Roller derby is considered a “lawless” sport—are you just hanging out to watch girls on skates?
I wouldn’t consider the current incarnation of roller derby to be a lawless sport. Certainly, the banked-track derby of the ‘70s, and RollerGames and RollerJam of the ‘80s and ‘90s, were more loose and fast. They were allowed to actually punch opponents as well as do things like pick each other up and throw them off the track over the railings. It seemed to me more like pro wrestling on skates. I’m by no means saying that those skaters weren’t skilled athletes, but their focus was more on showmanship than sport. The flat-track roller derby we have here in Salt Lake and around the country now is very different. These athletes work very hard to show people that flat-track roller derby is a legitimate sport, not just women in short skirts and fishnets going around in circles.
Which brings me to part two of your question: The simple answer is no. There are certainly roller derby officials who have started out with that sort of mindset, but they don’t last long. If you want to watch them skate, buy a ticket and cheer for your favorite skater or team. Being an effective roller derby official is a ton of work, and if you stop to take in the view too long, you’re gonna miss something.
Who determines the rules of play on the track?
The rules that modern flat-track roller derby is played by are written by the rules committee of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association [WFTDA]. The WFTDA rules committee is comprised of skaters and officials from across the country. The most recent version of the rules can be found at WFTDA.com/rules. I encourage anyone interested in roller derby to go take a look at this document, fans and prospective participants alike. The more you know about what you’re watching, the more fun it’ll be.
There is also banked-track roller derby still being played around the country, and as I understand it, their modern rules are loosely based on the flat-track rules, with some differences in length of jams, how penalties are enforced, and scoring. It is also a much faster game than flat track, speeds around 18-25 mph versus around 15 mph in flat track. I’ve never played or officiated on a banked track, but it looks like fun.
Do you have as skilled a skater as the players?
Skating officials don’t need to be quite as good on their skates as the players, but you can’t be a total hack, either. It is almost impossible to keep up and see everything you need to see if you’re constantly flailing and falling or worrying about what your legs are doing. Skating officials have to take and pass a minimum skating skill test that is similar to the one the players have to take. There are a few less requirements, but the basics are the same.
I was terrible when I first came to roller derby; I hadn’t been on skates in 10 years or more. I practiced on my own time at local rinks and with the league at their practices and now feel I am a proficient skater, an expert by no means, but I can hold my own and pass the skills test. When we get a new official, they usual start out in a non-skating official position like scorekeeper, penalty tracker, and so on to get a handle on how the game works before they are allowed to be a skating official in a bout. I didn’t have any such luxury when I first started because there weren’t enough of us to fill all the spots. If you could stand up and roll around on skates, you were out there reffin.’ Now that we have a larger crew, we have the time to train people and allow them to become better skaters before they’re thrown to the wolves.
Those non-skating officials I was talking about have become increasingly vital, without dedicated people willing to track penalties, score, the penalty box, and all the rest, it’s hard to run a game well. We are always looking for more help in these roles, so if anyone is interested, shoot me an e-mail at NJWade@yahoo.com.
Women’s roller derby referees seem to be mostly male—why is that?
I think the reason you tend to see more male officials in women’s roller derby is two-fold. First, being a totally do it yourself sport, it started out that the skaters would recruit their husbands, boyfriends and brothers to be officials. Second, for the most women who are willing to be a part of this, they want to play! That’s not true for all women though; there are more and more female officials in derby these days though. The Salt City Derby Girls have two, Rubber Raw and Toss’er Assout—both are great officials and we’re lucky to have them.
You see former skaters becoming officials a lot, usually because they still want to be involved with the sport, but don’t necessarily want to get beat up on the track anymore. That’s not the only reason, but it’s a common one. There are others who tried out to be a derby girl, and then realized that it wasn’t for them, but still wanted to be involved. It really is a privilege for men to be allowed to participate in this for women by women sport and I, for one, am grateful for the opportunity.
Ever gotten into a knock-down, drag-out fight with a penalized player?
Knock down, drag-out fight with a skater, no. I had one girl who I was ejecting from the period for excessive trips to the penalty box pop up out of her chair and get right up in my face, yelling at me. Two of her teammates restrained her, and in the process, she hit one of them in the face—her own teammate!
Last season, during SCDG’s championship game, we had two skaters get in a fight on the track. [Referee] Phillip McCrevasse and I had to break it up, Phillip did most of the work; I just came in at the end to make sure it didn’t the two girls didn’t try to get at each other again after he’d restrained one of them. Fighting in flat-track derby is against the rules, but it happens on occasion. Almost all of the skaters are respectful to the referees and other officials to keep their outbursts to verbal tirades instead of physical attacks. The verbal tirades can be worthy of a penalty if they cross certain lines or go on too long and/or start to interfere with game-play.
I’ve never had anyone really threaten me or anything, it’s usually just a “You suck, ref!” or a “That’s fucking bullshit, ref!” I’ve got pretty thick skin though. I try not to let it bother me.
SALT CITY DERBY GIRLS CHAMPIONSHIP BOUT
Leave It to Cleavers vs. Sisters of No Mercy
The Salt Palace
200 W. South Temple
Saturday, Sept. 26