My good friend Rich Z, professionally known as Nixon Kutz, was kind enough to send me his interview about what it’s like to be a Roller Derby Referee just in time for Causal Friday. Woo hoo!
The sport of women’s roller derby has been around for almost 100 years with few changes to the “flat track” rules since the 1930s. One of the first promoters of roller derby was sportswriter Damon Runyon, who is best known for writing the short stories that were later adapted for the musical “Guys and Dolls” — and, of course, for inspiring the term “Runyonesque”.
Although the popularity of professional women’s roller derby has waxed and waned throughout the years, it has remained one of the few women’s contact sports (besides “jello wrestling”) that has entered the popular culture — iconic enough to even be featured on VH1’s Rock of Love 2 reality show last season.
But what it is like to officiate at a sports event that races around a track at 20 miles per hour and has a vibe somewhere between the X-Games and rubgy? Is it fun? Is it dangerous? Do the crowds really go wild when someone goes down? (Editor’s Note: Nixon Kutz asked me to tell you this in answer to these questions: “ Yes, it is dangerous, people do get hurt. Is it fun? Hell Yeah! The crowd doesn’t go wild when someone goes down, they go wild when they see a well placed, hard hitting block executed!”)
Let’s find out about the wild world of roller derby from Nixon Kutz:
When people ask you “what do you do?” how do you describe your job?
Well one of the things I do, outside of my regular profession, is I am a women’s flat track roller derby referee. Actually, I am the head referee for the Morristown Madams. They are the flagship team for the Western Jersey Outlaw League. My duties are overseeing the other 6 referees necessary to a roller derby bout, interfacing with the statisticians and score board operator, along with also watching the action on the track. There are times when it feels like I am a cat herder.
What are the things about your job that you love?
I enjoy the fact that it is somewhere between an amateur sport and a professional sport. The true meaning of sports-person-ship is alive and well in this sport. These women go at it tooth-and-nail when they are on the track, but off the track there is a level of camaraderie not always witnessed in other sports. On top of the fact I am a third generation quad skater and love to skate.
What are the things about your job that you hate?
When I am officiating a bout it is hard not to root for the ladies when they make an awesome move or put a hard hit on the other team. It would not look good for me to be yelling ‘YEAH!” when I am doing my best to be an impartial judge.
That is easy just show up and volunteer. I started about 1 year ago in April of ’07 and the next month I was chosen to be head referee. It basically involves reading and understanding the rules and how the game is played.
What is the funniest story you can think of that involves your professional training or your job?
It was when I was a guest referee for another New Jersey league’s bout. At the end of the bout I was off to the side talking with my girlfriend and this young woman, who had been a spectator, walked up and asked if it was ok for her boyfriend to take a picture of me and her. She said I was her favorite referee. I never really saw myself in that light; I always thought it was about the ladies on the track.