Off-the-Clock: Matthew Leet
You’ve probably seen Matthew Leet around the Franklin Building. He’s the chief engineer in Facilities Administration. He casts a striking figure at six-feet-plus. And he often has a smile on his face.
But he really lights up when he talks about his passion and hobby – roller derby.
“The sense of community is what I love most about roller derby,” Leet says. “I’ve always gravitated toward hobbies that are social and welcoming.”
Leet referees and announces games for the Bay Area Derby Girls league. He had previously been a referee for youth soccer, so when a friend in 2007 told him the local roller derby league needed referees, he decided to give it a try.
He started out as a non-skating scorekeeper/penalty box official, and quickly came to love the intensity of the sport. But what really got him hooked was the camaraderie among players, fans, and referees, he says.
Hardcore derby fan
These days, Leet is usually doing something derby three out of four weekends a month. And he takes his role as ref quite seriously. He’s meticulous, a real stickler for the rules. He even plays back tapes of his games so he can check if he made the right calls.
“The derby referee community is just as nerdy as any subculture. It doesn’t take long to get into total ‘rules geek’ mode,” he says.
His league has bouts monthly from February through October. Their last bout of the season was October 30. Now that their season is over, Leet gets his derby fix by refereeing and announcing for leagues in Santa Cruz, San Jose and Sacramento.
A physically demanding sport
Roller derby has a reputation for being a bit campy, and very definitely dangerous, but the reality is that you have to be a very good skater and athlete to play, he says.
It’s a physically demanding sport. Teams win by managing to break through blockers on the opposing team and then racing to make laps around the oval track. The games alone are a few hours of high-paced cardio, with players skating on an oval track at their fastest speeds. Bruising is a common injury as players jockey for position.
It’s all worth it, though, because however you’re involved – spectator, player, referee – it’s a pure adrenalin rush. There’s a lot going on during the games with all of those players whizzing past at dizzying speeds, and the crowd in an uproar.
As a referee, Leet is often in the thick of the action; nevertheless he doesn’t have much interest in being one of the players himself.
“Playing is fun but I’m not a fan of injuries so I stick to refereeing and announcing,” Leet says.