At first, refereeing for roller derby was just a way to be involved, but Darci Brousseau found it struck a chord in her that she didn’t expect.
Now, for a year and half, Brousseau has been hitting the road more than the North Coast Nightmares team, travelling to roller derby tournaments and bouts across B.C.
In the last 13 months since she started, Brousseau has refereed 28 bouts including Chilliwack’s Daze of Derby and Best of the West in Squamish. Just recently she reffed at Alberta’s largest roller derby tournament, Flat Track Fever in Calgary.
Brousseau was originally drawn to the scene through her interest in the sport. She had rollerbladed a number of times and heard about the Nightmares when she moved back to Terrace three years ago.
“I really enjoyed rollerblading already, and I enjoyed the speed of it,” said Brousseau, adding that she also liked the physicality of roller derby and the portrayed images of strong, tough women.
She and her sister Penny tried Fresh Meat, the roller derby recruitment program, and Brousseau found it different from rollerblading — with different skates and a different centre of balance — but she enjoyed it. She started hitting the track and practising with the team, but since roller derby requires players to meet a benchmark skating ability before they can compete, Brousseau wasn’t able to play in the Northern Exposures tournament in Prince George that year.
Sad to miss the fun, Brousseau decided to sign up as a non-skating official for the Nightmare’s next bout in Quesnel, volunteering as a penalty wrangler and logging player penalties.
|Darci Brousseau, front middle, with her North Coast Nightmares teammates. Her refereeing travels have given Brousseau a greater appreciation for the Nightmares, which she says is both drama-free and welcoming. (Photo from Dream a Little Dream Photography)|
“[I did it] mostly because I just wanted to go with them,” said Brousseau, “to be involved. And they always need volunteers… It was really fun.”
Since then, Brousseau has continued in that pattern: skating and blocking with the Nightmares at practices, and then patrolling player penalties and scorekeeping at bouts and tournaments.
She adopted the nickname Busty Bruiser, a counter to teammate Juggless, and a play on a childhood family nickname “Bruise-o,” because her family was known for outside play and its accompanying bruises, she explained.
In March 2017, she stepped up to referee in Prince George for the first time.
“I finally decided I was ready,” said Brousseau. “It was awesome because the refs there are really experienced, and are really amazing at teaching and encouraging,” she said.
Since then, she’s refed 28 bouts and even took charge as the head ref at the recent Unrest in the Northwest bout in Terrace March 27.
Learning all the rules, penalties and signals is hard, she admitted, but Prince George referees helped a lot, and Nightmares coach Chris Thomas (Skimo) incorporated it into practices which she said was also a key help.
As the team practices certain skills during drills, Brousseau often steps out to watch for penalties and take on a reffing role.
“It helps with Busty’s training,” said coach Thomas, “as well as the skaters training, because she can give them feedback, like ‘hey, you’re using your forearms during this drill when you shouldn’t be,’ and that kind of stuff,” he said.
And when they talk about rules, Brousseau can offer a refs perspective.
“She’s been to enough games now, she can tell us about how the refs apply the rules,” said Thomas, “not just how the rules are written.”
|Brousseau referees at a scrimmage in Prince George last December.(Steven Dubas photo)|
Thomas says Brousseau seems to be doing well and is definitely enjoying refereeing — proven by how much she travels to ref around B.C.
“She travels more than the team does,” said Thomas, noting that it is completely volunteer and travel costs are only sometimes abated by teams.
But for Brousseau’s part, she does it because she loves it.
“[I do it] for the fun of it… I started because I wanted to do something to prove to myself that I was tough enough,” she said, later adding that simply allows her to be on skates, and involved with the team in an active way.
But more than that, refereeing strikes a chord with Brousseau’s personality.
“You’re always right, even when you’re wrong, and as the oldest bossy child, that comes naturally to me,” Brousseau laughed, adding that while it took time for her to become confident in the position, it suits her.
“It allows me to express my personality,” she said. “I’m very much like, ‘this is a rule and everybody should follow that rule. And if you don’t, I want that person to be punished,” she said. “Refing is fair… and it makes my personality happy.”
And while spectators and others do sometimes chirp and oppose her calls, Brousseau says there is a high level of respect in roller derby.
“With roller derby, you’re not allowed to argue with refs… and if you take too long to get off the track, or if you swear at the refs or officials or anybody, that’s a second penalty,” Brousseau explained, adding that even coaches and spectators can be expelled from a game.
In the past, she says she’s worked with head referees who have told her that if someone is bothering her, to let them know and they’ll take care of it, and while players do complain at times, Brousseau says they’re usually reasonable about it.
“And I do have a decently thick skin,” she added, “from prior job experience.”
Brousseau enjoys refereeing so much, that she’ll probably continue in that vein.
“It’s a different point of view from the game,” she said. “At this point, I enjoy refing so much, that I don’t know if I would actually play.”
Brousseau refed her largest tournament yet — Flat Track Fever — in Calgary May 11-13, and she says someday she hopes to get certification to ref games in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WIFTA).