Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Thoughts from a fan, geek, volunteer and [occasional] staff dude

Alright, I was going to wait until JeLLyPiG wrote up his always fantastic Post-Mortem of the bout, but I find myself unable to hold my tongue (or typing fingers) any longer.

I basically have three points I want to make, and I'll try to do so in as respectful a manner as possible, but I gotta say there have been some things a brewin', largely in the peripheral derby community, that I find utterly disgusting, and I can't let that stuff stand without expressing my own opinion.

Point 1: The RCR officiating crew (refs, stats, auxiliary staff) are top-to-bottom some of the best, most professional, and hard-working bunch you'd find anywhere in the derby world! Widen that out to the larger world of amateur sports in general, and I still doubt you'd find many who work harder or are more passionate and committed to their respective sports.

I've been a fan of roller derby since, oh about 2003, and I've always known RCR has a bunch of good refs, who are well-respected nationwide, doing a job that is difficult and complicated. Still, it wasn't until this year, when I got to see them working "from the other side" if you will, that I realized just how hard the job is. There are literally dozens of places where mistakes can be made, information being communicated can be lost, calls being missed or blown, rules interpretations must be brought to bear on new situations, and of course, there are "challenging" personalities (skater and fan alike) making an already tough job that much more difficult.

I make this point because, it has become almost commonplace for people to start lobbing insults and abuse, even after the game is over, at refs and other officials - and sometimes I think it goes over the line. I'm not saying don't be passionate about the sport you love (or in the case of skaters, the sport you play). I'm not even saying don't be critical, or disagree with the refs. What I AM saying is that I can't respect someone who is unable to articulate their feelings with a little respect.

Basically, if you think you can do a better job, then strap on some skates, set aside 25-30% of all your free time, and go be a ref. Lord knows they wouldn't turn you away! But be prepared to actually read those rules you like to bitch about. And make sure you attend the ref practices, meetings, and rules discussions. Don't even think about missing the countless hours of scrimmages in the league. Oh, and don't hold your breath thinking that anyone's gonna actually compensate you for your time!

Point 2: Sports are governed by rules. Roller Derby is a sport. Ergo, Roller Derby is governed by rules. YOU don't write the rules. I don't write the rules. Cheering fans of the Betties who pulled out a heroic victory over a High Rollers team that was about 2 minutes away from snatching away the 2009 Championship don't write the rules. Disjected, frustrated GnR fans who watched their team come unglued again don't write the rules. Skaters sent to the box don't write the rules.

Nevertheless, the game is governed by rules. You don't have to like all of them - lord knows I got a few I can't stand - but the rules are the rules. Athletes who play a sport must understand the rules. They don't have to like all of them any more than you or I do, but if they want to be successful, they had better put in the time to figure them out, and learn what the appropriate strategy for every given situation is.

There has been a lot of discussion recently over the "stopping on the track" strategy that we witnessed at the last bout, most of it vilifying the Heartless Heathers for implementing the tactic against the Guns 'n Rollers (oddly, no one seemed to mind when GnR did it against the High Rollers earlier this season. Or when the Wheels of Justice did it against Rat City, also this season).

I'm going to assume that you fully understand that what they did was LEGAL, and totally allowed under the rules that govern the sport (and it's arguably still allowed under the new 4.0 rules - I'll discuss that more in a future post). So why is anybody upset if the team broke no rules?

Is it because it's "boring"? Well, that's a subjective opinion, to which you're entitled to hold, but I have to disagree. I find it immensely satisfying to watch a team of blockers, in the heat of competition, synchronize their efforts by focusing all their hits on a single opponent, lock that opponent down with them, then drag her back away from her teammates, thus exerting control over the pack and effectively taking their opponents out of the game.

That is control. That is strategy. That doesn't come without practice and team chemistry. That is roller derby. Boring? Hardly, but we obviously are gonna have to agree to disagree.

So, let's say you think it's boring. Well, the good news for you is that you don't see it happen much. I couldn't confirm this without seeing the video, but I've heard it said that the Heathers employed the strategy 2-3 times in the last bout. Since the strategy really only makes sense when the opposing jammer is in the box, and penalties are only 1 minute, that means the most we saw was 3 minutes of this. Out of 60 minutes.

Think about that for a second. Are you really upset because you were "bored" for 3 out of 60 minutes? That's 5% of the game time! And I'm not counting the many team and official time outs, just the regulation bout time. To put that in perspective, do you realize that there are roughly 30-40 total jams in a bout, and that teams are allowed 30 seconds after each jam to line up (i.e. clock ticks, but no derby happens) - that means, conservatively, there are 15 out of 60 minutes (or 25%) where NOTHING happens. Do you think THAT is boring too?

I can't help but think there's something else going on here; something more behind all this "outrage". Especially when you understand that BOTH teams engaged in it, yet only one is being criticized.

Maybe you think it is "cheap", because you want to see them skating fast all the time. To that all I can say is, expand your horizons a bit. In the NBA there's this thing called the 24 second shot clock. That means that you can hold the ball in your hands and do nothing for 24 seconds before you have to give the ball to the other team. At the end of almost every game, if you've got the lead, that's exactly what you do. Is that "cheap"? In the NFL you're allowed 4 downs, with like 30 seconds to call a play on each down, before you turn the ball over. You know what happens when you're down to the final 2 minutes, have a lead, and you get the ball back? You don't call a play, you just kneel down over and over until the clock expires and the opposing team can do nothing. Is that cheap?

Alright, I really could go on and on even more about this, but I'll just quickly wrap up this point - if you are bitching about what you saw there are two things you should do. One: send WFTDA an email explaining what you do and don't want to see in future versions of the rules. Two: Grow the eff up!

Point 3: The Heartless Heathers are the greatest roller derby team in RCR, possibly the world. Not because they won the 2006 & 2008 Championships. Not because they were undefeated against 3 of the 4 teams in the league this year. Not for any accolade they've earned individually or as a team on the track.

In my opinion the Heathers are the greatest team because they embody everything I want to see in sports. They have skilled skaters, yet they are always trying to improve. They have strong new talents, but still have the guidance of experienced veterans who have logged more hours playing the sport than many have even wearing skates. They are a team that supports each other, but of equal importance they support the league and the greater derby community. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the league who works harder at the non-team stuff than the Heathers. Be it coaching and mentoring youth derby or the new recruit "Fresh Meat" or raising money for charities, the Heathers get it.

They're fierce competitors, surely, because that's what athletes do. But after the heat of the moment has passed, win or lose, they always give respect and love to their opponents. I've been able to witness the heights of their success, basking in the glory of their multiple championships, but I can honestly say that I've never seen them in higher spirits than when they congratulated the High Rollers who beat them both times in 2009 - a feat no other team could pull off even ONCE!

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, although I know the team has likely seen some angry, virulent stuff flung about in recent days - just know where it's coming from. And know too that your fans, friends, and family love you and support you.

So, thanks Heartless Heathers for a great 2009! Not without it's ups and downs to be sure, but wow what a ride! To those moving on, you will be missed and remember: Heathers POR VIDA means for life!

To those returning for next year, good luck in the off-season! I hope to share a drink and/or a laugh with you this summer, knowing you'll be back stronger than ever next year!


JeLLyPiG said...

First of all, Bravo Nader,

I have said that "I am fine with people not having the stomach for a bout", but there are lines.

Though I have yelled some horrible crap at Rob Lobster, had some colourful suggestions for Peril Lust (never was a fan when she donned the stripes) and have been downright nasty to JudgeMental from the stands...that shit stays in the stands. The Ref's have a tough, thankless job.

As for the usual brouhaha about "stopping", well I am not a fan of the strategy. But then again, I hate "Run and Gun" basketball, the ground rule double and taxes. They seem to work and until rules change their effectiveness, we'll have to live with them.

One thing that you touch on is it requires the right circumstances to even be used. If you don't want to see it used against you, don't end up in those circumstances. Duh!

As for the "Post Mortem" or lack there of, I did in fact write a pathetic recap. It lacked my usual fan passion and perspective. I passed it to the Coroner with a note that read "I ain't feel'n it".

I tried something new and it failed. Because of the conversations about "stats", I used these bouts to experiment with tracking stats. What a colossal pain in the ass! I left the bouts with great numbers and no real feel for the bout because instead of watching positioning and stances, I was concerned about writing something down. I will recap again but with my usual half assed thoughts and recollections as my only resource.

HPMFV to Y'all!

the_mad_nader said...

JeLLyPiG, you know I used to write bout recaps for the first 2 RCR seasons on a blog I used to have and it got soooo tiring to try and keep the stats and everything accurate that I just said "screw it" I'll just watch the game and have fun instead. Eventually I spent so much time taking notes I started feeling disconnected from the bout I was watching. I think many of the recaps that are full of jam-by-jam detail end up being kinda misleading when they try to capture what "really happened".

Recapping the bout with your impressions, as both you and The Coroner have done so well in the past, is way more entertaining in my opinion.

On the "stopping" strategy, I'm not arguing that you (or anyone) should love watching it. But I'd be more angry if my team DIDN'T implement the appropriate strategy for the circumstances.

Kinda like Hack-a-Shaq in the NBA (immediately fouling a guy before they can even get a play off). Learn to shoot a freakin' free throw and you kill that strategy. Likewise, keep your jammer out of the box, and if she does get whistled out then get your blockers to all stick together and fight there way to the front of the pack.

The Coroner said...

Points well taken on all three counts, Nader, especially that third one. Thank you.

I, for one, am looking forward to a derbyless July. Normally, I would be excitedly anticipating a trip to Seattle to see AoA at the Key Arena, but I'm feeling some savage burnout, particularly after the peripheral crapfest of this week.

I really enjoyed both bouts on Saturday, and feel congratulations are in order for all of the teams, and thanks are due to all staff, volunteers and officials. I was glad that Rocko Billy's contribution was acknowledged, and certainly do miss his announcing.

Anyway, we might think of doing an informal meet-up, maybe in a few weeks, for any Cadavers and Heathers who want to get together and shoot the shit, at some centrally located, spacious pub. Rogue is a natural choice, since they're gracious sponsors. Lucky Lab would also be good, since it's so relaxed and roomy.

Best to all. Have a good weekend.

Ruby Bruiseday said...

Just read the fall-out on Elwood's myspace...wish I hadn't. Really? WTF? Thanks for not being fair-weather fans. Thanks for understanding strategy. Thanks for realizing EVERY sport has 'douchy' rules. I remember 'drawing' offsides when I played soccer...douchy, yes. But smart teams learn to counter the play of their opponents. It sure is easy to stop on the track when the 'trapped' skater stops skating. A lot harder when that 'trapped' skater is smart enough to keep moving their feet, fall back and 'jam' through the pack, or their team comes to help them.

Is it sport or spectacle? And why all the hate? Classic propaganda-scapegoating and bandwagon jumping.

Cheers HHPV.

Ruby said...

My 'smart enough' comment could have been read as a passive aggressive jab at GnR. It was not meant to be. They played an amazing game.

It was a general statement about teams I have played and watched. If the 'trapped' skater stops moving their feet, the pack can come to a halt. It sucks being trapped, I know from being stuck behind a wall of opposing blockers, but I always try to keep moving. The pack has to move some if you are juking, speeding up, and moving laterally. Simple as that.

I just don't want to contribute to the hate so felt I should clarify.

missuspeasea said...

"I basically have three points I want to make, and I'll try to do so in as respectful a manner as possible"

Point 1:

There are absolutely good refs in RCR's league but it only takes ONE bad one to ruin a game. It blows to see a team win or lose based on bad reffing rather than how the team played. Not even saying that's happened; but it could.
I think it would suck to be on a team of good refs with one bad apple b/c you know what they say about bad apples: one bad one spoils the bunch, meaning I'd hate to think the entire reffing crew was thought of as bad just because one person makes poor calls. I'm hoping that by telling them about the bad one, they will help him improve.

"But be prepared to actually read those rules you like to bitch about."
That quote seems to violate your effort to be respectful.

"What I AM saying is that I can't respect someone who is unable to articulate their feelings with a little respect."
It's ironic that you write this yet claim at the beginning of the post that even you have to "try" to remain respectful.

"Basically, if you think you can do a better job, then strap on some skates, set aside 25-30% of all your free time, and go be a ref."
I would love to ref but my work schedule prohibits it. I'd never wear strap-on skates, they're cheap.

"Oh, and don't hold your breath thinking that anyone's gonna actually compensate you for your time!"
It's a good rule of thumb to never expect anything when volunteering. As a matter of fact, I think it might even be included in the definition. Did someone tell them it was a paid position. If that's the case, we should get to the bottom of it before it happens again.

missuspeasea said...

Point 2:

"Disjected, frustrated GnR fans who watched their team come unglued again"
I'm certain this is disrespectful to, does this mean you don't respect yourself b/c you're being disrespectful? B/c how could anyone possibly take you seriously if that were the case? You have to respect yourself before others will respect you.

"(oddly, no one seemed to mind when GnR did it against the High Rollers earlier this season. Or when the Wheels of Justice did it against Rat City"
Are you sure that really happened? I think you could be mistaken about this b/c any team that does it makes for a duller game (in my stupid, wrong opinion) & I would have been pissed then, too.

"So why is anybody upset if the team broke no rules?"
I don't care if it was legal or not. It's boring beyond belief & makes me feel I wasted my time & money. And, yes, that's a subjective opinion that I'm entitled to hold as is your disagreeing w/ it. You actually seem to know why people are upset, so why ask the question? B/c you want to say things you perhaps thought no one else as genius as yourself has thought of? And, of course, to defend the team the you love from all of the folks that don't like that type of play. I'm pretty sure no one is going to hate anybody on the Heathers' team for it. Is that a concern?
I don't think you're going to be able to change anyone's mind about it being boring just because it's legal. Boring's boring & legality doesn't change that.
Another reason could be this: Some people don't like that rule & are going to bitch about it. We will be heard & something will be done about it----4.0. If we just internalized our displeasure, everybody would think everything was just hunky-dory; but what would really be happening is that we just aren't saying anything about it being boring & we are going to decide not to spend our time or money on watching boring derby. See how that works?
Surely the Heathers have thought something needed to be changed, say, in the league in the past & surely they voiced their displeasure. Bravo to them.

"Do you think THAT is boring too?"
Who cares? No one's complaining about it SO IT MUST BE ACCEPTABLE AND, THEREFORE, NO CHANGE IS NEEDED.

"I can't help but think there's something else going on here; something more behind all this "outrage". Especially when you understand that BOTH teams engaged in it, yet only one is being criticized."
Do you think there's a conspiracy b/c I love conspiracies. What do you think it is?

"Maybe you think it is "cheap", because you want to see them skating fast all the time. To that all I can say is, expand your horizons a bit."
Why should I? If I want fast all the time, which I find to be much more fun to watch, then why should I compromise? Pardon me, but I don't give two rat's asses what other sports do. And I don't see why I should.

"if you are bitching about what you saw there are two things you should do. One: send WFTDA an email explaining what you do and don't want to see in future versions of the rules. Two: Grow the eff up!"
I did my part! I emailed WFTDA & told them how dull the last HH/GNR game was & why! Something tells me that may not be necessary: Because there was such an overwhelming dislike of the 'strategy', & the overwhelming responses VOICED to the league, I think the league should do the requesting on our behalf. Sure, we could also, but if the league thinks that attendance would be better if the rule was changed then it only makes sense for them to do so also.
Again, I think you're being disrespectful when you emphatically state the need to grow up. Get control of yourself, man.

missuspeasea said...

"So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, although I know the team has likely seen some angry, virulent stuff flung about in recent days - just know where it's coming from. And know too that your fans, friends, and family love you and support you."
Do they feel like they aren't loved or supported? That was never the feeling I, personally, wanted to convey. It was the 'strategy' used, not the team that did it. Will you pass that along to them; it was certainly not meant to be personal.

George said...

I don't have any complaints whatsoever regarding the pace of the game or the slowing of the pack to a crawl. As it has been stated here many times, "them's the rules". As a matter of fact, I actually like to see this strategy employed and applaud the use of it. I'm glad that it's here to stay in 4.0, and my letter to the WFTDA in support of this strategy cancels your letter out, missmenopausea.

DancingScott said...

A question regarding the "standing still" strategy...

I know that right after the infamous HH/GNR bout - when there were all the complaints from skaters/sponsors/audience - there was some sort of RCR meeting about it. From bits of information I heard - and from the conspicuous absence of the strategy afterwards - my assumption is that there had been some sort of "informal agreement" to stop using the strategy, even though technically it was allowed by the rules.

Can anyone confirm whether this was the case?

Slaybia Majora said...

The strategy was discussed by the league as well as at a captains meeting. Since it was within the rules of the game it was not banned from RCR play.

One of the reason's that you might not have seen it was due to the difficulty of pulling it off. In order to trap an opposing player and control the pack all 4 blockers must work in unison - if one goes astray you lose the pack. Also as Ruby stated if the player you are trapping fights back and jams through you cannot control the pace of the pack with as much ease and they stand a better chance of getting away.

It is basically one of those strategies that requires a lot things to fall into place. If it were easier to pull it would be happening constantly rather than in just 2 or 3 jams like in the last bout.

On a historical note in regards to fans and skaters reactions to new strategies and how they affect game play there have been a lot that have either been removed by new rule sets or eventually accepted as part of the game. The 2 that stand out to me are the "Run Away Pussy" and the "Grab Your Points and Call It".

Portland first saw "Run Away Pussy" in RCR's 1st season. Basically since the rule set at the time did not have a clear pack defenition if your jammer was in the box you could as a team try to out sprint the opposing jammer so she could not collect points on you. Fans and skaters alike did not enjoy the strategy as it turned the game into a race. The next ruleset came out which better defined the pack and thus made the strategy illegal.

"Grab Your Points and Call It" was developed when the rules made it easier for jammers to get lead jammer status. In the 1st season of RCR lead jammer status was a rare sight since you had to pass all opposing blockers legally the first time - fans got used to 2 minute jams since no one was able to call them off. When the rules were adjusted it made it easier to gain lead jammer status since jammers were allowed to drop back and repass blockers legally that they had just passed illegally and still be able to get lead. This caused a jump in the amount of jams that had a lead jammer and teams began calling off jams when they had scored more than the other jammer. Fans did not like this at first since they were used to 2 minute jams with high point totals. Eventually though the fans got used to it and you can now see people in the audience telling their team to call it off once they got their 4 points.

Derby is dynamic and in its infancy as a sport. From rule set to rule set it will evolve and the game will change until 10 years from now when they find the perfect balance of rules to make skaters and fans happy. We all must be patient with the rules, with strategies, with the evolution of the game - and most importantly with one another. it is hard I know but derby utopia will be achieved hopefully within our lifetimes.

DancingScott said...

Slaybia, thank you very much for your explanation of some of the evolution of rules and strategies. Even though I've only missed two home games since the very first exhibition bout (I still have my program with K.C. Carr on the cover!) I haven't paid a lot of attention to rules/strategies until this season.

Do you happen to know about the reasoning behind the 20-foot rule? (which I don't recall being in place at the beginning). My idea has been that without that rule a blocker can pursue a jammer endlessly, so there has to be a definite point where the ref can declare "she made it through! leave her alone!"

Yeah, every change is likely to delight some people and offend others. Personally, I've enjoyed seeing strategies that lead to a more intelligent and exciting game. I'm definitely one of those fans that yells things like "Call the Jam!" and "Split the Pack!" even though I'm sure nobody can hear me.

George said...

Hey, I know that this is off topic, but I’m going to the July 17th hangar bout against Carolina! Yep, there are only ten seats available, and my skinny little ass is gonna be in one of them! Eat your heart out, peasants!

JeLLyPiG said...


That's just mean! You shouldn't be rubbing their noses in it...gloating like that. I guess I will have to give you a stern talking to...maybe at the bout. ^_~

Anonymous said...

So happy I'll get to see you guys there on the jammer line.


DancingScott said...

I'm not gloating, but I myself will also be there on 7/17, yelling my lungs out. Since each of us is representing approximately 40 fans that couldn't be there, we will all have to yell REALLY LOUD.

JeLLyPiG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JeLLyPiG said...

I had pledged to wear where my Carolina Rollergirls shirt if I won tickets. At least 1/10th of the crowd would appear to be rooting for them.

Now I hope it's a cool day because it's long sleeved.

Viagrrrrr said...

WTF?? how'd you guys happen to win the raffle?? I swear it was fixed! Anyone want a date? YOu can be my "guest" at the Rat City game in the Key Arena. That ticket is still open.....

DancingScott said...

My odds of winning a raffle ticket were pretty good, since I bought 35,000 tickets.

JeLLyPiG said...

I was wondering how many you bought Dancing Scott. Kanna, George and I compared notes at the Rainy City bout...between us we had 2/3rd of the sold tickets. (which wasn't much)

Shame on YOU Rose City Fans!!! As punishment you need to go get your car washed, July 25th @ VooDoo Too!

DancingScott said...

I think I bought the other third. I agree with JeLLyPiG...

You "fans" call yourselves FANS????

Repent for your sins...go to the car wash and PAY TILL IT HURTS.

George said...

"Anyone want a date?"

Now, more than ever, I wish that I had an extra ticket!!! Why didn't I buy more raffle tickets?