Why Don’t We Ask

I plan to come back to a few things this coming week, including two tournaments, a family vacation and some realizations I’ve had about where I want my future to go. Right now, I know if I don’t get this post down, I never will. It’s fear that holds me back from this discussion, but with encouragement, I’ve decided it’s well past time.

I talk about derby a lot. I started writing about derby on this blog as I was transitioning out of skating as a team member for my local league and into officiating. When I started, my goals were pretty big. I wanted to ref playoffs, maybe even champs. I had excellent mentors locally. Two referees who had been certified through our national organization, traveled a lot and brought their knowledge home to me. Through a series of events in that first six months, those two officials became incredibly jaded against the certification process, rightfully so. This isn’t their story. This is about me. I suddenly found that my goals were something to be made fun of. That if I wanted certification, playoffs, recognition, that was laughable, because the system was (and possibly still is) corrupt. Unfortunately, I let that sink in pretty deep. I gave up on those goals. I would never be “that” official. The work needed, the travel required. It was so far beyond the reach of someone like me, out here in a state full of D3 leagues spread hours apart, that I was really an idiot to want those things.

Last year something changed towards the end of my season. Suddenly, during a few tournaments, I was getting feedback like “why aren’t you doing these tournaments?” “You’re a solid official with a lot of potential.” “I want you to apply for this tournament I’m in charge of.”

What? Me? But I’m a nobody. I mean, look at the way my friends had been treated, wouldn’t I be betraying them if I did the things that they did only to be shit on? Wouldn’t that be a slap in the face after what they went through? So I went into to December of last year ready to quit. Because I had no goals. And I had no local mentors. I hadn’t received positive feedback at home in over six months. I only got actionable feedback at tournaments. I was depressed. I had given up.

Derby did what it always does though and I found myself planning for this season, despite the depression. I reached out to a Tournament Head I had worked with to ask a simple question “If a newer official were to apply to one tournament next season, what would you recommend.” He asked if I was the official and when I said yes, the answer was definite and quick, “The Big O.” I laughed out loud, literally, because that was not a tournament I had on my radar at all for someone like me. It’s a BIG deal. It’s a known game changer for our sport, teams and the officials who attend. But I applied anyway. And I got in. And it was a game changer.

I walked away from The Big O with my goals suddenly screaming from the far back shelves of my brain where I’d carefully curated them along with several other failed dreams. They wanted out. They wanted room up front. They wanted attention. And I, reluctantly and fearfully, started listening. I followed up Big O with another tournament I had attended last season and the feedback from that was outstanding. The things they saw in my last year had come to fruition. I am well on my way to becoming a good official. I just need access to the level of play that will get me to there. That isn’t happening in New Mexico, sadly.

I realized that I was accepted into every tournament I applied for this season. Including Junior Roller Derby Association’s Championships and World Cup in Philadelphia. I was invited to two more tournaments I thought well outside my reach. I was supported when I made a decision to turn down a tournament I really wanted to do because it conflicted with family plans. I was encouraged to apply for certification. I was encouraged. I hadn’t been encouraged since those first couple of months of officiating. But here I am now, ready to reach out for those goals again.

Now comes the hard part. I have a plan in my head. It starts with applying to several of the tournaments I was unable to attend this year. It involves training with the closest D1 and D2 leagues, which, unfortunately, are six hours a way in Denver. It involves continuing to train and teach the officials at home that rely on me to bring my knowledge home, just like those friends did for me when I first started, before shit went south. It involves travel, balance, and, you guessed it, money.

When I was part of the team I skated with, I had no qualms about asking for sponsorship money, donations, fundraising and the like. I had no issue giving money to skaters for clinics and training. I had no problem asking for money for things our league needed, even though we were a sub-D3 farm league who rarely traveled, never outside of New Mexico when I was on the team. When I moved into officiating, the culture shifted. Suddenly I was doing things well above what I’d ever done as a team skater. I was officiating higher and higher levels of play. I was included in Junior playoffs and Champs last season. I did all of this on my own dime. It was laughable when I suggested I needed a sponsor. I was LITERALLY laughed at when I suggested I needed financial help to meet my goals, after all, all the skaters pay to play.

The difference is what I mentioned above. The leagues use the money the skaters pay in to help skaters get where they are going. They have sponsors to pay for uniforms and in some cases new gear. They ask for donations and do fundraisers to pay for travel for their travel team. Why do we, as officials, treat ourselves differently? Especially considering that most officials in other sports actually make a salary to do so. I get gas stipends to go to and from Albuquerque, but beyond that, I do not get paid to officiate Roller Derby. A sport that has gone mainstream enough to land itself on ESPN does not pay its officials. We are expected to grow, learn, become good enough to go to those playoff/champs games, all without the support of a league, union, organization, team. We do it alone, for the most part.

I can’t speak for everyone. I know some leagues will help cover the expenses of the officials who travel with them to games. Or will give officials who have been accepted into playoffs or higher money to get there, regardless of the league’s standing at those events. I can only speak for me. I’m out here on my own. I don’t have travel companions. I go alone to all of these events. The airfare, gas, hotels, food and gear expenses fall directly on my shoulders and mine alone. I sleep on beds offered by other officials when I can. I eat at the venue, and not much else besides that on most trips. I am debating whether the model to reach my goals is actually sustainable without help. I don’t think it is.

So I’m asking for help. It sucks. I HATE asking for help. But if I were still part of the team, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask. I would not, for one minute, be above knocking on every door to get the money my team needs to get where they need to go. So I have to ask myself, why is it bad to ask for help now? I don’t think it is. I could be wrong, and I expect to hear a lot of feedback supporting that.

What am I asking for? I’m asking for anything you might want to do to help. A kind word, a dollar or two, a share of this post. I’m asking you to consider that I’m not alone in this world of officiating without pay in roller derby. How are your officials doing at home? Are they getting the support they need financially? Is your league sitting on funds they could share with those officials when they go to tournaments that make them better officials? Are you a skater who has gotten help from a league when you needed to travel and couldn’t? Can you return the favor now? If not to me directly, somewhere in the officiating community?

I’m going to put a pay-pal link up on this blog. And It’s going to stay there. The money I get will go directly to cover travel expenses to the tournaments I have agreed to do this year and anything I get above and beyond those needs will help my plan out next season. I won’t use the money for gear, clothing or food. It will be used directly to cover Airfare, gas and lodging only.

In return, I promise that I will bring my knowledge to any new official who wants to learn. I will teach them what I know, treat them with dignity as they grow and make their own goals and do whatever is in my power to pay forward everything that’s been done for me and then some. I will do my part to end the officiating crisis regionally and beyond as much as I can.

That’s it. That’s the hard part out of the way.  I’ll be posting about my experience at The Big O and Mayday Mayhem in the coming days. I just got back from an amazing trip to see family too, that is going to be a fun one to write up.

Thank you for the ear.

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