Travis Sickle, head non-skating official (NSO) gives us some insight on what he needs to do to prepare for a roller derby bout, changes in national standards and why all of it it is so important to the game of roller derby.
What do you do as Head NSO and how much time does it take?
It’s a routine that starts the day before a bout. All game-day rosters must be mailed to me in advance by Derby Operations so we have no scratches or mistakes. I take these rosters and type their names and numbers into a blank WFTDA StatsBook, which automatically fills in the paperwork I need to print out for game day. Sometimes I have to print out inside whiteboard numbers for visiting teams (Sandusky, Firestarters, travel opponents, etc.) and I have a special spreadsheet for that.
On game day, it’s a cornucopia of activity beginning with assemblage of all whiteboards inside and out, arranging paperwork either on clipboards or at their proper stations, making sure the people who volunteered at their positions are arriving to or already at the venue and getting this all done prior to 5–5:15 P.M. I’m also part of referee meetings and sometimes have to do last-minute accommodations if there are NSO call-offs or absences. This all has to be ready before 5:45 P.M.
I would say it’s not very time-consuming in terms of what I have to do vs. what skaters and referees have to do, but when the time is consumed, you have to make the most of that time if you want a successfully-run bout that doesn’t fall apart on itself.
Why is your job so important to the league?
The general answer is that statistics serve as a guide to help skaters improve their game. It also helps skaters and bench coaches understand which of their line-ups worked best as a unit, how each element of the line-up operated in the jams they were in, and how effective they were on both offense and defense.
How many games have you done stats for?
Not counting scrimmage-like events (e.g. Corndogs n Carnage) or Firestarters (did a few and what a great bunch of skaters they all are), about 136 bouts, 29 of them WFTDA-sanctioned. I have to keep a RefSume for travel purposes.
Does WFTDA officially recognize NSOs?
WFTDA has now instituted a certification track similar to what they do with referees. Before, the highest certification an NSO could get on a referee track was a One, which is why certification is optional for NSOs. With this track, a non-skating official can pursue a track similar to refereeing and become certified in their position of choice, as well. There are officiating clinics for non-skating officials as there are for referees.
How and when did you get involved with BRRG?
Thrash-Her (Travis’s wife, of the Hard Knockers) joined in late-2006 and they needed volunteers. I told former-coach Stir-Fry I wanted to volunteer for statistics. I had to come up with a derby name and thought of Travis Sickle in like, 10 seconds.
I first did scoring (not really scorekeeping as we know it today) and gravitated toward line-ups, where I remained for the first two seasons. In 2008, upon Teddy Roxspin’s exit from the league, I took over as Head NSO and have done penalty of tracking, spotter/wrangler and inside whiteboard; there have been bouts where I’ve performed all of these positions at the same time. Right now, I’m just focusing on Spotter/Wrangler, which allows me to be an all-seeing ubiquitous eye on everything else.
Back in the early years, stats were pretty much a free-for-all with haphazard tracking and spotty volunteer attendance; many leagues weren’t really following a set standard for how they tracked statistics. We didn’t even start using a StatsBook until around 2009. I’m very glad that the governing body nationwide has issued standards for their NSOs so that the process of tracking interleague bouts is less of a hassle, and these standards also make interchange between leagues far easier.
You NSOed for the WFTDA National Championships last year. What did you do and how was it different than NSOing for a home game?
Each individual that was chosen for the Championships was selected based on the mastery of their position. I was honored to have been chosen as a Spotter/Wrangler for an extremely talented crew of experienced officials, many of whom I worked with previously at East Coast Derby Extravaganza and a few new faces as well. That’s huge for someone’s first Big Five tournament experience. I’d say the most emotionally satisfying experience in my derby career to this point was being part of the team of officials that worked the 2011 Championship Bout between Gotham and Oly.
What separates the Championship experience from an interleague game (and in some sense, travel bouts) is that because you’re part of a team that’s considered the best of the best, it allows you to focus on just your piece of the puzzle, which in turn makes the unit itself far more effective. The refs and the crew HNSO kind of let me know this during other bouts and I refined my game that way. I didn’t have to do as many things or worry about how effectively the other positions were performing in the quarters, semis and finals of the WFTDA championships as I did in a home bout. In a way, our home bouts and scrimmages offer the best training for this sort of environment. Spartan-like training to make the real thing easier. That’s not to say wrangling the penalty-heavy matches that we did were easy in any sense of the word, but strict concentration on what you do very much tames a hard task. I brought home a lot from that event.
Since you and Thrash-Her are both involved with derby, how do you keep derby separate from your personal/home lives?
It’s kind of difficult not to, since derby events involve us in so many ways. Between her being involved in the street team and other promotional events and me lending my services to other leagues and tournaments, we’re just all about this thing called derby. Our 16-year-old keeps us grounded and is a good sport about our involvement.