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.