Tag Archives: roller derby

FONT, not FOMO

18 Aug

Today marks the beginning of the 2017 WFTDA tournament cycle — D2 Playoffs in Pittsburgh this weekend, then a week off before D1 Playoffs in Seattle, Malmö and Dallas, and ending with Champs in Philadelphia at the beginning of November. For the first time in my nine-season officiating career, I’m sitting them out.

For the last several years I’ve been trying to balance my non-skating officiating (NSO) with my skating officiating, and on-skates took a back seat to NSO placement. But as I’ve gotten more comfortable on skates, I’m really growing to like the challenges of those positions. Meanwhile, I’ve done pretty much everything I want to do as an NSO–sure, not every box is getting checked, but enough of them are that I’m satisfied, and it can now take the back seat.

This, of course, means that I don’t feel that my NSO skills are as good as I’d want them to be for the highest level of play, so I didn’t think it’d be appropriate to apply to Playoffs just because that was a thing I had to do every year. There are plenty of qualified NSOs waiting in the wings for their chance to work at the big show, and it’s time for me to step aside and let them.

Unfortunately, I don’t think my reffing skills and experience are quite up to being where they need to be in order to be a Playoffs-level ref, so I decided not to apply for those roles either. Not a big deal–I know what it takes to get there, and I just have to buckle down and work hard to improve.

Surprisingly, the idea of missing Playoffs hasn’t bothered me at all this year. I’d wondered how I would feel when I talked to fellow officials who were going, if I’d feel regret when I saw the list of crews without my name on it. And I haven’t (and least as of now–I haven’t started watching them yet). Wow! Who knew that an eight-year habit could be broken with no regrets!

What did hit me a couple of weeks ago was the knowledge that I wouldn’t be traveling this fall. If it’s August, I’m supposed to be preparing to go somewhere, right? In previous years, I’ve traveled every weekend in September. It’s the time of year where the airlines toss around my suitcase so much that it breaks and they have to get me a new one (not a joke — I think I’m on my 3rd replacement suitcase). It’s the time of year where I learn new airports and airplane seating configurations. See new skylines, find gems of restaurants and stock up on hotel shampoo/conditioner.

But not this year–and when I think about it, I get kind of panicky. It’s as if I have Fear of Not Traveling. Rationally, I don’t think there’s any reason to fear that I’ll never travel again if I miss this Playoff cycle, but man, the possibility really, really freaks me out. Might be time to plan a non-derby getaway. Got any ideas where to go?

Postcard from the Future

3 Mar

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“Shit! What day is it?” I’m panicked, thinking that it’s Friday and that I haven’t posted my weekly blog.

My buddy Seer informs me that it is Friday–at least here in Australia. I check my phone, and it tells me that back home, it’s still Thursday, so I’m safe. For what it’s worth, I’ve really been trying to stay on schedule with this blog, so keeping this Friday deadline is really important to me.

But it’s also kind of a relief to know that my deadline is safe. So hello from the future, dear Readers! I’m here to teach a couple of officiating clinics, and my Friday is consisting of finishing up lesson plans. Sure, I’m happy to be out of Boston’s weird winter weather and lounging next to a solar-heated pool at the end of an Australian summer while I’m doing it, but all the same, there’s a lot of PowerPoint in my day today.

And that makes me wish it was tomorrow, because I’d be finished with my lesson plans by then.

 

Let’s Get Season 9 Started!

24 Feb

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Back in 2009, this Windy City Rollers fan got an e-mail saying that the league needed volunteer officials, offering free admission in exchange for helping out. At the time I was a very, very poor freelancer who couldn’t afford the ticket prices, but I was in love with roller derby and wanted a way to go to the games.

I’ve never really seen a game since then.

Just like many random choices one makes during one’s lifetime, the choice to become a roller derby official has been life-changing. To say that I’ve made a lot of interesting friends and been to places I never dreamed of going would be an understatement. I could joke and say Marion, IL, but my weekend in Marion was actually really fun–great officiating clinic, great hospitality, a pressed penny machine, and the opportunity to ride in the cockpit of a small plane.

Over the last season, I’ve had conversations with some officials about how to keep going and avoid burnout. It’s really easy to get sucked into a big derby vortex where your life is all derby, all the time. It can be a lot of travel and a lot of weekends in a warehouse/hangar/skating rink/arena/convention center. The time and money spent on that comes from your own personal account.

For years I’d thought about being involved with derby for the long haul. Decades. This past year was the first time I thought about quitting. I’d been spending way too many hours doing committee work to the detriment of my job. I’d had to deal with a lot of family things, which meant dropping out of tournaments and missing game opportunities. I was trying to balance being a high-level Non-Skating Official with trying to be more than a beginning Referee (I recently realized I’ve been skating for four years and have reffed a mere 17 games, compared to over 150 or so off-skates).

In short, I was tired. After Champs last year, I really wondered how I would come back for another season. A lot of great fellow officials retired from officiating. Maybe that would be the best option for me too.

Instead, I took time off.

A lot of time off.

Sure, I handled a couple of small obligations, but otherwise, I didn’t do any roller derby. I didn’t write the 13 evaluations I owed from Champs (to the extent that I missed a deadline and won’t be allowed to Crew Head or Tournament Head at Playoffs/Champs this year); didn’t read the new rules and casebook; didn’t go to any off-season scrimmages; didn’t go to any neighboring league events; didn’t apply to officiate at events/tournaments–even ones that have been on my list to do for a few years.

It went on like this for about three months.

When Boston’s season started up again, I reluctantly packed my bag and went to scrimmage. I wasn’t thrilled about going, but I wanted to see if I still enjoyed the activity itself…and guess what? I had a blast! Roller derby officiating is so much fun! Every week, I’ve enjoyed strapping on skates to work on my positioning and impact assessment. I’ve liked remembering the rituals I have for NSO positions. New rules? Bring ’em! It’s been really excited to see the league’s new skaters improve and learn strategy, and I’ve loved the challenges that officiating a highly-ranked travel team bring. It’s been really difficult for me to not blurt out, “This is so much fun!” in the middle of scrimmage (though I might have done that too). And I finally submitted those Champs evals.

This weekend is the home-opener, and I couldn’t be more excited about being an Inside Pack Ref for one game and managing the penalty box for another. I hope it’s a fun start to a season that’s likely going to be different than how I’ve managed my officiating in more recent years.

In a way, that might also be a good antidote to personal burnout. If there’s anything roller derby’s taught me, it’s that things don’t have to be status quo, so I’m looking forward to a ninth season that’s hopefully got some surprises in store and can help me set some new goals for this year and beyond.

 

Postcard from Portland

18 Nov

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If you’re flying to Portland, get the window seat that faces the mountains because if you’ve got decent weather, you’ll spend your descent looking at mountain majesty. In terms of going to Champs, it’s a pretty good way to start a weekend that’s all about majestic performances.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned I’d be leading a non-skating officiating crew at WFTDA Champs, my third time in this role at the top tournament in the roller derby calendar. One of the fun things about being a crew head is that each crew you lead is completely different, and in my experience, the tone of the crew has been completely perfect for that particular tournament.

In 2013 I had a “yes, and” crew, which was fantastic for the pre-tourney exercises I wanted my guinea pigs them to do. I’d been reading up on coaching and talent development and wanted to to prepare more than I ever had as a Champs official. They did me proud all month leading up to the tourney–mention a concept, and within two hours of group messages, you suddenly have a mascot and a t-shirt and a crew head who wonders what the hell is this awesomeness that is happening before her eyes.

Last year, my initial reaction to my crew list was “Champs! Champs! Awesome! Awesome!” which  played out all weekend. Getting to Champs takes work. Staying alive in Champs takes work. Being the Champ takes work. We experienced all of that over the weekend. After Day One, the crew needed focus, and it took one very long shower to figure out a potential fix: hot potato. Luckily, I had packed way more pairs of socks than I needed, and those became our hot potatoes for pre-game warmups. But when the crew found their focus, they insisted on continuing hot potato play before every game.

This year, with an all-female crew, our crew circle felt very nuturing, very welcoming and very caring. We wanted crew time together and were lucky enough to have assignments that gave us the opportunity to do that. Side note: Should you find yourself in Portland, have breakfast at Cheryl’s on 12th. Two words: complimentary beignets.

This crew was amazingly talented and came together nicely, which is impressive, considering we came from Europe and all points of the US. The teamwork we had was inspiring. We brought their best every game and then performed even better, which made me proud and a little bit wistful. This was a last tournament of sorts because change is coming: New rules and standard practices are around the corner, so this may have been the last weekend I officiated this way. There’s always a little sadness on closing the door on a rule set–another chapter in the history of roller derby is closing, and even though the coming changes are exciting, this moment of change as they all are, needs its moment of acknowledgement.

Rules may not be the only change. I recently started reffing, which is a whole different skill set that’s put me at the bottom of the reffing mountain in the range of officiating. Depending on the path I choose to take–and there are many officiating paths, so I need to map them out and find my optimal route–this could have been my last Champs for a while. Hopefully not forever though. The top of the mountain does have a nice view.

Champion of the Other Side

4 Nov

Today I’m in Portland, Oregon, to officiate at the 2016 WFTDA International Roller Derby Championships. It’s my seventh go-around at Champs in eight years, which is a pretty nice streak. This year I’m leading a crew of non-skating officials (NSOs)–the third time I’ve had that position, and the second year in a row.

With the Cubs winning the World Series, you think of how exciting it is for the players to achieve total victory–to make it to the World Series or whatever championship trophy you’re playing for–but it’s also exciting for the officials involved as well. They’ve gotten to the top of their game too, and it’s pretty special to be selected to work the biggest events in your sports’ season.

My crew this year is phenomenal (though I say that about all of the Champs crews I’ve been on, since every year it’s been true), and to top it off, we’re the first all-female crew at Championships. That’s also pretty special.

When I prepare for Champs, I like to think of officiating goals I want to have for the weekend. Sometimes they’re positional-based, sometimes they’re bigger picture. For this weekend, one of my big goals is to have fun. The pressure of Champs can really get to you, and sometimes it’s easy to be awestruck by the teams or the level of gameplay, and that can cause you to lose focus and make mistakes. I want to keep it fun–to have that fun mentality the entire weekend, even if my crew does make mistakes or needs some help in gelling together.

My other goal is to be in control of my part of the game–and to help my crew be in control of their parts of the game, to put all of those pieces together and create a beautiful officiating jigsaw puzzle.

Last year, my crew was selected to officiate the championship game. And in roller derby officiating, crew assignments aren’t really based on the NSOs, the referees are the ones looked at and scrutinized a lot more. But NSOs can make a ref crew look better–or they can really bring them down. This crew had some of both. Our first day was a little rough, but we all worked on improving and finding our focus and teaming with each other. By the end of day two, we’d found that championship groove. Getting the last game–which was historic in that the team who’d won the Hydra trophy more often than any other was defeated in an epic match.

During that game, I stepped back twice and had two observations about the game at hand–and I’d never really done that before, especially not during gameplay. One was that the crowd was crazy and loud and that I was a part of this historic moment. The second was that our crew of refs and NSOs was in control of the game. That was a magical moment for me–feeling the flow that came as a result of everyone being on top of their own game and working together seamlessly. Doing our jobs, not walking all over each other, but if needed, helping each other out. It was a beautiful thing to be in that much harmony, and it’s something I hope to experience this weekend as well.

If you happen to be in Portland, Oregon, this weekend, come on down to Veterans Memorial Coliseum to watch some of the best roller derby in the world. On Friday, I’ll be working the 4:00 and 8:00 games. They’re going to be excellent, and I can’t wait to be a part of them.

 

Postcard from Ketchikan

26 Feb

img_20160219_113526708.jpgI made it out of Alaska alive. Not even one attempted murder….I mean, as far as I know. Nobody attempted to murder me at least, so I’ll chalk that up to a successful trip. But really, would a murderer have this kind of interior design sense?

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As for not knowing who I was staying with, all I have to say is that people everywhere can be amazing and interesting. I first stayed with a woman who counts fish, as in, will go out into the woods and count fish to make sure the population stays within a healthy range. Her dog? Adorable. Her girlfriend builds ships. Just to make you drool, she has an 11′ level at work. That’s eleven feet. Of level. My second hosts were a public defender, who’s had a case of assault with a bear skull, and an engineer who tests submarines. Dude.

I’m glad I got to experience Ketchikan during the off-season and as someone who wasn’t quite a tourist. We tried to do tourist-y things during my free day, but most of them were shut down, which was fine because I got to go to my favorite tourist trap: the grocery store.

Each of my hosts took me to a different one. I went to A&P — that’s Alaska & Proud for those of you who immediately thought of Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company — and also Safeway (open late!). Sadly, I did not also go into Tatsuda’s IGA, which has been around a long time, but I’ll save that for the next trip. Oh, and I went to Wal-Mart, which was an experience too, since I couldn’t tell you the last time I stepped into a Wal-Mart.

I’ve got to give my hosts credit here–they let me wander the aisles as long as I wanted. I told one I’d be in there a good hour, so she left to run errands and came back later. I saw lots of West Coast brands I was unfamiliar with, as well as some other random brands from around the country. Several different types of Louisiana-based hot sauce, Russian-style mustard, evidence of a Filipino community due to the prominence of (and what I thought was cheap at $1.69/pound ) frozen banana leaves and sweet corn ice cream–at Wal-Mart they also have Filipino-style spaghetti sauce. I also saw two kinds of buttermilk: regular and Bulgarian style. Where did the demand for Bulgarian-style buttermilk come from? My host didn’t know and said that a lot of products are in stores based on requests, so somebody knows some secrets about buttermilk!

You could also get massive quantities of onions and potatoes (think 25 lb. sacks) and meat. You want roughly 14 lbs. of NY Strip? That’ll be $111. 48. Beef brisket? I can get you a 18.27 lb. hunk or $91.17. If you’d rather have pork, how about a nice 23 lb. untrimmed pork butt for $80.55?

But beyond grocery shopping, some amazing scenery and eating fresh fish and chips, there was a fair amount of “let me blow your mind with this factoid.” I was amazed that Alaska Airlines lets Alaska residents check two bags for free (three if you’re flying within Alaska), which means that Alaskans will fly down south with two large plastic bins and go grocery shopping. My one host grew up in a smaller Alaskan town (Ketchikan’s about 12,000 for the town and surrounding borough) and said it was normal to fly somewhere once a month for groceries because that’s more economical.

Meanwhile, I blew their minds by telling them I had to have a permit to own a gun, not just for concealed carry–and that I don’t yet have a concealed carry license due to my town’s restrictions. We won’t even get into the reaction about how up until recently you needed a license to carry pepper spray in the Commonwealth. For them, it’s assumed that you own guns. Plural. Period. Of course you do. It’s Alaska.

But let’s not forget that I was there for roller derby, which was a really great time. I met some passionate and dedicated people who are working really hard to have this sport take off in their little portion of the world–which is an uphill battle when you’re competing with a pretty big basketball scene during the few months where people aren’t swamped with seasonal-based work and tourists. I’m always so amazed at how I’ve been able to go all over the world and basically walk into the same scene–and even though this group was mostly learning from books, manuals, videos and the occasional person who’s been able to travel outside of Alaska, they’ve been doing pretty well for themselves. I hope they can continue to grow the sport because you can see how much of a difference it makes in people’s lives, and Alaskans are no different.

This weekend, though, has put Alaska higher on my list. I’d love to go back and experience more of our country’s last frontier–there’s so much to learn from there.

This Is Roller Derby Travel

18 Feb

“Where are you staying?” The Boy asks. It’s 11:00 at night, and in approximately twelve hours I’ll be heading to Alaska for the weekend to teach an officiating clinic.

“I don’t know. Someone’s house, I guess.”

Why would I know? I’m traveling for roller derby–it’ll be fine.

This pretty much sums up my attitude toward derby travel. I don’t act this way when I travel for any other reason–I’ll spend time figuring out airport transportation, my lodging situation, where I need to go, how I’ll get around. When I travel for derby, I generally will look to see how far the hotel is from the venue, and that’s just about it. For tournaments, I have gotten smart enough to get a hotel room and roommates as soon as possible–the scramble to fill a room with officials isn’t fun–but even then I’m sometimes a little slow to make plans.

While I wouldn’t completely recommend showing up at an airport and getting in a car full of strangers, with derby people there’s a certain level of comfort. The first rule of roller derby is, “Don’t be a douche,” and that rule extends past the track. Anywhere you go, you’re an ambassador for your league and the sport, so acquiring a reputation for being a jerk isn’t exactly the smartest thing to do.

This is all part of the adventure of derby. Traveling to New Zealand for the first time and don’t know where you’re going when you get off the plane? Eh, look: Someone you’re traveling with is on your flight, and you can bum a ride and afternoon entertainment with them. Heading to Richmond and don’t know how to get to your hotel? Eh, look: It’s a tournament, so there are a hoard of people going your way. Even better, there’s a random person in the airport who says she’s with the host league, so just hop in her car. It’ll be fine!

And thus is my approach to this weekend–though I did ask about housing once the Boy asked, “You’re not staying in a hotel?” For a league-funded clinic? Are you kidding? Derby housing, all the way. And I’ve learned that some of it will come with a dog, which will be awesome.

This, of course, would not please Ma Jaracz in the least. A couple of months ago, when I told her I was going to Alaska, her immediate response was–and I am not making this up–“Just be careful up there. They don’t solve their murders.”

And with that sage advice, I’m going to go hang out with strangers. Well, not strangers. Just derby buddies I haven’t yet met in the flesh.

Just in case though, I’ll be in Ketchikan. If you don’t hear from me next week, send a murder-solving crew to find me.

The Derby Season Begins at Home

16 Apr

This weekend marks the home opener for the Boston Derby Dames 2015 season. Charm City will be in from Baltimore for a double-header featuring the Boston B Party against Charm’s Female Trouble, then the Boston Massacre facing Charm’s All-Stars.

I could talk about rankings, rivalries and gameplay. All of that is bound to factor into creating a couple of exciting match ups. As an official, the teams will just become colors to me, and I’ll be concerned about doing my part to make sure the game is played safely and fairly. I’m slated to track penalties for both games, as well as serving as Head Non-Skating Official (NSO) for the second game.

What makes this game exciting for me is that we’re going to test a game with fewer NSOs–the rules state that you need seven NSOs for a sanctioned game, but traditionally, having some extra positions helps with game flow. A couple of those positions came about when the game had both minor and major penalties, and they were necessary to make sure penalties were captured, tracked and displayed properly. Now that the game has only major penalties, do we need three people to track all of that?

I’ve done games with just a penalty tracker and inside white board (this NSO writes penalties on a white board that stands in the center of the track and serves as a display), and that seems to work. Now I would like to see if it’s possible to get the job done without the white board. If it’s possible, that’s just one test, one data point. We never know what gameplay will be

The first bout starts at 5:00, and the second starts at 7:00. Get your tickets today!

Postcard from Pittsburgh

13 Apr

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Watch out, hockey fans! There’s a new goalie in town, and she’s so tough, she can block your pucks without needing a helmet!

I’m old enough to shudder at the thought of a hockey puck whizzing at my bare head, let alone be agile enough on hockey skates while wearing copious amounts of pads to stop a puck, so I think it’s safe to say that the National Hockey League needn’t fear my arrival on the scene.

I was in Steel City this weekend to officiate four roller derby bouts: Steel City vs. Boston (A and B teams) on Saturday, and Boston vs. Ohio (A and B teams) on Sunday. These were really great match ups, as Steel, Boston and Ohio are all pretty close to each other in the WFTDA rankings, which made for exciting games that were a lot of fun to officiate. I also got to work with some officiating buddies I don’t get to see often enough and meet some new, very promising officials, All in all, a good four games.

During some free time on Saturday morning, I got a glimpse of Pittsburgh’s sports mania. The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum takes up a big chunk of two floors of the Heinz History Center, and while it tackles Pittsburgh’s love of the Steelers (or “Stillers,” as yinz should pronounce them), the Penguins and the Pirates, it also showcases some more niche sports like boxing, rowing, swimming and marbles (Pittsburgh touts 26 National Marble Champs, plus 8 more from Allegheny County). There’s even space dedicated to a sport called balf–which, if roller derby is niche, this combo of baseball and golf is extremely niche–so niche that the U.S. Balf Association no longer seems to exist.

Outside along the Strip District, it was all pro sports, with multiple sports stores touting all the fan gear you could ever want. The piles of shirts, hats and tchotchkes spilled out onto the streets and dared you to walk down the sidewalks without getting caught up in the frenzy of Pittsburgh sports. Get your Terrible Towels, your athlete jerseys and every form of bedazzled sports shirt imaginable. Show your allegiance. Be a fan. It’s sports time, a good time, and you’re required to participate.

Postcard from Toronto

24 Mar

I’m kind of at a loss as to how to explain the roller derby tournament experience and how much fun it is–especially since I have a writing assignment due today–because I didn’t really see much of Toronto. That’s often the case when you travel somewhere for a purpose other than tourism. You spend a weekend hanging around in a warehouse/convention center/arena/former airplane hangar and do your thing. In this case we officiate games, we watch games. Sometimes we step outside for a few minutes and are reminded that there’s fresh air and (hopefully) sunshine. But mostly we’re consuming a lot of roller derby in one way or another, spending time with our old officiating friends and making new ones. We get the opportunity to officiate quite a bit in one weekend, which can really up our game and hopefully help improve the sport as a whole.

Someday I’ll go into what it’s like to be on an officiating crew, but for today I wanted to drop you a line about the tiny bit of Toronto I saw, which pretty much was:

  • hotel room
  • hotel breakfast room
  • random Middle Eastern restaurant (open late, serves a decent falafel)
  • Shopper’s Drug
  • Tim Horton’s
  • FreshCo
  • Downsview Park (Toronto Roller Derby’s little portion of it is know as The Hangar)
  • Fox & Fiddle (for two dinners–this can be standard procedure. They’re open and serve food late? They have vegetarian options? They were decent the first time? Let’s go back!)

My hotel was in the Jane and Finch/Black Creek neighborhood of North York, and as we pulled in, everything looked vaguely familiar, as I’d spent a weekend in the same hotel in 2012. And as is par for the course on a derby weekend, you need to find a grocery store, a drug store, and a decent place where you can get a late night meal. Someone in the car also needs to get coffee). The Jane Finch Mall at the intersection of Jane and Finch delivered. Groceries? New FreshCo! Drugstore? Shopper’s Drug! Coffee? Tim Horton’s (motto: Spit, and you should hit a Tim Horton’s. Come in for some coffee, eh?)! Late night food? Middle Eastern falafel takeout? OK!

That’s really all I wanted to see of the area though, as Jane and Finch is a really rough section of the city. Just beyond the Jane Finch mall, the area pretty much says, “Don’t come here!” But our hotel was next to a cop shop, the mall was OK for the in-and-out stops we made, and the busy roads got us to The Hangar just fine. As a tourist destination though, I wouldn’t really recommend it.

However, maybe change is finally coming to Jane and Finch. FreshCo opened just last month, and I’m sure it’s a much-needed and welcome addition to the neighborhood. It’s shiny and new and clean, and hopefully that will translate further. Change was also coming to the hotel, as a lot of it was in the process of being remodeled. You saw it right away as you entered the temporary entrance and were immediately greeted by a wall displaying all the new fabrics and finishes that are in the works. What I loved though was the project’s motto, and I think it’s one that I’ll claim for myself for this year:

stayimpressed

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