Don’t Bite the Hand

Let’s talk about derby today. It was another weekend of derby this past weekend. I drove the 90ish miles south to Albuquerque to ref a double header. Neither game was sanctioned. The visiting team, from Colorado, played the travel team from Abq. Then there was a mashup/home team game. We were working with the usual: a not quite fully staffed game with several newbies both on and off skates. It wasn’t high pressure though, bragging rights games, that’s what I like to call anything non-sanctioned where standings aren’t affected by the outcome. The HR did the best they could to staff strong people in their strong roles while still giving some room for the newer officials to learn. Ditto the HNSO. During the captain’s meeting, they brought it to the attention of both teams that there were a lot of newbies on the track, they’d do their best to make sure the game went as close to book as possible, but teachable moments would, as usual, be taken advantage of. The only request the HOs had? Keep it civil. Don’t beat up on the officials. Bring issues to the center. You know, like we do in derby.

The first game started and it was clearly a mismatch. I’m not knocking any skills or skaters here. There was just an obvious difference in play style and skill and it became apparent quite early that one team had the advantage. The skaters never lost their shit. They stayed classy af despite what would soon become a blowout. They played 100%, took penalties with grace and were, from my perspective, having a blast. That’s derbs. It is one of the things I like about it. Players are just happy they get to PLAY.

But something wasn’t quite right. The coach from one of the teams was gradually, then rapidly, declining in civility to the point that we could see the veins standing out on his neck and bulging in his forehead. He wasn’t angry with his skaters (or maybe he was and I didn’t notice that part because of what came next) he was angry with the officiating. CLEARLY and LOUDLY upset with us. His tantrums went from moderately annoying to downright distracting in a rapid devolution of character. He was joined in his antics by a woman who has yet to be identified as actual coaching staff, but who gave off the appearance of staff; carrying a clipboard and shouting instructions from turn four. I’m not going to go into their behavior in detail. It was beyond what I’ve seen here at home since I quit working with a particular coach down this way.

Everything is handled. The game finished with no harm to any skaters. The HOs are handling a grievance against this staff. It’s all done. But I thought I could talk about why this sort of behavior is completely and utterly unacceptable in our sport. Just in case someone out there thinks it’s okay.

We were training on Saturday. I’ve said it before, NM, and derby in general, has an officiating CRISIS. We just aren’t enough to go around. In New Mexico there are currently only a handful of full time refs and NSOs who aren’t also skaters or who train with any sort of regularity. Even if all of us were able to come together on game day, there would not be a full crew of officials who strictly officiate. This year our focus, along with three of the northern leagues, is recruiting, training and retaining officials. It’s a lot of hard work and coordination. We have to overcome the fact that most of the highly trained officials are 90 minutes away from the urban area that needs us the most. New Mexico is a very poor state and attracting people to a rather expensive (gear, travel, etc) hobby is difficult, especially when they find out there’s no money involved. We do everything we can to give our new officials a good experience. And when dickholes like these guys come down and treat us all like garbage, it undoes a lot of hard work and effort. We simply cannot afford to have people like this involved with the people we are training.

This behavior is, unfortunate, one I see more and more. For every league, team, or coach out there putting in the good work to retain officials, I run into a coach or team that thinks we are shit, in their way, not necessary, have it “easy”, don’t need or want practice time or space, etc, etc. I’ve addressed all this before and I will again down the road. But today it’s about the coaching staff. Skaters, if you want any of us, any official, to come work your games, keep your coaches in check. I’m not talking about the polite assholery I see on occasion. I’m talking about the kind that makes me want to leave a game 20 minutes early. If your coach is screaming, yelling, being abusive, breaking clipboards, losing their temper and it is not longer fun? I will leave.

I hate seeing misconduct penalties go to a perfectly polite skater on behalf of a douchebag coach, but if this is what it takes to get you to sit up and take notice and hold your staff to a higher standard, I will, by all means, start handing those out.  I don’t want anyone to have to stop playing derby, but I will never again put up with the behavior I saw this weekend. I have been very patient. I’ve worked very hard to get a thicker skin and not take things personally and I have had some oh so gloriously thought out insults slung my way,  so believe me when I say this was above what I was able to tolerate. I appreciate how our Head Officials have handled this. I agree with their decisions on game day and how that was handled. I don’t get paid to do this. I do not have to take the same level of disrespect someone with a union, salary, health insurance and grievance committee may be willing to take. I do this because I want YOU to have a safe, fun, game. I want derby to happen, but if your coach is a dick, don’t be surprised when it doesn’t

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