Featured Official: GeogREFer

This month’s featured skater is from the Buffalo Herd.  GeogREFer joined QCRG in 2015.  He learned basic skating skills and derby rules in boot camp.  Since then, he has become a valued member of the Herd, both on and off skates.  Geo, as his league mates call him, mostly contributes to the league as an on-skates referee, although he has experience as a Non Skating Official as well.  In addition to officiating games for QCRG, Geo has traveled to many leagues to help out with both games and tournaments.  He has experience as a player, as he was a jammer for Rochester’s Flour City Fear men’s team.  GeogREFer has worked very hard as an official, and has a huge passion for the game.   He has worked tirelessly to continue improving his skating skills and knowledge of the rules.  

Where are you originally from?

I am originally from Hilton, New York, which is outside of Rochester.

What is your day job?

I’m a geographer.  I am a LiDAR technician for an aerial imagery company.  We have planes that have lasers in them, and these lasers shoot ground and then produce a ground model.  I go through and I make sure that what is identified as ground is actually ground and not a tree or building or car or something.   I’m a guy that sits in front of a computer all day looking at dots.

Photo by C.K. Photographic Systems
Photo by C.K. Photographic Systems

What is the story behind your derby name?

Before I started skating, I was trying to come up with a derby name. I was in grad school at the time. Referelli was going to be my name, but I wasn’t completely sold on it.  I was sitting in the my office and I had all of these maps around me.  I looked at my degree on the wall and then GeogREFer just came to me.  That’s been my name ever since.

I did not feel it was appropriate to have “ref” in a name I was playing under, so I came up with something different. I originally was Jean Luc Hits-hard, like Jean Luc Picard from Star Trek, because I’m a huge nerd.  I later became a big fan of Hamilton the musical, so I now play under Alexander Slamilton.

What is your favourite ref position?

I am most comfortable with Outside Pack Ref* (OPR) because that’s where I learned.  But jam reffing is probably my favourite.  As a jam ref, you have one job, which is to pay attention to what happens to your jammer, so there’s more of a defined scope.  Whereas with OPR and  Inside Pack Ref (IPR)*, you’re looking at everything at once. When jam reffing, you’re calling the things that happen to your jammer, so it helps you focus.

*There are (ideally) seven referees for every roller derby game.  These refs have four different positions:

Inside Pack Ref (IPR): This ref is located in the center of the track and pays attention to penalties that occur in the pack. In most cases, the Rear IPR is in charge of defining the pack. Rear IPR in most cases is occupied by the Head Ref (HR) for the game.

Head Ref (HR): The HR is located on the inside of the track, usually in the rear IPR position. They are the captains of the ref crew. They will be present at the captains meeting prior to the game, and will have the final say on all official reviews.

Jam Ref (JR): There are two jam refs for every game.  There is one designated for each jammer.  They usually will switch teams at the half.

Photo by C.K. Photographic Systems
Photo by C.K. Photographic Systems

Outside Pack Ref (OPR): There are three outside pack refs.  They are the refs located on the outside of the track.  They look for pack penalties as well as helping the JRs by tracking jammers that are near the outside line where it can be hard for them to see.

You have a lot of experience traveling to other leagues.  You’ve officiated some tournaments and games. This has allowed you to work with a variety of leagues.  How are they different from QCRG?   What have you learned from these experiences?

Every league has a different style. This is true more so in the United States than in Canada. If you work with a ref who is from smaller town in the US, they might be more set in their ways. They think, “This is the way that we do it, and it’s the only way that it’s supposed to be done.”  This is a different way of thinking than I have experienced in most of my travels around the region. The refs in Southern Ontario/Buffalo/Rochester work well together and are used to helping each other out. They have a very good rapport, and they are not very stuck in their ways and are ready, willing and able to help newer refs come up through the ranks.  My biggest takeaway from all the traveling I have done since I started skating is to not be too hard on myself, but at the same time, strive to be better.

We are also very lucky at QCRG because we are close to a lot of high level referees who come to visit us for games. Even if I didn’t travel, refereeing here has allowed me to learn about how high level derby is supposed be officiated.

What is the craziest thing that has ever happened during a game?

That’s easy.  As a ref, when a game is close, I always joke, “We are going overtime!” But it never happens.  It is the unicorn of derby.  I was refereeing a men’s game, Flour City Fear vs. Casco Bay, in Rochester.  It was the last game of a triple header.  To help set the scene,  it was 80 degrees with high humidity, so the last thing we wanted was the final game to go to an OT jam.  Not only did we end up going having an overtime jam, but we had two overtime jams in the same game. The game was close throughout with many lead changes.  The closer we got to the end of the game, the more likely it looked that we would finally catch that unicorn. At the end of regulation the score was tied. This first OT jam included a couple of lead changes but was called off due to an injury. In overtime the jam has to end naturally. A jam called off because of an injury is not considered natural.  The head ref came to each ref to confirm what happened, “I already know the answer to this, but I want to make sure we are all on the same page.  That jam didn’t end naturally.  According to the rules, we need to do another jam.  Do you agree that it didn’t end naturally?”  We had a double overtime jam, and the lead shifted three or four times in that final jam.  Keeping it focused through that whole thing was just amazing.  It was a crazy thing to be part of because that never happens in derby.  It’s the rarest of rare. It was like seeing unicorn riding a narwhal in the middle of a solar eclipse..

Photo by Ian Goring
Photo by Ian Goring

Are there any penalties you have never given?

I’ve never given a penalty for embellishment.* It’s hard to prove. I’ve always wanted to give a penalty for that. It does happen and I’ve seen it happen. A couple jams later, I’ll think “I should have given it then!” I’ve never given one because when you call a penalty, if you’re only 99.9% sure, you’re not supposed to call it.  I don’t call a penalty unless I’m 100% sure from my point of view.

*Embellishment: This is a type of misconduct penalty that is given when skaters intentionally adopt a downed position to draw a penalty or avoid a block.  In previous versions of the WFTDA rules, this was called “Flopping.”

You also played men’s roller derby with Rochester’s Flour City Fear.  What did you learn from this experience?

It was interesting.  They made me a jammer for some reason, which is weird, because I’m old and slow. It was hard on my body. In my final game, I took a lot of penalties. There were some things that should not have been penalties from my point of view as a player.  Thinking back and watching the film, I can see why they called that as a penalty even if it wasn’t.  Or now I can recognize that I was wrong in my opinion as a player.  It gave me a new appreciation for how the game is supposed to be called, and how players interpret calls.  As a ref and as a player, I do think that you should swap positions every once in awhile.   Players should talk to their head ref to see if they can officiate a scrimmage.  Or if you’re a referee, and you’ve passed your minimums and you feel comfortable, find a team that will let you scrimmage.  It gives you a great appreciation for both jobs. I really think I am a better ref and when I do play, that I am a better skater, from having experience on both sides of the line.

You recently experienced a foot injury that was not roller derby related.  How has it been being off of your skates for so long?  Do you have any advice for others taking time off to recover from an injury?

Photo by Rene T. Van Ee
Photo by Rene T. Van Ee

It’s been painful because I love being on my skates.  I wanted my off season to end at the beginning of October and here I am still off of my foot because it’s not fully healed yet.  Just take your time and make sure you heal.  See your doctors.  I’m trying not to rush it because feet are very important to roller skating.  I’m dying to be on skates.  I worked on a lot of things off season, like shoring up my weak side, and now I need to start from scratch with that, because that is the foot that I broke.  I’ve really missed skating. The time I’ve been able to spend around derby has been really nice because it makes me want to skate more, but also makes me realize that I need to wait so it can be right and I can come back and have a good season.

A lot of people may not realize that referees are always trying to improve their skating skills.  For example, it’s very important to be able to stop quickly and effectively.  You have to be able to dodge skaters. What are your goals in terms of skating skills?

I will continue to work on my weak side.  My strong side, I can transition all day.   When you’re jam reffing, you’re never supposed to turn away from your jammer.  But turning that way is my weaker transition.  That’s why I worked on it so hard. I had that skill by the end of last season.  I also want to bring T-stops back into my game.  As a jam ref, you want to keep your footprint in the middle as small as possible. The plow stop takes up a lot of room, and I have a wide stance when I use that stop.  I haven’t worked on T-stops since I started skating, so this is a big goal of mine for this coming season.

Do you have any refs that you look up to?

Working in this region, I have a lot of refs that I looked up to.  In my rookie season, T-Bone from HARD and Hammer City was very instrumental in keeping my confidence up and helping build my knowledge base.  He found me places where I could ref where they did not mind that I was new.  He was very beneficial to my growth as a skating official.

In terms of high level referees, there’s Davie Darko in Rochester, and Parking Lot and Deuce in Hammer City.  Those three, in my opinion, are at the peak of the derby world as far as refs go.  Every time I work with them, I try to glean as much information as possible.  When all three of them work a game together, their communication and everything that they do in the short amount of time we have to communicate is amazing. I’m always in awe of it.  If I can be half the ref that they are, then I will be okay.

geo10What are your future goals as a referee?

Those are in flux right now.  If you had asked me last season, I would have said that I would like to be certified so I can ref playoffs.  Unfortunately in derby, the experience that you need to gather involves traveling to sanctioned events, which takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money.  I don’t have a lot of money, so I’ve scaled that back.  Eventually, I would like to be certified, but I will stick close to home this year.  I want to concentrate on being the best ref that I can for QCRG and helping the new refs that have joined The Herd learn.  I have a couple of other leagues that I consider home leagues, and I will help them out too.   After that, we will see. Maybe next year I will get back into doing multiple tournaments a year.  But right now, I want to stay close to home, help the people who have helped me, and be the best ref that I can be.