It finally happened. An NSO broke a high-level, sanctioned bout in probably the most visible way ever, denying us a clear winner for Minnesota’s run at ending Windy City’s undefeated North Central streak. The secret is that this sort of thing was bound to happen eventually. In fact, what better time than the year I’ve claimed the “Year of the NSO.” 2012 is already an interesting year filled with record bout scores, discussion of No Minors and competing rulesets and tournaments on the horizon. This is the year that we all learn just how much NSOs matter.

My worst moment as an NSO happened when no one was really paying attention or cared except for me—and Professor Murder but he is just a caring individual. During a bout at Nightmare on 95, I also totaled the score wrong. I had just had a quick check-in with my jam ref to make sure I’d recorded all the passes correctly in the last jam. It looked good to us, but then I made the mistake of adding the jam total with the old number. It took a couple of jams to notice the error, but I caught it during a routine check (done every 5 jams and every stoppage of play, normally swapping with my partner but not in this case). The trouble was the next jam had started. This error was compounded by having to recording new passes while trying to fix the old total. Jam ends. (Note for those NSOs playing at home, this is when you should ask for an Official Timeout and beg forgiveness). I spent another jam trying to fix “The Mistake” and my brain went blank with stress burning in my ears. When we finally paused the action to get it right it was about 5 jams after the original error. I now know that I am human and more than capable of mistakes, and most importantly I understand the strength required to ask for help. This was a blowout and the score didn’t make a difference. But every game is important and every game is ripe for game-affecting mistakes even if it’s just yet another Official Timeout. Oh, and it happened to my scoring partner the very next day, but I caught when we began doing regular checks of each other’s work. We made mistakes, but working together we fixed them before they became a larger problem.

These nightmares should teach us two things. First, we need to recognize that all positions are important and worthy of people committed and capable of doing the job right. The recently unveiled WFTDA NSO Certification is a huge step in the right direction here. NSO Certification will help guide NSOs as they level up and emphasize the positions where they excel. This provides a roadmap for the individual and a roster of qualified NSOs for those needing to staff bouts of all levels. Penalty tracking and management is important but it is only part of the whole. In the old days of derby, the bout paperwork was signed off by the scorekeeper, they were the final say in the bout on the NSO side. When a bout has gone wrong, it can be impossible to make sense of it without accurate lineups. Monumental Mayhem showed me the potential of individuals to excel at even the lowly outside whiteboard position. My crew’s whiteboard officials went above the norm and developed their own system to reduce and clarify duplicate penalties using subtle but swift communication. It’s important that NSOs speak openly about their strengths and weaknesses and what positions they are not comfortable performing. It’s also important that the crew heads and even our fellow NSOs ensure that their crew members are up to the job as well. Feedback should be continuous and frequent. We should not wait for evaluations; instead, we should openly talk about our performance at every opportunity. The crew working last Saturday should have known everyone’s relative strengths and weaknesses so that they could function as a unit. If the scorekeeping team had been working together more, then the misstep would have been caught earlier.

Second, as a derby community we need to recognize that the bout is not over at the fourth whistle. It’s not over until the last penalty is recorded, the last second coming off the clock is verified by the jam timer and the last point is recorded and checked by both scorekeepers. Roller derby is a complex sport in that there are no stoppages in play for penalties and points can be scored in the hundreds. In the past, labeling the tally at the end of the last period as the “Unofficial Score” sometimes meant that the score could change a bit but the game was generally done. After so many years of play at all levels, a score reversal, or in this case a tie, was bound to happen in a “bout that mattered.” Every NSO knows that the information visible to skaters, referees and fans is often out of date—or worse—wrong. These “visible facts” are not the truth. The jam timer can adjust the clocks when they disagree. Late minors may not be recorded in time for bench coaches to realize it until it’s too late for them to make changes. The scoreboard can only be updated as quickly the scorekeeper can do math and verify with the jam referee. A coach playing to the visible facts may miss that their next jammer has three (not two) minors going into the final jam (Rose City vs Windy City). A team rallying from behind might miss that the opposing jammer has unreported points going into the box and start celebrating a tying jam that actually fell short (Philly vs B.A.D.). It’s a system full of human error and less than realtime results. Some of this may be helped by technology, but “to err is human” and technology may only mask the underlying issues.

So what now? RDIT kicked around a few options. The score as played while incorrect could stand giving Minnesota the victory and a sad asterisk to go alongside it (The “Scoreboard Rules” solution). The corrected tie score could stand and the results would be dealt with somehow in a game where there are no ties (The “Reactive Change” solution). Either score could stand and the game simply loses its sanctioning and serves as a cautionary tale (The “Null Game” solution). It’s up to the WFTDA Games people to decide, but you know what I want? I want that missing overtime jam, that would have been awesome right?

Image courtesy of Axel Adams