Meet Dr. Funkenstein

We’re pleased to roll out a new series about Cincinnati Rollergirls skaters and staff with this article on referee Dr. Funkenstein, who just finished his first full officiating season with CRG. Read on to find out what it takes to be a roller derby referee.

Fans have seen the referee known as Dr. Funkenstein (1818), at Cincinnati Rollergirls games for about a year. Funkenstein completed his first full officiating season during 2011 with CRG. What onlookers might not know is that for Funkenstein, being a “zebra” involves a lot more than blowing a whistle at women in fishnets.
Otherwise known as Funk or John Funk in everyday life, Funkenstein says there are a lot of unexpected elements that go into reffing. For him, the most difficult aspect is, “just being able to see and interpret what’s going on in real-time because it all happens so bloody fast.”
Funk explained that he took his derby name from the fact that his ‘real’ name is so closely related – Dr. John Funk. (Or, he took it from a George Clinton song. He’s satisfied with either reasoning.) In his professional life, Funk has a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering (hence, the “Dr”). He currently designs airplanes for the Air Force.
Funk and his wife, Cincinnati Rollergirl Garden of Beatin’, attended a game together two years ago for Scout Night with their daughter. He said that from then on, “Garden was addicted, and I found a new hobby.” Funk was also looking for change after fencing for 17 years. Derby proved to be that change. He was hooked.
When he was beginning in roller derby, Funkenstein already had experience with inline skates, but had never tried quads before and could barely stand on them. Thanks to Garden, he was able to pick up the differences between the styles. For Funkenstein, the hardest thing to learn about quad skates was the ability to turn around quickly and use the toe stops to stop abruptly. It required more than just the physical know-how, but the faith to not faceplant.
Trying to understand the intricacies and unwritten subtleties of roller derby can also be a challenge in the beginning, Funk said. There are 46 pages of written rules, and countless things that can only be learned on the track. In addition, those who wish to be a WFTDA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) certified ref have to undergo – and pass – the same basic skills test as the skaters. Bumps and bruises are also part of the trade. Taking out a beeramid isn’t wholly uncommon for Funkenstein, nor is being knocked down by the skaters.
Funk on the groundFunkenstein said that the Cincinnati Rollergirls’ away game against Olympia, Washington’s Oly Rollers was his most interesting and challenging last season. During that game, the outside referee lines were only four feet wide (they are usually 10 feet), and marked by foam barriers. For the duration of the game, Funk said he fell over probably about a half dozen times, fell into the crowd and even said that there were “bodies flying everywhere.” A man also pulled his baby away just in time to keep Funk from falling on them both, Funk said.
However, the most rewarding part for Funkenstein is “when you know you’ve made the right call.” Being so close to the action and being able to be a part of the game are the hooks that kept him coming back to reffing.
Since Garden of Beatin’ got him involved, roller derby has become a family affair, with their daughter Drama Tween beginning to skate for CRG’s newly-formed junior team as well. Funk finds it both interesting and fun to make calls on his daughter. “There are a lot of major insubordinations,” Funkenstein said.
For those who have never given roller derby or refereeing a try, Funkenstein suggests coming out to a practice and getting involved in skating or even becoming an NSO (non-skating official). For more information about volunteering as a ref or NSO, email [email protected], and for more information about trying out for CRG, email [email protected]
-Karli Wood