Monday, April 11, 2016

Roller Derby, Or How I Sorta Became a Derby Girl

Recently, I blogged about a knitting book I had taken out of the library that was full of roller derby patterns. It then occurred to me that I've never blogged about roller derby! Which is crazy, because it's been a big part of my life for the past couple years. Why wouldn't I archive my involvement on my blog? Admit it, you're all sick of hearing about curling anyway.

Years ago, like years ago - 2008 maybe? - I went to my first roller derby game. I think it was one of my classmate's birthday and a group of us went. I had no idea, no idea how awesome of a sport it was! One game in and I was hooked - derby is the best mix of fast, loud, violence, and girl power. I didn't grow up watching the banked track games of the 70s, but flat track roller derby in Edmonton became a staple in our lives. For a couple years, a rotating group of friends and I would attend local games semi-regularly. We had our favourite teams and our favourite players. They were like rocks stars every once in awhile on a Saturday night.

And then derby got popular. Like really popular: you couldn't get in unless you bought tickets in advance and even then you had to line up super early just to get a seat. So, we quit going.

There are three sort of "leagues" in and around Edmonton: Oil City Roller Derby (OCRD - which includes River City Riot, a men's team), E-Ville Roller Derby, and St. Albert Heavenly Rollers, plus Greater Edmonton Junior Roller Derby (GEJRDA). There's sort of a main association, the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) that everyone sort of belongs too, but it's not like each of Edmonton's leagues play each other in any routine fashion for points of anything. Each league has their own house teams and travel teams, and these teams play in interleague play or maybe they'll scrimmage with each other or teams will come from out of town or they'll travel out of town. Plus there are tournaments and events. Each "league" has a different culture. It's all a bit loosey goosey but it's amateur sport so it works. Derby is certainly it's own little world with it's own culture.

A few years ago I started going to watch roller derby again. The crowds had dissipated, and tickets were easy to come by, but not so the company. I would drag out particular friends for games, but that got to be annoying. I seemed to love it more than anyone else I knew. I wanted to go to every game, weekly or monthly, but no one wanted to come with me after awhile. This is what happens when, unlike the good ol'days, everyone you know is married or partnered or a parent. No one has time to hang out with the single girl who would rather watch sports than drink wine while gossiping about fashion or home decorating pinterest ideas.

Cue Facebook. Turns out a good friend from way back in the day, like junior high days, had started playing derby. She said if I volunteered I'd get in free. Well, I'm a thrifty el' cheapo so that was right up my alley! She put me in touch with someone (who would later become my first derby friend), and I had a job for the next Saturday night bout. I think I timed penalties?

One game on the stopwatch and I was hooked. I got on some email list or Facebook group or something and started NSOing for OCRD. An NSO is a non-skating official. So the skating refs control the game, but the NSOs run the game. NSOs keep time and score. We time and track penalties, record lineups, and run the scoreboard.

Scoreboard and score keeping. Best view in the house. Hmm, maybe the penalty box is actually the best view?

It was fun. I liked it. The people are different from the people in my real life, and I like that about derby. Over the years I've made derby friends and though I still don't feel like I completely fit in, it's nice to hang out with nice people and mostly everyone has made me feel welcome and one of the team.

Even in the early days, it was always a dream of mine to play. I went to a fresh meat recruitment clinic early on, and actually made it out to two practices, but it became quite clear that I wasn't a natural derby girl. I would have to work super hard at it, the skills, the fitness. I would have to give up most other things (curling, yeah right) to train to get better at it. And I would always worry about my vision - my glasses cost $1000 and I don't have a second pair so what would I ever do if they got crushed?! I just couldn't commit at that point.

Early on in my NSO career, the officials crew for OCRD split to form their own independent crew, and I went with them. So now I'm an NSO for Fistful O'fficials. The benefit to being independent is that we get to officiate everyone and assumingly bring no bias, only experience.

Yes, I do have a derby name. It's a play on my last name, and similar to a nickname my dad had when he was younger. It's not the cleverest (or easiest to spell), but it makes me part of the culture and that's cool. I finally got an item of clothing with my name on it too!


Shortly after the split, I attended an NSO clinic and got learned up. I started regularly attending Rules Nights, a sort of monthly gathering of officials where they talk rules and gossip. I love listening to their stories! I'm active on the Facebook group anyway. It's a nice diversion.

Last September I NSO'd a weekend tournament out of town. This was big for me because though I'm part of the world, I'm not really part of the world, so sharing rides/hotels with other officials hasn't happened yet. Fortunately my aunt lived close to the tournament so I got the best of both worlds. It was a good time. Lot's of derby. Lately I've been carpooling to out of town games, and plan to do at least one tournament this summer again.

I've done all the NSO jobs, I even recently learned how to use a whistle to jam time. I recently sort of sucked at being a Head NSO, but there's time to learn that yet. My favourite positions are penalties, either penalty timing, penalty box managing, or penalty tracking. Timing/box is the best view and you get to watch a lot of derby from the penalty box, but my favourite is penalty tracking. I'm not super great at it yet and still need to work at remembering the hand signals and penalty codes, but it's super fun to be in the middle where all the action is!

I know a goodly number of officials by now, and have a good core group of people who I feel comfortable hanging out with. It's overwhelming socially sometimes: there's lot's of people, and small talk or drinking at an after party is so not my thing, but I'm trying to get to know people.

Probably I'll always wish I was a skating ref. I'm over my dream of being a derby girl, but wouldn't it be great (and safer) to be a skating ref?! But then I'd have to learn to skate. And learn all the rules. And man there are sooooo many rules. At the moment I'm concentrating on being a good, reliable NSO. That's enough for now.

"It doesn't matter what you did, it only matters what the ref thinks they saw you do."

So once or twice a month I head out to the arena and hang out for an evening. I'm more comfortable with the role I play and the people I play with. I'm almost at 50 games as an NSO, which is not as many as some but more than others in Derbyland.

I love it. When there's no derby for awhile I miss it. I'll always love the game, and I'm so fortunate they like having me around! Even though I bring mediocre baking to the double headers, I really do think this is where I'm going to stay for awhile yet!