How did you come to play derby?
It’s an old story, I guess, because I think a lot of women get hooked on derby the same way. I went to watch a bout and said, “I could do this.” Days later I had skates on, something I hadn’t done since I was a teenager. By the end of that session I was doing crossovers again. A couple of months after that I bought my first set of derby skates. I became a regular at Wednesday open skate sessions and met a lot of the girls who were in the league and others who were also signed up for training camp that summer.
I went through training camp and started league practices. During one of the first few practices, I fell and hit my head. I just caught one skate on the other and went down hard, face first. I wound up with a Grade IV concussion and I wasn’t able to enter the draft pool that year. But I got to be part of the inaugural Queens Court.
Because of that injury, which gave me the biggest, craziest-looking black eye ever, I am known as the Helmet Nazi. I am always fixing helmets whether it’s a new skater or a veteran skater. My injury would have been much, much worse if I hadn’t had my helmet on properly.
That was a pretty serious injury. Did you consider not returning at that point?
Not at all. People asked me that question a lot but my answer was always the same: “Why wouldn’t I go back? It’s derby. I like it.” And, it’s not as if I was hit by someone. It was a total accident. I just fell.
I learned a valuable lesson from the accident. The real cause of it was that I wasn’t present in what I was doing. I had had a bad day at work and I was thinking about that. I got distracted and that’s when I fell. This is something that I tell new people when I see they are struggling. I pull them aside and tell them to take a deep breath. I tell them, “Your day is out there and it’s going to be out there when you’re done. Right now think about your feet. That’s all. Just your feet. This is the time to think about derby and derby only.”
When you take on your derby name, it’s the chance to turn off that other person. When I’m Boo, I’m no longer “Cathy.” I get to be whoever I want to be when I’m Boo. It’s when I get to focus on what I can do instead of what has been done to me.
How did you get into reffing?
The first year I started skating, I was injured and wasn’t eligible to be drafted. I spent that next year skating in Queens Court and working on the merch committee. I went through another training camp that summer and went into the draft again. I didn’t get picked by a team. I loved volunteering in the merch committee, but I wanted to skate and learn more about the game. I went to ShockHer and asked if he would consider letting me become a ref and he said, “Absolutely.” And so I became part of the Zebra Huddle. Well, I like to call them the Buffalo Herd now since our logo has the buffalo head.
The first season I skated as a referee, I was an outside pack ref. By the end of that year, because of injuries, we only had five full-time refs. So I got to skate at every home bout and was able to learn the rules and a lot of strategy.
While you were reffing, did you continue to skate with the Queens Court as well?
Yes, I was still skating with Queens Court. Because I had the reffing experience, I was able to help the new girls learn the rules. I would ref during scrimmages or drills, sometimes, too. It’s hard to learn to skate, learn to play and learn the rules all at the same time.
At one point, when the Queens Court team (called the Baby Brawlers) was getting ready to go to bout Enchanted Mountain Roller Derby in Olean, I asked the refs to come to Queens Court to call penalties. We also arranged for production to come, too, and set up so that the girls could see what it was going to be like to skate on a taped track.
One time we set up a scrimmage where the Court played against a team of league skaters. One of my scariest moments was when I was in a line against Lipservice, CU~T and Busty Pipes. But at the end of it, even though we lost, we were incredibly proud. First of all, we survived it. But more importantly, we managed to score 50 points against a team that consisted of a lot of Furies players.
So that second year, you had to choose between reffing and trying out for a team yet again?
Yes. That summer I made the decision to go into the draft pool again. I loved reffing, but I really wanted to play. But I didn’t get picked again. At the end of the night ShockHer and Anita Doobie came over to me and said that it didn’t matter that none of the other teams picked me, they said, “We pick you.”
How did that year go?
It was a phenomenal year for the ref team. At one point we had ten refs on skates. We only had a couple of bouts where we had to bring in guest refs because of injuries and conflicting Furies games. We have a very strong ref team. Skating a whole season together gave everyone a chance to move around and see what positions they liked. I was an outside pack ref my first year and this year I was able to be an inside pack ref. When you get to work different positions you learn more, and the more you learn the better ref you become. And we’ve all gotten a chance to guest ref with other local leagues as well. After guest reffing I always come back with an appreciation for QCRG. We have an excellent group of refs, NSOs and volunteers.
I would love to challenge every skater to come and spend a scrimmage skating as a ref. When you are reffing you don’t get to think about your feet at all. You spend your entire time watching that pack. You don’t have time to look around for obstacles. You see refs take each other out all of the time. They are too busy looking at the pack to pay attention to who is next to them or behind them.
Tell us about the process you through while learning to be a ref.
The hardest part is reading the rules because they are not written in a way that is very clear. Although refs are known for black and white, sometimes the rules seem pretty gray. The best part of being a ref is watching footage with your team and breaking down the play. You might think that you completely understand the rules until you discuss them with the other refs and get other opinions.
This year we spent a lot of time on our board having scenarios posed to us. We had to come up with the correct call for various plays, explain why and reference back to the specific rule. People probably don’t realize how much time a ref spends off skates with our head in a book or watching footage.
Sometimes during a bout, you only see the result of a play, for example: a pile of players on the floor. I can’t ethically make a call because I didn’t see the cause of it. The crowd could be going absolutely nuts that I didn’t make any call. But my personal philosophy, and the philosophy of the entire ref team, is that we don’t make a call if we don’t see it. You can only call what’s in front of you. This year my view of the game was the back of the pack. So there might be a point where the crowd goes crazy because of something that happened with the jammers outside of the engagement zone. But I don’t see it. I’m watching where I’m supposed to be: the back of the pack. If you have seven refs, each of us is watching the specific part we are supposed to watch. That makes up a full view of a bout. My portion is just what is in front of me. If someone falls and is behind the pack I have to stay with them. Then I don’t have any view of the pack. I am only watching the one player who is behind. It’s to keep them honest so if the jammer is coming up they don’t take an unfair shot.
It sounds like refs and skaters alike are very focused on their jobs while bouting.
I think so. I have to say that I don’t remember anything from the Championship game. I remember making calls. I remember seeing things happen. But during a game I can’t tell you who is winning or losing. I am focused on that two minutes of jam time. I don’t know who the jammers are because I am a pack ref. Sometimes I can tell you who is in that pack but most of the time skaters are just a color and a number. And I don’t care what color or number is out there. I am watching what the skaters are doing from their feet to their head.
Right before the first whistles blow I turn to the person next to me and always say, crud, I have to go to the bathroom. It’s that nervous energy right before the bout starts. But it only takes one loop around the track for everything to fall away. I don’t hear the music, I don’t hear the crowd. I don’t know if there are sponsors in the audience. I don’t hear the announcers. I focus on the six other whistles, whoever is at the front of the pack and whoever is coming up behind me as a jammer ref. And everything else completely fades away.
How did you become the Sponsorship Chair?
The first season I volunteered with the merch committee. The next year I became the archival secretary for the league. I still worked on merch and I also helped with our Facebook page, training and events. Then, last year, Little Sprout asked me to help her with the Sponsorship Committee. At first I wasn’t sure, but then I realized that there really wasn’t much difference between standing at a booth and saying “t-shirts are $15” to walking up to someone and asking, “Have you heard about derby?”
I love derby and I love what it has done for me and I love to share that so it made sense to help attract new businesses to help keep the league growing.
Early that fall Sprout realized that she wouldn’t be able to put in the amount of time for the Chair position and she asked me if I wanted to do it. This was right before the league meeting/job fair. I said yes without much thought and then went to the booth to help sign up people.
As the new Chair you had to hit the ground running, didn’t you?
Right away we had to sell ads for the yearbook. I looked at who had been supporting our league as well as other businesses that were connected to our league through skaters or friends. The original goal was eight pages but the committee wound up selling 16 pages. I am proud of all of the hard work the committee (of four people) did to sell those ads.
And then, Jason, the league COO, set a goal of selling $5,000 in sponsorships. We brought on Martinsville Emporium who is a sponsor and a ticket outlet. And one of my personal goals was to find a transportation sponsor for the Furies. It took a while but we eventually sold Joe Cecconi Chrysler on it. And though we didn’t bring in $10,000 in cash (which was my personal goal), we brought in over $6,000 and much more through in-kind type sponsorships.
How do you approach a sponsor?
We try to bring potential sponsors to a bout. We do that before we talk about any kind of sponsorship package. We let them see and experience all of it: the skating and the crowd. They see bread being thrown and the couch being raffled. They hear Mighty Taco over and over because of skaters going into the penalty box. They see the girls walking around in the Cats Like Us outfits. It makes it easier to sell. And really, I don’t see it as selling. It’s a way for me to share the love I have for the sport and this league with other people.
So what has derby done for you?
It’s given me a confidence I forgot that I had. It’s something I can’t imagine not having. I feel like I have 160+ people I can count on if I need something. And it’s even more than that because there are people who have retired who are still friends. And I know that even if derby disappeared tomorrow, these people would still be in my life.
I love being part of the Court. I love all the new girls who still have that derby high. Their enthusiasm for the sport and the league keeps mine up.
And I love being a ref, too. It has been amazing for me to have the support of that team over the last couple of years. I probably would have walked away from derby at some point if it wasn’t for them. They allow me to be who I am and push me to be better while accepting me with all my faults – you can’t say that about everyone in your life but you can say it about your derby family.