From the Vault: 1-2-3 GIRRR

Originally posted Sept. 28, 2009.

Last night I head-reffed a bout between the Star City Roller Girls (Roanoke, Va) and the Rollergirls of Central Kentucky. It was a rematch of a close, hard-fought bout in Lexington, Ky last year.
In the big-picture, it was really just another backwater, non-WFTDA-but-played-by-WFTDA rules interleague bout. But it was also one of the most memorable bouts I’ve ever witnessed.

A little background: The bout at ROCK was probably Star City’s best-played in 2008. They led much of the way but got beat in the final five minutes due largely to second-half adjustments and breakout individual performances by ROCK.
It was also the final derby bout for Girrr, aka Brooke Smith, a 21-year-old Star City jammer.

Star City was like a lot of other leagues when it started up in 2006 and played its first bout in 2007. The ruleset then had less of the clarity it does now, and for the league’s first couple of bouts we were working without much outside guidance. Especially before and even after some training from more experienced mid-Atlantic refs, Star City’s officials pretty much learned to ref by doing it, and thus learned from the skaters.

Brooke was a fearless jammer & blocker who also had no qualms about rulebreaking. In my third bout I looked up at one point to see she had the opposing jammer in a headlock, and the fresh meat jam ref was too apprehensive to call it!

In spite of that (or more likely because of it), she became the league’s first star. She’d stand on that jam line and her charisma radiated out and filled the rink. The crowds who attended our home bouts were just learning the game of derby, but they immediately recognized her as a bonafide rock star.

I learned a lot from having to ref her.
The first time I got heckled? At a home bout, after I sent her to the box for the 4th or 5th time.
The first two skaters we had to eject for fighting? Brooke was one of them.
There were sections in the rules that I never had to enforce until Brooke found a way to break them.
I think that only made her more popular with the Roanoke fans.

After the ROCK bout in July, she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
So here’s this vivacious 21-year-old all of a sudden faced with — at best — 10 to 15 more years of life.

The Roanoke Times did a very nice package — complete with video and links to Brooke’s Myspace blog — about her struggles with the illness and her crisis of faith.
That story taught me a lot about trust, faith and dignity.
Jeanna Duerscherl, who’s credited on that package for photos and video, was president of the Star City Roller Girls and a good friend of Brooke’s, so that was very much a labor of love for her.
On Friday, Brooke passed away at the age of 22.

So last night, a little more than a year after her last bout, and two days after she died, Star City again played ROCK, the last team Brooke faced. Skaters on both teams knew her and got clobbered by her over the past couple of years.

Before the bout I was at a loss. A head ref plans for contingencies — but how do you plan for something like this?

I did enter the bout with a fair amount of confidence, largely because of Brooke herself. I don’t think she consciously intended it but she helped train me by putting me in tough situations in 2007 and 2008. And dealing with her on the track in life has helped prepare me now that she’s gone.

Her funeral was today. There were many aspects to Brooke’s life, as evidenced by the sheer number of people who attended.

I knew and will remember her as one of the most fearless, passionate and difficult skaters I ever reffed.

She burnt bright, and that’s the kind of light that’s reflected in other people’s lives a long time after it’s gone.