I've met very few skaters who are casual about derby. It quickly becomes an all-or-nothing proposition.
So what would you do if you woke up one morning and were told you could never play again?
Last November at practice, I sustained a concussion. A minor concussion, but my third, and these things apparently have a cumulative effect - the more you have, the more susceptible you are to getting them in the future, and the more damage they can do.
I don't remember who hit me - probably a bad sign. We were scrimmaging, I was lead jammer (rare for me), the opposing jammer was closing in on me as I approached the pack, I started to call off the jam, and then I was on my back. And then my head hit the floor. As with my previous concussion, at the time I thought I was ok so I kept playing; I didn't start to feel wrong until I was halfway home.
Sitting on my kitchen floor that night with a bag of frozen peas on my head, I realized it would be really stupid for me to continue to put myself in a position where the risk of hitting my head is high. Never mind that I got my first concussion in my shower...
I spent the next few weeks in mourning; since you're someone who reads Rollin' News, you'll understand this is not hyperbole. Roller derby had been an indescribably important part of my life for the previous 3 1/2 years. Hitting people had been very cathartic, and had been my primary means of relieving stress - specifically the ongoing stress of raising a child with special needs. Derby had also been the core of my social life - as someone who works from home, practice would often be the only time all day I would even see other adults.
To fill the derby-size hole in my life, it seemed like the natural next step to learn to ref. There's still skating, and there's derby going on, and all the same people are at practice. So I've been working on learning to officiate.
But I have to confess: it's not at all the same as playing.
First of all, as a player, I had been utterly unaware that there are positions in reffing derby. Each ref is looking for specific things, although all are empowered to call out any penalties they see. As a player, I had never noticed that jammer refs pass on the outside of the other inside pack refs, or that the three outside pack refs skate in a highly-choreographed rotation.
As a ref-in-training, I have been overwhelmed by how many things a ref has to do at the same time, and how quickly it all happens. In a brief moment, a ref must notice shenanigans have occurred; recognize which skater committed which specific penalty; signal this penalty using the proper combination of whistles, verbal cues, and hand signals in the proper order; communicate with the other refs; and skate, often backwards and always while looking sideways.
I'm still trying to decide how much I enjoy reffing. The physical demands are less and the mental demands are greater. The social interaction that takes place among refs is lovely, but when players say "thank you, refs!" after scrimmage, I feel even more separated from my former teammates. The time commitment for players involves committee work and events, while being a ref can involve tons of travel. I don't feel as invested in officiating as I did in playing, so I have not yet felt the compulsion to sign on to help out at bouts throughout the region and ref two or three bouts per weekend as many of my friends do.
The refs I've been training with have been supportive, helpful, and super nice. My former teammates have been patient with my learning curve and sometimes chat with me before or after practice. But it's not the same.
And it's never going to be the same.
Top Photo by Chris Randall, I Love New Haven
Front Page Photo by Jeffrey Kerekes, I Love New Haven