For the past 7 months, I’ve been volunteering with the local women’s roller derby league, the Cherry City Derby Girls, as a non-skating official (NSO). NSOs are responsible for a variety of tasks at bouts including score keeping, tracking penalties, time keeping… all the records management duties. This is distinct from the job of the skating officials (SOs or refs) whose role is to enforce the rules and ensure safety. Refs wear black and white striped shirts and are on skates. They carry and use whistles and call penalties. NSOs carry stopwatches and/or clipboards and wear… well, there is no sport-wide ‘uniform’ for NSOs. Some leagues use matching shirts, some leagues specify a color to wear (or avoid wearing), and one league I visited last weekend seemed to have no dress code at all for officials of the non-skating variety.

Something I am ever sensitive to is the development or perpetuation of arbitrary class distinctions. There are some who seem to view the role of the NSO as inferior to that of the refs. I’ve observed that many derby folks, NSOs, refs, and skaters alike, effectively devalue the work of NSOs by thinking , “Oh those tasks are easy. Anyone can learn to do them with just 5 minutes of instruction.” I’ve seen it stated on tournament applications, “If you aren’t selected to ref, would you be willing to work as an NSO instead?” I even had one Head NSO of a league tell me that NSOing has always been seen as a stepping-stone to reffing or being a team skater.

I tell you, NOBODY would say about reffing, “Oh that’s easy; I can teach you how to do that in 5 minutes.” I double dare you to find someone who would say, “If you aren’t selected as an NSO, would you be willing to ref instead?” And wouldn’t we consider it ridiculous to think that being a team skater is merely a stepping-stone to NSO work?

Here’s a blog post from someone who points out the value of NSOs. http://blog.fabulouslorraine.com/2013/05/just-nso.html?m=1

Happily, it looks like attitudes are evolving. WFTDA (the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) has recently implemented a certification system for NSOs to mirror a similar procedure that already existed for SOs. I’m confident that in a year or two, many refs who aren’t selected to work a given tournament won’t meet the required qualifications to work as an NSO. By emphasizing the need for specific training and experience, WFTDA is taking steps to demonstrate how important the work of NSOs is. I find this encouraging.

I consider all of us to be part of a team. Skaters, refs, NSOs, coaches, and other volunteers all have different roles and each is needed to get the job done. I feel fortunate that my league has demonstrated that it values all its members.