“So why aren’t you wearing your mask anymore?” I have been asked this
question multiple times via emails, texts, phone calls, and in conversation during the past six months. For years, I have been “the guy in the mask” at derby games across the United States. I get photos, masks, and all sorts of other luchadore memorabilia sent to me from friends. Why would I get rid of something that has become part of my identity?
To understand why I started wearing a mask, you need to understand how I became an announcer. In the winter of 2005, I came across the MySpace page of former Texas Rollergirl Rosie Cheeks. We began to email back and forth about roller derby. I had always been a big fan of Roller Games in the late ’80s and Roller Jam in the ’90s. I showed my ex-girlfriend pictures and videos of Rosie and the rest of TXRG skating. My ex then went on to start the Ohio Roller Girls (OHRG), the first roller derby league in Ohio. I was excited about this, as she would finally have a hobby and I would have plenty of free time to paint with her out of the house.
Since OHRG was brand new and nothing like it had ever been attempted before in the state, everything within the organization was in short supply. Early practices were held where ever the girls could find space, we screen printed our own t-shirts at Triptease’s house, and I made our original recruiting business cards. During the summer, practices weren’t going very well, and the league brought me in as a coach. I spent weeks watching the TXRG championship bout DVD over and over again, figuring out how checking, blocking, and general strategy worked, basically learning the game from the ground up.
I was never supposed to be the league’s announcer. Originally, an art school friend of one of the skaters was going to announce. She talked a big game, but when given the chance to announce the girls in a local parade, she froze up and didn’t deliver what she said she was going to do. Our first big event, full contact musical chairs, was coming up and the league needed someone to announce it. Since I knew all the girls, I volunteered to do the job.
To call full contact musical chairs at Club 202 a train wreck would be an insult to train wrecks, but at the time we thought we had done something special. That night, I was just a nervous fat guy in a DIY silk-screened OHRG shirt. I didn’t have a mask and I didn’t know what I was doing, but I did have a bar to help me ease my stage fright. There were many memorable moments that night. One of the skaters showed up so drunk she couldn’t stand up on her skates. I met Caesar for the first time and thought he was really weird. One of the bands brought a girlfriend/groupie with them who promptly stripped and danced in her bra and panties. And then there were the exploding chairs. Yes, I said exploding chairs. The girls bought a bunch of cheap, white plastic chairs, the kind you buy for your porch when you’re a poor college kid. These $5 eye sores were made for sitting, but not when girls are diving into them. There were multiple times when a skater would crash into the chair and the legs would snap, causing her to fall on the floor. One of the legs literally shot off, rocketed into the crowd, and drilled a fan.
After a few more bar events and OHRG’s first exhibition bout (“The Skatemare Before Xmas”) a few things became clear to me. 1. I liked announcing. 2. I wasn’t comfortable doing it. 3. I needed a gimmick because every other announcer had one. I had always been a big pro wrestling fan and thought that luchadore masks were incredibly cool. I figured that if I wore a lucha mask it would look great with a suit, make me stick out as the announcer, conceal who I was so that I could play a character, and if I sucked, no one would know it was me at the after party. On April 23, 2006, I called the first roller derby game in the state of Ohio in the modern era clad in a black suit and aqua Volador mask.
Wearing a mask in public is not as cool as you think it might be. There are many problems that come with wearing one. They are incredibly tight, and wearing one for four hours leaves you with a sore nose and some pretty nasty red marks on your face. Masks can be a total pain to hear, see, and talk out of, depending on their design. The fan reaction is very mixed. People who get it and little kids love it, but people who don’t freak out. You get treated like you’re a clown or a mascot.
The main problem I had with wearing the mask was people not taking me seriously. I felt like I had to prove myself game after game, because players and fans would blow me off as a tool in a stupid costume. In a way it was good though, because I would not be the announcer I am today if I didn’t feel I had to bring my A game every time I hit the mic.
When I moved to Cincinnati and started announcing for the Cincinnati Rollergirls, I started to feel the urge to change my look. At this point I was done being worried or intimidated about calling games. I lost count of how many bouts I had called and I had announced with every big name announcer in the sport and held my own. I had called games in front of thousands of people live and on the internet. I didn’t need a mask to hide behind anymore, literally or figuratively.
I knew going into the end of the 2009 home season that I was ready to hang the mask up, but I wanted to wait till 2010 to make it official. If the mask was going to go, it was going to go out in style. For our final home game, I crafted my own Mad Max/Fall Out 3/Legion of Doom-inspired battle armor (nail covered shoulder pads and catcher’s shin guards). Then we went to Pittsburgh, where I was greeted with a fan holding a sign that said “BDSM Announcer Creeps Me Out”. He and the rest of the crowd didn’t really get it, but whatever. Rumor has it that one of their announcers is now wearing a lucha mask, I chalk it up as imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
The final time I wore my mask in public was only a fleeting five minutes at the North Central regionals on September 18, 2009. I sat down at the announce table, laced my mask up, flipped on my mic, and started talking. Suddenly this ominous, loud voice blared over the house PA “Yeah, you, the guy in the mask, we can’t hear you through that mask, you will have to get rid of it.” I leaned back in my seat, flipped my mic back off, muttered “F*** it”, ripped my mask off, and tossed it behind me. I haven’t worn it since.
Today, my game uniform hasn’t changed much. I still wear all black, my thought being if it worked for Johnny Cash and Darth Vader, it will work for me. Working without a mask is pretty cool because now I blend into the background more and am less of a focal point for the fans. Also, now at the after parties the skaters from the other team actually know who I am, which is really cool. Overall, it’s been a positive experience, and even though nostalgia hits me once in a while, I don’t see myself going back to wearing my mask. My friend Mr. Rawk summed it up best for me when we talked at Nationals in Philadelphia: “On one hand, I am sad to see you lose the mask because it was you, but on the other hand, I am glad people are finally going to know who you are.”