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Published on December 10th, 2012 | by DerbyLife


I Blow at Jam Timing

By Plenty O’fficial

Of all the NSO positions, I love jam timing the most. Don’t get me wrong, penalty tracking is a close second, wrangling I get my cardio AND agility, and lineup is fun ‘cause there’s so many box jokes. But as a jam timer I feel like I am really a part of the game, keeping it moving, taking its pulse.

And like roller derby itself, jam timing is changing.

This is mostly because, after much discussion and debate, it is here: the single whistle start. I know flat track derby fairly well by now, I can see why this might work better, and all I really want is for derby to work. No matter how they look, I will diligently perform whatever roles I am given, and I will do it well, because I love this sport. I love it more than cookie butter.

Back to the subject at hand.

I have jam timed 30 bouts in a little over a year and a half. That’s not counting scrimmages, clinics and the time I spend weirding out my neighbours by practicing alone at the elementary school on weekends. I still learn something new almost every time I do it. But is that why I adore it so? Is it all the blowing? No, it’s more than that.

I am drawn to dichotomy in all things, and the yin and yang of jam timing really does it for me. One of my favourite photos is from West Regionals this year. The refs are skating hard, hands drawing penalty signals in the air, mouths open to deliver their calls. The wrangler is striding and echoing those calls, penalty trackers are writing, shouting and pointing, inside white board is bent down taking care of business. Passing skaters blur the foreground. It is a beautiful swirling watercolour painting of sports action. Yin.

And I am still. Stone still, in the centre, watching my clocks. Yang.

Tucked in behind the white board, I am all but invisible, and this is how it should be until the jam ends. Then we trade places: the refs glide into their positions and catch their breath. NSOs are at the ready, the oil that keeps the machine running. Fingers shifting across buttons on my stopwatches, I glance at my Head Ref (yes, MY Head Ref, I am quite proprietary about the zebras while I’m on the track), to confirm that everything is a go. Skaters are lined up like birds on a wire.

Everyone is waiting for my signal, so for a tiny moment I emerge from my cocoon and it is all down to me. It is this tiny moment that is about to change, and I wish to eulogize it well.

I will still walk out to the sweet spot where refs and skaters can hear and see me.

I will still raise my hand and shout “FIVE SECONDS!”

I will still drop my arm, blow the whistle once and start my clock all at the same time.

But that’s it. The buck stops there.

No more will I slowly inhale as the skaters approach the pivot line, training my breath so I’m ready the instant the last wheel crosses over, taking pride in my clean double whistle. No more will I keep my eyes and ears peeled during a knee start for a “no pack” so I can release the antsy jammers. But what I will miss the most is the scenario I think of as The Pause: a skater (or more often, just her skate) lingers behind the pivot line while the pack stretches. Someone is about to be released from the box. If that skate crosses the line and she’s not back on the track, I blow. If she is back but she’s more than ten feet behind, I blow. If the Head Ref calls “no pack” or “pack is front,” I blow. Who knows which will happen first? Plus I have to double check that the clocks started properly. My arm is out, my ears are pricked, my eyes are measuring and monitoring the peripherals. Time hangs a little during The Pause, I can feel my heartbeat in my ears. Then it’s back to the cocoon, watchin’ mah clocks again, waiting for my tiny moment.

I don’t for one second think anything in derby should change or not change because of the way it makes me feel as an official. It’s not about me. But I’m allowed to mourn the passing of an era. So the first time I walk out onto the track and blow a single whistle start, I will say a silent goodbye, let go of the past, take a deep breath and look forward.


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  • Thomas

    I am joining here very late. But as a fellow Jam Timer, I can relate

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