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Guest writer: 1 second in the life of a roller derby referee

Without them the game would be one big brainless chaos. They give the points, they give the penalties, which sometimes can turn the scores around. Their choices will be judged by the audience. What is it like to wear that striped shirt? Our guest writer Jay Stark shares with you one second in his life as a referee.

Let me tell you a story about 1 second in the life of a roller derby referee.

The setup: it’s the National Cup finals. It is the start of the last jam. It’s a 6-point game, between two teams that…let’s just say they have a bit of a history. I’m lining up in the middle OPR position. The second starts on the initial pass when the pack approaches the apex between curves 1 and 2.

A jammer gets hit at the end of curve 1 in a situation involving three blockers. The jammer falls down awkwardly in a sitting position facing backwards near the outside track boundary, directly in front of me. It’s not clear at first whether they’re out of bounds or not. They’re touching outside with one hand, but that’s not enough. I instinctively crouch a bit to see if their butt is touching the outside. Answer seems to be….yes. Also looks like they’re planning to get up in a way that puts their left skate’s wheels on the outside.

So okay, seems pretty clear who was in front of the jammer when they went out, where’s the initiator of the block that made them go out, did they go backwards or not?

Reffing in the Finnish Nationals

Four hawk-eyes making sure everything goes down fairly -keeping our players safe.

Wait, shit. Who was the initiator? Normally that’s the first bit of information you store away before even knowing if you need it. But the situation was a bit chaotic, there were two blockers involved in the contact, and I had to double and triple check whether the jammer went out. In any case, the spot in my memory where the initiator should be stored gave an ugly 404 error.

So what are my options? Can someone help me? The jammer referee is very unlikely to make this call as there were several bodies between them and the hit. I know from my peripheral vision that the best referee within a thousand miles is 4 meters to my right, but based on the situation and how he works, he’s also unlikely to make this call even if he thinks it kinda looks like a cutting penalty – I’m in the perfect position and likely the only one who possibly could have all the information needed. Also he might not even have his attention on this situation since there are several skaters further up the track who might require it.

So it’s up to me. It would be nice if the jammer played it safe and recycled behind everyone, since in that case the point would be moot. But based on their body language they are not going to – sometimes you just know. They’re also getting up already and my second is starting to run out.

I play back the footage of the contact in my head. An instant replay like that, the way it works is, you piece together the scenario from bits of memory and form a video that ends in a consistent fashion to what your eyes are seeing right now. I quickly cram the pieces together. There’s the contact, the follow-through, the eyes that stay on the jammer the whole way making sure they’re out – and they’re still on her. It’s a blocker that’s behind the jammer, and the jammer is currently entering the track in front of her.

Jay reffing in Finnish Nationals Final

Jay reffing in Finnish Nationals Final 2016

My second is up now. You can’t really think too hard about blowing the whistle. If you do, you will enter a cycle of self-doubt that lasts until it’s too late to blow it. I do and signal the cutting penalty for the jammer. The announcer goes nuts, the audience goes nuts, the jammer’s team ends up losing the game and the championship and the festivities start as the referees leave the arena, still processing the game and trying to find a can of beer as soon as possible.

214A5755bTurns out I got that one right, thankfully. But for referees it’s not really about if something goes wrong that bugs you. It’s even when something *could* have gone wrong. There are a dozen errors for almost any referee in any game, being late in a bad position, not having a good line of sight, and while usually they don’t end up affecting gameplay, it still bugs you that they could have. Making an error possible is basically as bad as actually making that error. And avoiding that might mean having to go through six paragraphs worth of thought process in one second.

Below is something from the same vein from one of the greats. It’s a cool read. Refereeing is a job where you will likely end up repeatedly going over events that are no longer than 1 second long. They can be moments that end up defining you, whether in your own eyes or everyone else’s. I had to work a bit to make my peace with the second you just read about (if you made it all the way here, kudos to you), and I’m sure many other referees have similar moments.

Jay Stark

<3 refs! Another amazing reffing story from the world of ice hockey? Click here and read.

Photos: Marko Niemelä Photography


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