Zebras and Pink Shirts: The Unsung Heroes of Roller Derby

Bodies colliding and flying across the track, the crowd roaring and announcers calling out the action – these are all a part of the live experience of roller derby bouts. However, the action would be meaningless if there weren’t rules, regulations and the all-important points. That is where the zebras (the referees) and the Pink Shirts (non-skating officials) come in and make it a game.

A thankless job it is not! For the volunteer refs and NSOs, there’s so much that excites and motivates them to participate in the practices, meetings and bouts.  For some, it’s about knowing the importance of their roles to the league and the sense of responsibility. For others, it’s the empowerment in the community and in themselves.

“What excites me about derby is to be a part of the message that empowers the players no matter their economic social scale or body type,” said Referee Major Pain. “All of us can contribute to a team.”

Much like the skaters, derby officials come from all walks of life. Some were invited by mutual friends in the derby world, while others, like Providence’s Head NSO Martha, started as huge fans. “I saw a bout and was absolutely amazed by the level of athleticism of women in their own sport,” said Martha.

Even Referee Dr. Skatan, a comic book-tattooed family man, expresses his excitement with being part of the league. “I really have felt totally at home and make new friends all the time,” exclaimed Skatan. “I love how derby has enriched my life!”

For NSO MaxAperature, not only has he found something new he loves, but he has also further developed his hobby as a photographer at practices and events. “(Being) an NSO has given me the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and do some new things, and it helps motivate me to do more and to better myself,” said MaxAperature.

Like all jobs, it does come with its challenges in and out. Most of them can be reduced to one word: multi-tasking. Calling the penalties, holding up the points scored, marking down the numbers and maintaining the clock are just the basics for officials. Managing life is pretty similar. They all have families, full-time jobs and hobbies. With the combined effort of league members and other volunteer staff, it becomes less of a stress on personal lives and more of a fulfilling experience.

As Martha’s right hand, NSO Schadenfrieda not only loves the responsibility, but lets her fellow skaters know how thankful she is. “Knowing the league needs us and appreciates us makes it all worthwhile!”

If you are interested in being a roller derby referee or NSO for PRD, go to providencerollerderby.com

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