Officials are seen and not heard for the most part. Despite this when we heard that Dr. Vroom of the Windy City Rollers was retiring, we couldn’t resist getting some of her vast derby knowledge on the record before she was gone. As the only current Level 5 female referee (and only the second one ever) we hope you find something in this unique perspective. I know that I’ve been honored to work with Vroom over the years in and out of the (supposedly defunct but not in our hearts) North Central region.

What made you want to join this circus? Why as a ref?

I joined WCR my first year in Chicago. I was new to the city and thought this would be a good way to meet people. I had been to one game and loved the combination of sport and spectacle and the DIY spirit of the women involved.

At first I wasn’t sure if my place would be as a ref or a skater. I was drawn to reffing because of the lesser time commitment and the lowered chance of injury (I was a first year teacher and nervous that my derby career would take away from my teaching.) I was also uncomfortable that the ref crew was all men. It didn’t seem right to me to have a sport full of women that were refereed by all men. In the end, I went with my gut and became a ref!

What do you wish you had known starting out that you know now?

**How much I would love this sport. I am so glad I got involved in derby. I have learned so much about leadership and life from my time in derby.

Would you do anything differently?

**I don’t think so. I’m not one for regrets. Everything I’ve done has helped me to grow into the ref I am today. I made mistakes along the way, but without those mistakes, I wouldn’t have grown. As I tell new refs who mess up: “Great. That sucked. Now you will never make that mistake again.”

I do wish I was better at remembering people’s names and faces. I’m sure I’ve offended people by not remembering. Sorry!

Photo by Gil Leora

Lots of people look up to you, but who inspires you?

Eamon (Scorey Feldman) Daly. I have learned so much from him. He was the Head of Officiating when I joined derby. He built WCR’s NSO’s from nothing and inspired myself and others to build the ref crew. He bribed me with cake to take over the Head Ref position in WCR in 2007 and he knew exactly what he was doing. He helped me be a better leader and through those real life lessons, a better referee.

You’ve been a highly respected ref for a long time now, but not a lot of female refs have made it as far. Why are female refs such an endangered species? What can be done to fix that?

**I honestly don’t know why there aren’t more female refs. At first, everyone said it was due to the fact that most women wanted to play, not ref. Fair enough. They then thought that as skaters retired, they would turn to reffing. Some have, but not many. Or if they have, they are not interested in reffing at higher levels. I’m not sure what is keeping women away and I’m not sure what can be done to fix that. But if you are a female ref or a female interested in reffing PLEASE DO! It is so disheartening to see so few women reffing at the higher levels. Get your time in on the track. Get certified. Make me proud!

Do you have any advice for the few female refs in the certification pipeline or those actively seeking certification? They don’t seem to be advancing at the same rate as their male peers.

My only advice would be to stay strong and get it done. I’m sure everyone’s experiences are different- you may have awesome refs who are super supportive, or you may have condescending ones. I had a ref who always patted me on the helmet. It drove me nuts. We got along, but he definitely responded better to a male head ref’s feedback more than mine. My early training was spotty, partially because the head ref didn’t understand why a woman would ref instead of skate so he didn’t bother taking the time to properly teach me. But I didn’t let that stop me. So, if you want to get certified, take what help you can, ignore those who are holding you back, learn all you can through forums and, if you can, a mentor, and power through.

Do your real life skills help manage things on the track?

Oh yes. I teach ages 6–9 in a Montessori school in real life. Having those teacher skills help so much. My teacher look is the same as my ref face and my ref voice is the same as my you’re in big, big trouble voice. If I can keep my cool in front of 25 out of control children, I can keep my cool in front of 4 irate captains/alternates.

Photo by Jules Doyle

What are your hopes for what you are leaving behind?

I hope that the WCR ref crew continues to be amazing. I hope that more women follow in my footsteps. I hope that derby continues to grow and the refs continue to grow with it.

Do you get inspiration from other sports/parts of life?

I’m not a big sports fan, other than derby. I did enjoy watching the Blackhawks during the Stanley Cup and was very impressed at the refs stamina and agility.

Do you think the game is ready for more discretion and judgement in the execution of the rules?

Yes and no. I think the game is ready and I think most refs are ready. However, for that discretion and judgement to be consistent, we need more training. WFTDA is doing a great job on that front, but I still get feedback from captains and coaches that officiating varies greatly from city to city. Regardless of whether the refs are that inconsistent or that is the perception of skaters it needs to be addressed somehow.

What sort of training would you like to see more? The WFTDA Clinic program is growing and there are more and more independent training opportunities popping up all the time.

The training clinic is great. I wish there was an easier way for more real time feedback. You learn all you can at the clinic and then get back to scrimmage and something comes up that you didn’t cover in quite that way and for many refs, there’s not a resource to consult that will give you a consistent and quick answer. The WFTDA forums are a good start, but it (understandably) has limited access. For refs who don’t have that access, it can be frustrating. Similarly, you learn a TON working tournaments because those tournament refs have to align their judgement calls, but for those of us not working tournaments, we miss out on all those conversations and as a result, may be calling thing differently. Unfortunately, I don’t know what a good solution is.

Can you share any extremely positive or negative experiences you had during game play—dealing with certain coaches, players or other refs?

The worst experiences I have had have been when coaches and/or players accused me of “losing” the game for them. There are two times in particular that stand out. One was a coach that came up to me after the game and thanked me for losing the game for them and the other was a captain who wished me luck winning the next game (it was a double header). I take reffing very seriously. I may make bad calls, but they are never on purpose and I beat myself up over them way more that the skaters ever could. To have my dedication to my craft insulted like that is very hurtful. It is like accusing a skater of losing a game on purpose.

The best experiences are all the love I got when I THR-ed. THR-ing sucks. It is a lot of work and you don’t even get to skate. But every time I did it, the refs and NSO’s showed me such appreciation that it made it all worth it. Especially when they all bought me shirley temples in Minnesota!

I’m still amazed that I’ve touched as many people as I have. Any time someone tells me they look up to me, I get blown away.

There are some refs who are also skaters, coaches or NSOs. Does that harm ones ability to be a great ref through such things as bias (in the case of skaters/coaches) or splitting focus (time commitment between reffing and NSOing)?

I hate giving a blanket statement saying that you can’t be both and do both well. I’m sure some people can/do. However, I think that it’s way harder. I think that it’s hard to ref and skate or coach not because of bias (although it’s probably harder to squelch that down) but because of perspective. We’ve had some men do both merby and ref. Once they started skating, their questions at ref practice became more about strategy and less about reffing. You could see they were hearing about a rule and not thinking- how to I see this and gauge its impact most effectively, but how can knowing this help me juke around that skater or manipulate the pack. It’s hard to keep those two parts of your brain separate and to be excellent at both.

For NSOing, I think it’s a bit different. Refs and NSO’s work so closely together that doing both would give a person a better perspective as how to do their job more effectively. I think that the time commitment would make it hard to become excellent at both however.

Why is there such a gap between reffing on local levels and on the WFTDA Playoff level and how can that gap be closed?

I think that may go back to the training/communication issue. Once you make it to the Playoff level, you often are a WFTDA rep/have access to the [WFTDA] forums and you have a community of other high level officials to talk to that helps you up your game. But if you aren’t in that community, it’s hard to get the information and real time feedback you need to improve your reffing.

Photo by Gil Leora

The loss of minors has ended a relational buffer between refs and players. Previously, there was something of a warning to the player regarding small infractions. Now, every mistake on track has a profound impact on gameplay. Do you find that has changed ref/player relations?

No, not really. There was definitely an adjustment period for both skaters and refs as we figured out the new impact spectrum and skaters got used to immediate feedback on some actions that were previously minors. I think the skaters appreciate the immediate feedback. I get a lot less looks of absolute confusion when I whistle them off the track.

It seems that the outcome of bouts is being increasingly determined by penalty calls on jammers. What are officials currently doing to respond to this increased responsibility, and what could they do better?

That’s a good question—this year I haven’t been on WFTDA forums nor have I been able to referee tournaments. I may be out of the loop, but I haven’t heard officials [discussing] jammer penalties. Officials aren’t in charge of making the rules or skating cleanly—all we can do is call consistently and accurately.

If you had dictator powers and could change one rule or standard practice, what would you change and why?

I don’t know if I would change it back, but I really miss the days when I could tell the skaters to pack it up. It made no packs so much easier. :) The long verbal cues could be a lot simpler. What’s wrong with just saying, “destruction!?”

Do you plan to keep up with derby? Will you become a super fan now?

I do plan on keeping up with derby. I don’t know if I’ll be a super fan as I can’t travel to playoffs anymore (part of why I’m retiring—sigh) but I’ll definitely be a fan. I’m looking forward to getting to yell in the audience. I’ll always cheer for team ref!

Images courtesy of Gil Leora and Jules Doyle