Published on March 26th, 2012 | by Curtis E. Lay1
Curtis E Lay by Jules Doyle
You Suck, Ref! Part 2: Glances, Grumbles, and Good Vibes
Recently, I had cause to update my referee résumé. In the past 12 months, I reffed 65 full-length bouts under the WFTDA rule set. On average, that’s about one bout every 5.6 days, along with who knows how many scrimmages and a handful of short challenge bouts. The bouts featured teams from 45 different WFTDA leagues and took me from one end of the U.S. to the other.
While hardly a Guinness Book year, that’s still a whole heap of reffing. I was exposed to a vast array of different leagues, fans, venues, and styles of play. The stakes of the bouts I reffed ranged from bragging rights among friendly mish-mash teams to the 2011 WFTDA Championship.
For various reasons, I decided to ponder the numbers a bit more. I figure I shared the floor with several hundred skaters for at least one bout during those 12 months. That translates to thousands of direct, bout-related interactions between me and those skaters…pre-bout captains meetings, gear checks, benign hellos, penalties called, points awarded, rules explanations, and the list goes on.
Regrettably, it also translates to skater anger: hundreds of burning glances, grumbled epithets, a few dozen loud knee-jerk “what the FARK!?!” outbursts, and a smattering of genuinely unacceptable behavior. Some of the frustration had merit; I’m the first one to admit that I screw up from time to time. However, a lot of the calls or no-calls that drew glances and grumbles were absolutely handled correctly.
If life were an after school special, the pissed-off skater and the brow-beaten ref could talk it over after the bout, they’d both see the light, and then everyone would smile and go eat sundaes. In the real world, however, the specifics of disputed calls fade, and all that seems to remain is a lingering tinge of bitterness…that skater doesn’t know the rules…that ref sucks.
I’ll devote a later article to that topic, but for now I’d like to focus on the numbers that I parsed out above; those thousands of interactions, the overwhelming majority of which fold together amorphously and are neither positive nor negative; they just “are” (or rather, they “were,” because I have forgotten them). By contrast, the tiny minority of interactions were negative, but I remember many of them as if they’re happening right now. (For the record, as I am writing this, there are no skaters passing my desk and yelling at me, but I’m reffing two bouts tomorrow, so…)
Maybe it’s just human nature, but I have to ask: why is it that the negative interactions so easily stick in my memory? I mean, this isn’t even a glass half-full/half-empty thing…it’s a glass 97% full/3% empty thing, but damned if I don’t remember that 3% a lot more than the 97%.
Fortunately, I finally had that after-school special moment, about a month ago following a day at the Wild West Showdown. A group of officials and I ran into a few skater friends at a restaurant. We didn’t eat sundaes; instead it was late-night brick oven pizza. I found myself sitting next to a skater whom I’ve known for several years and reffed dozens of times.
She asked how my day had gone, and I was honest. Two bouts went like clockwork. The other two bouts felt like 14-on-14 fistfights that were played before a capacity crowd at Curtis Sucks Memorial Coliseum. I heard more than a fair amount of bile from skaters during those two bouts…bad calls, missed calls, and I’d guess my pads and jersey smelled pretty bad at that point of the weekend too.
My skater friend had played in the second of the two rough bouts. “Oh my god, that bout was soooo fun,” she said.
“Everyone totally had fun,” she reiterated. In fact, she went on and on about how fun it was, and her tone was absolutely genuine. And that’s when it dawned on me: by pondering those thousands of fairly shapeless interactions and the occasional but memorable negative interactions, I was totally overlooking the inherent fun that has made this sport’s appeal balloon so rapidly. Derby is fun. How about that.
What’s more, my being out there facilitated that fun, even in the bouts that were hard to manage. It’s only natural that skaters would have intense expressions and occasionally snippy commentary in a fast, violent game, and it’s also natural that referees get disproportionately exposed to those emotions; not too many skaters yell “Hey ref, I’m having a lot of fun!” in the middle of a jam.
So, to my after school special skater friend: thank you for sharing the good vibes and turning on this light bulb. It’s a great antidote to all of the negative feedback that slowly burns refs out. And while I’m not any more sympathetic to nastiness directed at officials, at least I now realize that after a bout, I can go somewhere, eat a sundae, and know that along with the hundreds of glares and grumbles, and the thousands of standard, mechanical interactions, there were tens of thousands of things that made the skaters and fans happy, and I helped make it happen.
And after all, that’s kind of why I donned stripes in the first place.