Archive for January, 2010


Derby 201 – Zebras as Storytellers / The Scorekeeping System

   Posted by: Bitches Bruze    in Mind

Some of my readers may know I’m a regular announcer for the Ithaca League of Women Rollers (Ithaca, NY) as well as a skater on the Western Mass Destruction of Pioneer Valley Roller Derby. Lately at practice I’ve been able to combine these two roles in derby by announcing mini-scrimmages for our newer skaters to help them get a better understanding of the game of derby.  Being in an instruction role I got to thinking, how do I follow a bout so I can do my play-by-play as well as I do? I realized that, without thinking about it, my first story tellers are the referees and officials.

Think about the practicality of that. The men and women in stripes are already watching the action on the track for you from positions of advantage that often the audience doesn’t have. They are also the ones calling the penalties. They give audible (whistles) and visual (hand signals) communication about what’s happened on the track.

I realized that as a skater, I know who’s out on the track and what they tell me as a skater and an announcer, but as I worked with our new skaters, I realized the audience may NOT know this. Most people new to derby are amazed to learn there are more referees and officials on the track (around 19) than there are skaters on a team (14).

Who are these people? What do they do? What story do they tell the audience?

The Score Keeping System

The score keeping system begins with a pair of jam referees, flows through score keepers and reporters, and ends up on the scoreboard for you to see. As flat track roller derby matures, this process is getting faster, but how the system is used might affect how the score is reported at your venue, so knowing how the system works can keep you more on top of the game than someone who relies on the board.

In flat track roller derby, each team’s jammer is assigned her* own jammer referee. He* can be identified by the color coordinated arm, wrist, or helmet band he is wearing. He can also be identified by his position at the start of the jam. The two jammer referees will be wearing zebra stripes and will start inside the track at the jammer line and will watch only one jammer the whole time.

The rules of roller derby require the jammer referees to switch teams so for the second half of a bout, they will switch their arm/wrist/helmet band. This aids in taking the variable of jammer referee styles/effectiveness out of the bout.

As we know from Derby 101, there is no scoring during the first pass of a jammer but as soon as the jammer breaks clear of the pack, the scoring can start. During that first pass, the jammer referee following the lead jammer will hold his left arm up straight with his fingers forming an L while his right arm will point at the lead jammer. Once she gets into scoring position, the “L arm” drops and we don’t see it again but that pointing arm should never drop the rest of the jam. If you ever find your self wondering “Does she have lead? Can she call it off?” you only need to look at her jammer referee and see if he’s continually pointing at her.

Note the red arm band, points tracked behind back, and lead jammer status as told by referees.

Traditionally referees will count the points a jammer earns on their fingers behind their back until she breaks through the pack. Some referees use clickers – and some times they use those clickers for a whole jam, not just per pass, but that practice is being phased out.

That jammer referee is counting her points not just for the people she passes on the track, but as soon as she passes one opponent, he’s looking in the penalty box and remembering any other NOTT skaters or OOP skaters and counting them too. Wow, what a lot of work! And he does it all for YOU!

If a jammer passes another jammer during a lap, the passed jammer’s referee taps his helmet with his palm indicating to the other jammer referee his jammer is eligible to pick up that 5th point for a Grand Slam.

Once a jammer gets beyond the front engagement zone (20′ in front of the pack), the jammer referee reports her score by holding up as many fingers as points she received. He also turns to the Official Scorekeeper and audibly reports her pass score. In some systems, the scoreboard operator will update directly from the referee’s extended fingers while in other systems, score keeping assistants are used to write pass or jam scores on white boards and hold those boards so the score board operator can update the board.

By holding up fingers, the jammer referee reports the pass score of his jammer. In this case, she earned 5 points and is also lead.

As you can imagine, this latter system creates quite a delay in score reporting which can be confusing to fans, teams, and skaters alike. Especially in close games, an accurate scoreboard is critical for skaters, but not all leagues use the “direct from jammer referee score board update” system. Even with the direct reporting system, mistakes can happen and it is the responsibility of the Official Scorekeeper to verify the scoreboard is correct at the end of a jam. Some of the official time outs you might experience in a bout happen when this process must happen.

When a jam is over, the jammer referees will also report in any points their jammers picked up in partial passes. Depending on the location of the Score Keeper and the reporting system in place, these points may not be as obvious for fans to see.

The Score Keeper (far left) looks for the points (one) reported by the jammer referee (helmet with ref/red stripes on right).

* My apologies for the use of generic pronouns in this manner. Roller derby skaters are both male and female (and other) as are roller derby referees. Rather than confuse people in an instructional post, I was lazy and used the common pronouns for these roles.