going into what would be the final jam…we had to pull off something big to win. Before the last jam, I remember hearing the commentator telling the crowd, “Just one jam can change the whole game. It’s not over yet.” Early in the jam, the Debutantes jammer pulled a penalty, putting us in a power jam situation. Perfect! Immediately our Dolls clicked in to strategy mode and started ducking like nobody’s business. Our jammer, Angel Poison, took advantage and sped around the track, racking up an amazing 19 points, winning the game by a 2-point margin! Our entire team smothered Angel with hugs and sweat. We took our victory lap with pride and thanked the Debutantes for a nail-biting game.
Winning this game gave us a ranking of 7th out of the 14 teams who were competing that day and ensured that we would be up against another Toronto team—the TORD D-VAS—later that afternoon. At this point, we knew what winning felt like and we wanted to feel that way again. Getting ready for our second game, we re-outfitted ourselves in our still soaking wet sweaty gear and headed out to the track.
Our second game started out well. We scored a few points and the D-VAS scored a few, but again it felt fairly equal and both teams seemed to be fighting just as much to score and keep the other team from scoring. About 7 minutes in, our blockers started to generate penalties…lots of them. We were consistently short-handed on the track and the D-VAS took every opportunity that we unfortunately gave them. The D-VAS had two incredible jams when we were short-handed on blockers and our jammers just couldn’t get past their solid walls. We continued to fight as hard as we could, but in the end, the D-VAS claimed their victory lap with a score of 69-10. Heading off to our dressing room, one of the D-VAS complimented us on our skills, telling us that our score did not reflect the effort that we put in. Of course we were disappointed that we had lost during an elimination round, but it was also clear on where we had gone wrong during the game and what we needed to do to improve for the future.
After a quick shower and bite to eat, we made our way back to the arena to check out the merch tables and take in some of the final games. Some of the fresh meat talent was incredible to watch. Montreal and Guelph specifically had a very high level of talent on their teams and were impressive to watch and learn from.
Playing with teams that we didn’t know was incredibly enlightening for me. It allowed us to learn about new strategies and to play against people who had hidden strengths and weaknesses.
Coming back to town with this experience makes me incredibly excited to continue training with CCDD. I’m looking forward to pushing myself further and learning more strategy to improve not only my personal performance, but to improve our team effectiveness (especially when faced with challenges on the track).
Thanks to everyone who made this weekend what it was—the tournament organizers, our coaches, the Kingston girls who we combined with to complete our roster, the other Fresh Meat we met up with—and a huge thank you to our supporters at CCDD. Thank you for training us, coaching us, sending us your well wishes and congrats, and offering up some tournament insight. We hope that we made you proud as we represented CCDD in the big city. 🙂
Jen “Elizabeth Berserkley” Jarvis
They totally happen.
The Dolly Rogers were on the other side of a blow-out at the end of last season. The experience was mostly humbling. We were finishing an extraordinary first season and frankly, we needed to learn a little lesson. Getting that badly beaten showed us that not only was it important to consider what we’d achieved all season, but that we needed to establish some goals based on what are truly endless possibilities. Witnessing some of those possibilities helped us gain a lot of focus, which brought new meaning to our winter training. But this is derby. And the sport is still in its infancy. And the tools that track what teams are doing are still rudimentary. There are no divisions, no classes, no in-depth rankings and no standard training approaches. It’s not for a lack of effort; there are lots of amazing people out there, painstakingly tracking games, scores, trying to centralize information and attempting to develop more sophisticated means of painting a clearer picture of the derby scene. But despite all the work, there are still mismatches. As much as these mismatches are great for teams, they’re not so amazing for the spectator. And because we depend so heavily on revenue from games to bring us through our winter training, we’re not exactly in a position to mess with spectators. So when we plan our season, we try to schedule close games.
Enter our inter-league liaison, Eastern Block’her. She has a tough job. She’s responsible for finding teams willing to travel to Ottawa. She starts this in January, because that’s when we apply to the City of Ottawa for space. Ottawa typically doesn’t get back to us until April so Eastern has to balance the teams willing to come to Ottawa with the dates the City eventually gets back to us on and the dates these teams can travel on. Moreover, when finding these teams, Eastern doesn’t have many tools at her disposal to determine whether the game will be close enough to be interesting…or not. There’s still months of training ahead, there are only a few past scores, some basic rankings, but as we’ve all experienced first-hand, these things don’t mean much. We’ve gone from 12th to 47th to 37th to 26th in the flat track rankings in a matter of weeks. Take our last game against Peterborough. Our leagues got off the ground around the same time. Peterborough had a great coach from the start. We were coachless for months and we didn’t even have enough players to roster a team until DAYS before our first season started. Things fell into place quickly with us. We got a coach and managed to get through a season. CCDD and Peterborough are into their respective second seasons. Both teams have new players. On paper, it looked like a good match and that’s the best we could do. Peterborough was awesome. They played right until the final whistle went. They fell, they got right back up. They laughed and joked on the line and said wonderful things to us during and after the game. They took the whole experience as a learning one. All around, both teams were pretty happy and the after-party had a happy and positive tone.
But, we got some tweets about maybe having a closer game next time. Which is fair. Because when you’re coming to see a game, it’s so much better when you have NO idea what’s going to happen until the last few seconds. And it’s what we try to do, because for us, as much as the basic rankings mean a lot to us, and can represent a point of pride, the ranking system is not sophisticated enough to recognize what happens when you beat a team that should have creamed you. It doesn’t take into account how long you’ve been playing. Or even how many games you’ve played. If you’ve only played one game and you won by 500 points, you’ll stay at the top all season. So, while we’re paying attention to where we are, we don’t want to set-up a season that involves huge and easy wins. We’re not going to improve if we don’t challenge ourselves and we’re not going to promote any sustained interest in a sport if we routinely steam roll the competition.
We appreciate the tremendous support we’ve had this year from Ottawa residents. The word on roller derby is getting louder. We have great crowds at our games, we have great support from sponsors and local businesses who’ve put up our posters and offered to sell tickets for us. We had SuzieQ Doughnuts, the Merry Dairy truck, and Beau’s Beer at our last game and this desire to get involved in derby gives us a lot of hope for the future. Every game we play gives our supporters the opportunity to learn more about a sport that’s growing every day. It’s not an easy sport to wrap your head around, but once you’ve seen a bout, you gain a rapid understanding of the intense strategy and physical demands posed by roller derby. Ottawa, we appreciate your support and our next game will be something special. We played a team a year ago at a tournament in Moncton. We spent most of the game down by some serious points, when suddenly, we came back and went on to win by a very narrow margin. The ladies from the Fog City Rollers want a rematch. We don’t blame them. It could have gone either way. They’re travelling all the way from St. John, New Brunswick, to set the record straight. On Saturday, September 8, we’ll be facing each other again at the Jean-Marc Lalonde Arena in Rockland. Yeah, Rockland is a bit of a drive, but they don’t flood their surface in the winter so we can play on a concrete slab. We practised there all winter and the Rockland community is really looking forward to having a game in their neck of the woods.
We still have quite a season ahead of us. You can learn all about us at our brand new website. We still haven’t loaded all the potential content, but it’s on its way. You can also check out our facebook page and follow our twitter feed.
You’re going to do this for many wonderful reasons.
1. It’s an inexpensive night out.
2. You’re supporting local athletes.
3. The beer is cheap. It’s Beau’s. And can be expensive. It’s not. We’re awesome like that.
4. You can sit right by the track and risk having someone thrown into your lap.
5. If you have kids, you can bring them.
6. The parking is free.
7. There’s music, we have a great announcer and there’s a happy buzz all night long.
8. You can sample the AH-MAY-ZING SuzieQ Doughnuts. They’re gourmet. Your friends will be jealous. Don’t let that happen. Bring your friends.
10. It’s Delicate Plow’her’s birthday. Well, that’s on Sunday, but once the after party’s in full swing, which is at the Burbs Pub and Eatery, it’ll be her birthday. It’s a bout, an afterparty and a birthday party rolled into one fabulous night out.
So there you have it. Your plans are made. Your Saturday night is going to be filled with wonder. And, in the event you’re at work and don’t have much to do right now, please feel free to check out the following:
www.capitalcityderbydolls.com (for general info and tickets)
https://www.facebook.com/CapitalCityDerbyDolls (for pictures and silliness)
@CCDerbyDolls (to talk to us)
See you this Saturday!