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Editorial, Interview, Player Profile

Meet Your World’s Refs: Joe Rstom

November 18, 2013

The fourth and final ref that we would like to introduce you to is actually the head of the NAH Reffing Committee. After seeing him handle reffing duties at North Americans and then Worlds, anyone can clearly see why he is the prefect candidate for this position. He is a simple man with a lot of heart dedicated to the growth of hardcourt bike polo. In the countless personal conversations that I’ve had with him, I know he has a game plan to better the state of reffing for the 2014 season. Not only that, he has the drive to actually put the game plan into action so that hardcourt reffing, and the sport as a whole, can take two giant leaps forward! Everyone, I proudly introduce to you Joe Rstom.

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321Polo: What is your home club?
Rstom: Mankato, MN

321Polo: How long have you been playing bike polo?

Rstom: 4 years

321Polo: When was the first time you reffed at a tournament?
Rstom: I refereed a bit at the Midwest Open 3, but the Battle for the Midwest was the first tournament I felt confident refereeing. Then Midwest Champeenships, North Americans and now Worlds.

321Polo: What do you think of fans heckling you?
Rstom: The fan heckling never really bothers me, and overall it was much better at Worlds than any other tournament. The spectators that bothered me would come up and tap me on the shoulder in the middle of a game and say “Hey, hey, hey, hey ref, hey, you need to watch for that steering arm and mallet hack and toppling over in the corner”. You can imagine my responses…

Anyway, I’d like to note that the respect coming from the players was noticeably improved. When I saw a new team I would introduce myself and set the expectation for respectful dialogue. I think this combined with confident whistling dictated the overall dynamic of the game; from the way players treated me to the way they treated one another. There were exceptions to this, but I saw a lot less bickering amongst players and referees than in the past. That is something to be proud of as a community.

321Polo: Are there any major changes you hope to see in the reffing world next year?
Rstom:  There are 3 major changes I’d like to see for tournaments next year:

1. An organized Referee Association and Certified Referees – Online certification is going to be my big project over this off-season. The system was built this year to simply get people ready for a fully developed certification test. There will be videos, there will be graded testing. We will see how this goes, but the idea is that if you are hosting an NAH tournament, you will be required to have a certain number of certified referees. This leads me to my next desired change:

2. Incentivized Volunteering – Referees simply need to be paid for standing in the sun (or rain) and maintaining this level of focus for hours on end. Even with scheduled and assigned goal judges, they still disappeared without notice, which means the other volunteers need some incentive too. Tournament Organizers should start budgeting for this, because you will see an immediate return on the investment. (On a side note, I think cash prizes should become the norm too, but that’s a different issue).

3. A Scalable, Multiple Referee System – The first 2 days of these large tournaments should have 2 referees on each court, all day long. It can be done with 6 people if the two take turns with the whistle. The 1st referee watches on-ball play, or the most important off-ball play, and the 2nd referee tracks peripheral off-ball play. As you cut out courts, you add referees. A 3-4 referee system, mirrored on the other side, or goal judges who can actually signal for infractions would be the way to go. Also, we shouldn’t have to sit on fences and stand on boards, but being on the court is something I have yet to experiment with. Maybe in 2014!

Editorial, Interview, Player Profile

Meet your World’s Refs: Robin Cunningham

November 11, 2013

The third installment of our “Meet Your World’s Refs” series introduces you to a player from one of NAH’s most forgotten regions. Hailing from the Southwest, Robin Cunningham is the unsung hero of World’s Refs. As one of only three refs to sign the volunteer sheet put out before Worlds began, Cunningham showed his commitment and talent all the way through the tournament to the final game. Find out a little more about him here!

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321Polo: What is your home club?
Cunningham: Home Club = Albuquerque Bike Polo

321Polo: How long have you been playing bike polo?

Cunningham: I’ve been playing for 4 years.

321Polo: When was the first time you reffed at a tournament?
Cunningham: I first reffed at our own tournament in Santa Fe, NM in April 2010.

321Polo: What do you think of fans heckling you?
Cunningham: I don’t mind the fans heckling me, it can be a bit distracting though. I started reffing soccer when I was very young, so I was used to a minimum of 22 parents yelling at you at the same time. No one is ever happy all of the time.

321Polo: Are there any major changes you hope to see in the reffing world next year?
Cunningham: The major changes I would like to see would be an acceptance of world rules, not just NAH. The NAH/world rules translated into 5 or 8 major languages so everyone can read them. And lastly, hand signals for the 10 major fouls. It can be very hard to tell the players (and fans) what the foul call is when everyone is yelling at the same time. We could adopt a football/hockey style hand signals that would be international. Then there would be no discrepancy with what the actual call was. With the addition of the hand signals would be pointing in the direction of play after a foul. That way the teams can have an idea of which side has possession of the ball. Lastly, if we want to have good refs, then pay them (or honor their efforts with proper respect). When refs are getting paid they will take it more seriously. My final thought is: “You can hate me on the court, but love me off the court.”

Editorial, Interview, Player Profile

Meet your World’s Refs: Zach Blackburn

November 4, 2013

The second ref we want to introduce you to is Zach Blackburn. A long time veteran to the sport, I’m sure many of you know him, but as the ref for the 2012 and 2013 World Championship finals, we feel you should get to know ref Zach.

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321Polo: What is your home club?
Blackburn: NYC, home of the first worlds champions (2008, Toronto)

321Polo: How long have you been playing bike polo?

Blackburn: Since 2005, back when it was a drinking game and we just circled out for a dab

321Polo: When was the first time you reffed at a tournament?
Blackburn: I think the World Champs in Geneva (2012) was the first time I actually signed up for the job. I vaguely remember holding a whistle before then, I don’t remember where.

321Polo: What do you think of fans heckling you?
Blackburn: It must mean I’m making too much of an impression on the game. The match and the fans should be focused on the players, it shouldn’t be about what the ref is doing. That said, any true fan isn’t going to like a call against the team they’re rooting for, no matter how deserved.

321Polo: Are there any major changes you hope to see in the reffing world next year?
Blackburn: I can think of a few. In fact, I can think of a couple hundred. I wish NAH would let me rewrite the rule set to make it a bit more readable, and also to close up a couple glaring omissions: like being able to check someone that’s trying to get out of play. Unless they’re in the way they shouldn’t be able to get blasted while heading to tap in because if they protect themselves in any way they’re effecting the game, and thus, get penalized. Also the goalie shouldn’t be fair game for getting checked into the net, they’re in a vulnerable position while standing there and should deserve more respect than being an easy target for elbows and shoulders. The rule against throwing your mallet should include strategically dropping it. The requirements for possession of the ball should be more specific. With the way it was interpreted in Minneapolis this year it was possible to score while having a delayed penalty against you because refs weren’t blowing the whistle until the offending team was controlling the ball for a couple seconds. I was just dreading the moment that someone one-timed it in the net and the shit show that would follow. The high sticking penalty also got out of hand at NA’s. Luckily we didn’t have a rash of sticks-to-the-face at Worlds, but all we needed to do was just take out “attempts” from the stupid rule that says you can’t “attempt to contact the ball above the shoulders etc etc”. It would have been so simple to just say, if you hit the ball over your shoulders you’ll get it turned over. If you hit an opponent with your mallet up, you’re going to get the book thrown at you. Kev got hit twice in the same game by a stray mallet! He had to deal with a minor face injury for the whole tournament, so the offending team should have at least had someone in the box for 2 min or until Kev’s team scored. If that had happened after the first incident, I highly doubt he would’ve been caught a second time up high. Make a big enough deterrent, and people will be a lot more careful about where they’re swinging.

Editorial, Interview, Player Profile

Meet your World’s Refs: Bruce Wahl

October 29, 2013

This is the beginning of a mini-series where we will be introducing you to the top notch people that slayed from the ref stand at Worlds. We will be focusing on the four refs that took us through the finals as the tournament dwindled from four courts to two. On the Republic/Origin 8 court we had Zach Blackburn and Robin Cunningham, while on the Chunk court we had Joe Rstom and Bruce Wahl. The first ref we will be introducing you to is Bruce Wahl. Poloverse, meet Bruce Wahl.

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321Polo: What is your home club?
Wahl: My home club is the Mankato Blue Skunk Bike Polo Club.

321Polo: How long have you been playing bike polo?

Wahl: I’ve been playing for three years

321Polo: When was the first time you reffed at a tournament?
Wahl: The first time I officiated was at this year’s North American Championships in Minneapolis.

321Polo: What do you think of fans heckling you?
Wahl: Personally, fan heckling doesn’t bother me. It comes with the territory and my expectations are that I will be hassled in each and every match that I officiate. Just like in all sports, spectators have their bias towards a team so whether or not you make a right or wrong call, it will always and forever be scrutinized. As a referee you simply need to focus and be resolute on each and every call despite the persistent badgering from onlookers.

321Polo: Are there any major changes you hope to see in the reffing world next year?
Wahl: I believe there are many things we can do in bike polo to help facilitate a better environment for consistent officiating. One, I feel strongly that our sport needs multiple referees officiating a match. As a head referee it is extremely difficult to see everything that is going on off ball and extra sets of eyes would be paramount in catching important infractions that are potentially changing the outcome of games. A repetitive issue at Worlds was it was increasingly harder and harder to catch infractions near and around the net. With so many bicycles stacked within that area that I feel goal judges need to be trained referees with the capability to blow a play dead and make a call which would be hard or almost impossible for the head referee to see. So in a perfect world I think a match of bike polo needs a referee crew of at least 4 to 5 officials. There are also things within the rule set that I would like to see changed to make our jobs as referees easier but that’s another can of worms for another day. Ultimately, I would also like to see the referees get compensated for their time. I realize our sport isn’t gushing with money but if you want an individual to be dedicated to something that is demanding as officiating, you need to pay them. Personally, I enjoy officiating bike polo but I would much rather be enjoying a beverage and cheering on the teams when I travel to beautiful places such as Minneapolis or Florida. Make it worth my while to referee a game because I’m missing out on being a fan which I was first and foremost before I picked up the whistle. The final thing I would like to see in the referee world is more participation. More referees will lead to better play across the country at local tournaments and qualifiers, which in turn will create a better brand of clean, beautiful bike polo.

Interview, Media

Messman on Four Peaks

September 17, 2013
Untitled

Matt “Messman” Messenger was one of hardcourt bike polo’s original six. Him along with five other messengers came up with the sport while waiting for deliveries at their bike courier job. Messman helped push this hobby of theirs into a sport, and because of his influence in the sport, he was in the spotlight on the show Four Peaks.

Four Peaks is a monthly show put together by the graduate Communications Department at the University of Washington. Hosted by Hanson Hosein, Four Peaks “taps into the Pacific Northwest’s rich endowment of idea generators, influential activists, business visionaries and inspired storytellers.” Hardcourt bike polo’s roots are in Seattle, Washington, while it’s branches have now reached countries all over the world; this lead Hosein and Four Peaks to reach out to Messman for an interview on the sport.

Check out the interview here: