Being a Female Roller Derby Referee

Posted in Skater Life

by Emmeline PancakeHurst

Everyone involved in roller derby hears the same questions, like ‘Is there a ball?’ and ‘Is it really dangerous?’

As a female derby referee, I’m often asked why I “ref” rather than play. Unlike some, I’ve not taken to reffing following injury. I knew I wanted to officiate, rather than play, right from the start. My other big hobby is live action role-play – I’ve stalked through moonlit woodlands waiting to be ambushed by zombies, hunted nightmares across the wastes outside a fortified city, shot mutants with plasma weapons, traded with demons and saved the world from Fae. So, from roller derby, I was looking for something other than actual gameplay.

I thought the first bout I saw, Storm in a D-Cup, was great. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I really enjoyed it! The more I found out, the more I was interested in understanding how it works, and making it happen, rather than joining a team.

Since I’ve been involved with roller derby, I’ve watched the game evolve. New tactics and plays have resulted in several hours discussion about different scenarios, and how to enforce the rules for them. For example, when knee starts first became popular, it meant applying the pack definition rules in a way I hadn’t used before. The same rules, the same knowledge, but applied to a different situation. I’m looking forward to the next edition of the rules coming out, to see how it will evolve the game.

There are levels of ref-geekery that I’m sure players don’t spend much time considering, like:

  • Whistle types (personal preference: Fox 40 classic in black ) and the benefits of a CMG (Comfort Mouth Grip)
  • Number of stopwatches I need
  • The different ways the ‘Not Lead Jammer’ hand signal can be made (personal preference: big sweeping movements – see the WFTDA Rules Referee Hand Signals PDF)
  • Getting referee shirts in the UK  and how best to put your name on them (personal preference: Northern Soul Sportswear and a Velcro-on panel).

Like all skaters, I’m constantly looking to improve. While a player might be looking at maintaining the pack and better bridging, I’m working at being a better front IPR (Inside Pack Referee) and identifying and calling the penalties that go with that position.

Bouting is very different for me, than for a team skater. I don’t hear the roar of the crowd. I know they look right past me, especially as an OPR (Outside Pack Referee) or an NSO (Non-Skating Official). That’s OK. I’m not there to be seen, I’m there to make the game happen. To ensure the game is played properly, safely, and in accordance with the rules, and that everything is properly recorded.

So why do I ref? For much the same reason some of you play/watch/NSO/coach/announce/ bake cakes. For the love of the awesome sport that is roller derby.

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