Suffolk Roller Derby - An American NSO in England

Yoshi - Suffolk Roller Derby

My first blog post for Rollin' News, how exciting.  I am, as the title states, a Yank living in England who is in love with roller derby.  I started out about 5 years ago with a league from Fort Walton Beach Florida called the Beach Brawl Sk8r Dolls.  At first I was just a fan.  I went to a couple of their bouts and it was pretty rad.  I didn't completely understand everything but it was intense and fun.  I found out that one of the guys I worked with was a coach / volunteer with the league and soon I was volunteering too.  I helped out with bouts where I could, fund raisers, and special events.  I even traveled to some of their away bouts.  It was one of those away bouts with Panama City Roller Derby where I was asked to fill in as an NSO for someone who couldn't make it.  I honestly had no idea what an NSO was, and was scared to death I was going to mess something up and ruin the whole game for everyone but I agreed to help out.  So they put me as one of the penalty box timers.  I was handed stopwatches and basic instructions.  The bout passed without me having ruined it and my world was changed forever.  Roller derby was still pretty new in the panhandle of Florida.  There was BBSD in Ft. Walton, PCRD in Panama City, Tallahassee Roller Girls (who were WAY out of our league), but after that the closest teams were in Alabama, Mississippi or 5 hours away in Jacksonville.  So NSOs were kind of hard to come by.  From that point on I didn't get to sit and watch games, I would always be wrangled into NSOing.  I'd show up and someone would say "OH!  Yoshi knows how to NSO!" and there I was penalty timing again.  I didn't mind, I had fun and met some amazing people I never would have otherwise.  I continued NSOing as much as I could with job constraints and learned all the other NSO positions.  Jam timing was the eventual groove that I fell into as it seemed no one else ever wanted to do it.  Over the next few years 3 new leagues formed within an hour of Fort Walton and a great little local derby community formed with refs, NSOs, and skaters readily available to help each other out.  One of those leagues, the Pensacola Roller Gurlz, recently got their WFTDA apprenticeship, which is awesome.  I was an NSO for a few of the local leagues and loved all of it.

Then I got orders to England.  It was exciting, the prospect of moving to a new country.  So many things to see.  I did what anyone involved with roller derby would do, I got online and started searching for local leagues.  Sadly, I didn't find any.  It seemed the closest leagues would be an hour away.  Looking back the reason I didn't find many leagues was I had no understanding of the geography or county structure of England so I was just searching for roller derby in Mildenhall.  Lucky for me my girlfriend at the time was better at searching and found a league local to Bury St Edmunds who were then called the Blue Thunder Rollers but have since reformed as Suffolk Roller Derby.  I got in contact with the league via Facebook, and when I arrived in country was welcomed with open arms.  It was great, I had literally been in country a couple days and was already at one of their practices.  Everyone was friendly and for the most part the entire team had a great chemistry.  9 days later I was Head NSOing a mixed scrim.  Soon after that I was in Northampton NSOing again.  8 months later and I've had the pleasure of NSOing bouts and scrims all over the country.  I even had the honor of NSOing one of the Team England tryouts.  It has been a blast and I have met so many wonderful people.  Refs, NSOs, skaters, announcers, photographers, medics, all of them so eager and full of love for this sport that brings us all together. 

There are a couple things I've found different between derby in the U.S. and the U.K..  One of them is the derby community here seems a lot more tight-knit.  I think this has a lot to do with how close everyone is.  There are so many leagues that have popped up in the U.K. That you can't seem to drive more than an hour or so and there's another league ready to bout or scrim.  It's awesome.  It also enables things like Milton Keynes and Oxfords monthly mixed scrims.  I never saw anything like that in the U.S. but then again my derby experiences were with smaller leagues.  Maybe things like that are common in the bigger metropolitan areas.  Regardless, I think it's great how open leagues are here to guest skaters, guest coaches, and just mixing it up and having fun.  Another thing I've noticed, and love, is the acceptance of men's roller derby.  Now, don't get me wrong, it IS changing over in the U.S. but when I first got involved with derby "Merby" was joked about and often relegated to being the halftime show at bouts.  Skaters said it was their sport and if men wanted to be involved they could ref.  Not going to get into that debate, but I was happily surprised to see how widely accepted men's roller derby is here in the U.K..  Seeing the MERDC last year was incredible, and getting to meet some of the guys from Southern Discomfort was great.  They set a very high standard for skating ability and the ones I've met have been really good guys and heavily involved with derby as a whole in the UK.  This acceptance has also enabled me to do something I never thought I would which is strap on skates, and see how I fare out on the flat track.  Suffolk Roller Derby is a co-ed league with a good mix of guys and gals.  Through them I hope to learn to skate, block, plow, and jam with the best of 'em.  Will let you know how it goes.

Photo credit to John Hesse

About The Author

DOB: 1/18/1985

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