Roller derby bouts are played five-on-five. At the same time, six skating officials and 12 non-skating officials keep track of the score and penalties and, in the case of the skating officials, supervise the action.
Seems like a lot of people involved, no? Consider the number of officials overseeing a football game, the scoreboard and clock operator, and the statisticians. Competitive sports don't exist without the support staff behind the game - after all, it keeps play going.
The writer of this piece spends Saturday, July 20, volunteering for the Tsunami Sirens in their home bout against the Red Bluff Derby Girls. He dresses simply and neutrally - jeans and a black T-shirt - and assumes the nom-de-derby "Chapstick." It was initially coined by Siren Ana "Autopsy'ana" Jaime, giving it the credence that a self-appointed moniker would not have.
Who are these non-skating officials? They are friends and relatives of Sirens, or just interested individuals. They are all volunteers. And they do it, largely, to be involved with a sport they love in one way or another.
Most of the non-skating officials have little experience on skates, but some derby players contribute to the effort. Kat "Medical Mayhem" Conrad, a Tsunami Siren who has yet to compete due to injury, volunteers to help with the Red Bluff bout as an NSO.
"I did the gauntlet (a skating drill that the Sirens are required to pass before competing) with a broken right ankle," Conrad says. "I didn't know. It didn't really hurt."
Conrad has been assigned to monitor the jammers, the players who score points by passing the opposing team's skaters.
"I'm impressed with our jammers," Conrad says. "That's a lot of energy to (expend) in two minutes. Push your way through the crowd, fall down, get back up."
Two hours before the bout begins, head non-skating official Andrew "Pork-Chop Express" Bascochea assigns the writer to a simple task - setting up the penalty board. Much of the set-up for the bout has been completed 48 hours prior - the chairs for the audience have been laid out, and the lines of the track have been freshly taped - but Bascochea and others arrive three hours in advance of the bout's 6:30 p.m. start time to set up the scoring and penalty stations.
The penalty board is a little smaller than the whiteboards built into the walls at Del Norte High School. The crowd cannot see the board; it faces the benches of both teams - located side by side, with a buffer space - and tracks the major penalties that each skater commits and the nature of the violations.
It's a deceptively difficult task to prepare the penalty board for action. The writer begins filling in the skaters' numbers when a referee taps him on the shoulder and tells him that the numbers should follow numerical order, from top to bottom. Oops.
So the writer fixes the penalty board, and then fields questions about his assignment for the bout. "The penalty board," he tells everyone.
Non-skating official Teri "Teri The Torturer" Davis checks in with Chapstick regarding his actual assignment: the penaltybox. So much for manning the board.
Davis hands the writer a clipboard and two stopwatches. The writer, she explains, must record when Tsunami Sirens enter the penalty box and serve their duration. (Penalties usually require a minute-long stay in the box, but a player can stay two or more minutes with a severe infraction. Referees may also decide to eject a player from the bout.)
Davis is one of three NSOs in the penalty box, including the writer. The third is Stephanie "Lez Cruise" Kirk of Redding, a member of the Red Bluff Derby Girls who, like Conrad, had yet to compete for her squad. (It is not uncommon for injured skaters or team NSOs to travel with the roller derby squad.)
Kirk started skating with the derby girls "two and a half months ago" and aspires to compete with the team next month.
"I went to practice and started getting involved with it," Kirk says."
Kirk's 6-year-old daughter, Jadyn, is learning to skate as well, Kirk says. That is on a temporary hiatus, as Jadyn suffered a broken arm in a recent skating accident.
"She's our little derby girl," Kirk said.
The penalty box is really a half-dozen chairs placed in front of the DJ booth in the southwest corner of the Del Norte County Fairgrounds main building. It offers a good view of the unfolding action.
And the writer sees a lot of it. Kirk gets busy as two, even three Derby Girls are sent to the penalty box early on.
The Sirens play a comparatively clean game. Bridget "Killa B" Lacey is the first Siren into the penalty box, after more than five minutes of the 30-minute first half have been played. The Sirens would lead 164-11 after the first half, committing just seven penalties - the more blockers stay on the floor, the more obstacles the Red Bluff jammers have to overcome.
The first half comes to an abrupt end when a Derby Girl collides with Siren Adrianna "Full Metal Jackie" Stefko and crumples to the hard cement floor of the flat track.
All the skaters take a knee, including Stefko, once she winds her way to the penalty box. She explains the collision from her point of view - the Red Bluff skater dipped her head before impact - and clears the air with another Derby Girl. The two shake hands afterward. No harm was meant, but Stefko is left to dwell, at least momentarily, on the incident in the penalty box.
Red Bluff contemplates a forfeit of the bout but decides to play the second half, and the action picks up for Chapstick. Sirens begin to enter the penalty box in pairs, forcing the writer to keep close track of the penalties.
The only hiccup in the proceedings is making sure the stopwatches start and stop accordingly. If they do not, the writer adds or subtracts seconds as needed to reasonably approximate one minute's time. Never once does the writer truly lose his place, and for that he is fortunate.
On the flat track, the Sirens continue to skate with intensity and drive while holding an insurmountable lead. The Sirens eventually beat Red Bluff 280-81, one of the best results in the team's three-year history.
The writer approaches Bascochea after the game, as the head NSO enjoys a postgame meal.
"How did I do?" Chapstick asks.
"How did you do ... how did you do? I didn't see," Bascochea replies.
"I think I did awesome," the writer says.
"Okay then," Bascochea says. "I think you think you did awesome."
Reach Robert Husseman email@example.com.