Sunday, February 27, 2011

On professionalism and fun, and why they are not mutually exclusive

Have you ever met or heard of Dayglo Divine? She reffed for several years, most recently with the Charm City Roller Girls. She taught me more than I think she realizes about how to be a good derby ref. Not just about rules, mind you. But more about how seriously to take the job and how to carry yourself while you're doing it. This is a picture of Dayglo:

Totally looks like someone who would teach me about being serious as a ref, right? Well, you're wrong. She was as pro as they come, and the derby world is a far less awesome place since she retired. As a tribute to the Dayglorious one, this is what I looked like at a Halloween bout this past year:

Now, it probably should have ended there. Dayglo, though, had other plans. She asked me to continue to dress up a bit - a passing of the torch, so to speak. A few weeks ago, I was the head ref for a crew in BHRG's B Cup Invitational. I looked like this:

Far less over-the-top, perhaps, but anyone who knows Dayglo got the connection all the same. I was complemented all day about my professionalism and my calm in the center of the storm. Qualities, for the record, that I strive for in every bout I officiate.

Fast forward a bit to last night. I show up at the ref meeting, having gotten information that this HR requests we stick tournament dress, but it's not required. Now, just in case, I carry my plain white helmet in my gear bag all the time, but of course I had ole Pinky with me as well. I asked him if he was okay with it, and he replied...

"Well, you can either look professional, or you can wear that." As he said it, he pointed at my helmet and smirked.

I swallowed my anger and got the backup helmet out. Like I said earlier, I reffed the SHIT out of that bout, and again got several compliments. Why am I so steamed?

Roller derby is (or should be) FUN first. Sure, the push to make it more "legit" has been underway for a while now. I can understand - and to a certain degree, appreciate - that. But, no matter what helmet or outfit I'm wearing, I ref bouts to the very best of my ability. Refuse to take me seriously at your own peril. In the end, if a head ref doesn't like the helmet, I'll leave it in the ref room. But, man, if you've ever worked with me - or anyone else who has, you know what you're getting when I show up. Let me do the job, and let me make a few people smile when they see me too.


  1. Wow, dude. I had a similar convo with a skater Saturday at the after party after the Glass City bout. We all need to remember at that at the end of the day, it's still a GAME. Pink helmet or no, I know who you are and what you are all about. You are MY DayGlo. I would not be the ref I am today if not for you. Thanks bro.

    Mr. T

  2. Back in 2008, a friend of mine who used to ref for a WFTDA league that shall remain nameless told me that her head ref and his wife (the league owner/travel team captain) called me "unprofessional" based on what I wore and cited me as the reason for their in-house dress code. In the time since I was told this, I became certified, reffed a metric shit-ton of big bouts and a regional tournament, served as CCRG's voting WFTDA rep, and worked several WFTDA admin-type roles. Not that there weren't bumps in the road and disappointments, or that I didn't make some mistakes along the way, but I got the chance to do everything I set out to do as a referee. Meanwhile, the ref who called me unprofessional got denied for certification twice, was turned down for both skating and NSO roles at two regional tournaments, and has repeatedly made an ass of himself on both the WFTDA board and DNN. Oopsie.

    There have been plenty of times that I've toned things down in for tournaments or "serious" bouts (which I roughly define as "sanctioned bouts with at least one power-ranked league that are likely to be boutcast on DNN"). But in general, my attitude is, if you carry yourself professionally, treat skaters and fellow officials with respect, act humbly and own up to mistakes and areas for improvement, and give everything you do your best effort, few if any people care what you're wearing unless you truly look disheveled or indecent. It's proven true enough that I actually love moments like the one you had this weekend for their irony factor.

  3. Oh, and from experience, I have one other BIG word of advice for any official who costumes it up a bit.

    Get used to having to do twice as much work, if not more, to prove yourself. Get used to having even that not be enough sometimes. Get used to having your skating skills, rules knowledge, "ref eye," and work ethic scrutinized far more than if you just blended in the background. Get used to people talking shit about you. Get used to the fact that at least half of it will be utterly laughable, with no basis in reality. Get used to people trying to shut you down. Get used to some of them being people you have never even met.

    I'll be the first to say that sometimes, some of this behavior is justified. There are plenty of self-promoters and attention whores in derby -- both on the track and in the ranks of its support staff. There are plenty of people who are the first to pop up wherever there's a camera, but the last to show for track setup/breakdown, practice, meetings, or grunt work. There are plenty of people who put more effort into picking their derby names and clothes than actually learning the rules of the game. Those people deserve every ounce of scorn they get. But unfortunately, they also ruin things for people who take what they do very seriously without scrapping the things that made derby fun in the first place.

  4. Well said. Very well said indeed.

    Mr. T