The Atlanta Roller Girls provide pretty much the perfect model for how to plan, produce and perform a competitive WFTDA season. As hosts of this year’s WFTDA Championship, that tournament has provided the Dirty South Derby Girls with a beacon upon which to set their sights. Since the original WFTDA championship (the Dust Devil in 2006—where they famously played the first WFTDA playoff game ever, against Texas of course), Atlanta had never qualified for a championship tournament. As hosts, 2012 was a better time than any to change that course. With the goal locked in, they mapped it perfectly.
Starting slowly in the winter with a spattering of games from March to May, 2012 really got into gear for the Atlanta All Stars in June with three games in successive weeks against tough opponents; although it didn’t help them with their ranking (they came into the South Central Regionals ranked 6th), they ramped up their play in August and September playing five games in seven weeks before the playoffs. What it meant is that while some teams were sputtering into the playoffs, Atlanta was just getting warmed up when the opening whistle sounded.
Atlanta’s first opponent, Houston, provided a study in contrast. Playing the bulk of their games in the early going (over half their games for the season were played in March and April), the HaRD Knocks roared up the South Central Rankings, peaking at #3 after dominating the Clover Cup and reeling off six-straight wins to start the season. By the time they skated into Lincoln, Nebraska, for this weekend’s South Central playoffs, they had little left. Atlanta stormed past Houston in the opener, taking the lead early and never giving up, simply dominating a potentially very good Houston team. Atlanta continued this right through to the final against the historic Texas Rollergirls Texacutioners where they would take the most consistent team in WFTDA history all the way to the final jam (tied 124-124) before a heartbreaking track cut ended Atlanta’s Cinderella story (at least for now). Nonetheless, they join Texas and Kansas City (the ’07 champs and perennial contenders needed a very tough 209-168 victory over Tampa to secure their spot) as the South Central Representatives at this year’s WFTDA Championship.
It was a high-scoring, fast-moving tournament, that lacked some of the depth of the other regions, but also—accounting for the drop off of Kansas City, who are far removed from their thrilling run in Denver last year— seemed to be lacking some of that upper-level talent as well: Atlanta, led by former Gotham (and Tampa Bay before that) skater Wild Cherri, provided that. And with a favourable first-round opponent (Naptown) have at least a chance to advance to the quarterfinals (where a little east coast team called Gotham will be waiting).
Before Atlanta’s sudden surge, it looked as if Texas would be the only “super-power” coming from the South Central Region. In the history of WFTDA play, the Texacutioners have only not won their regional playoff once (a 2010 loss to Kansas City) and were WFTDA champs in 2006, second overall in 2009, third in 2007 and the again last year in 2011. In 2012, before a string of five-straight losses ( to top-tier opponents) closed out the regular season, Texas was having its best season (arguably ever) with huge victories over playoff contenders like Houston, Montreal and Philly. They steamrolled through the first two games of this year’s South Centrals. It was their poise and experience that guided them through that challenging final where, at times, Atlanta seemed ready to take control. It was yet another impressive performance from the founders of the modern game. Through their perseverance and consistency, Austin has been and continues to produce leaders in the growth of the flat track game. And the city continues to do so off the track as well.
Over the past two years or so, the growth of junior roller derby has exploded. After nearly a decade of spreading the adult game, the kids were finally catching on and beginning to organize under the umbrella JRDA (Junior Roller Derby Association). In terms of organization, production and depth of program, the Tucson, Seattle and Austin Derby Brats have led the way but are quickly being equalled by leagues all over North American, including in Toronto, where TJRD has been operating for two years. These leagues are so essential for not only producing the future stars of the game, but for also creating the future fans of the sport. While independent junior leagues are the norm right now, in Austin, the mainstream acceptance of roller derby is once again helping that community push the boundaries of roller derby’s reach.
In Austin last year, an all-girls private school, The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders , added junior roller derby to its after-school (extra) curriculum. While currently limited to scrimmaging against nearby junior leagues (including, of course, the Texas Rollergirls’ Austin Derby Brats), it is unthinkable that the Ann Richards School will be a one off. With more and more young girls picking up the sport in cities all across North America (but also globally, particularly in the UK and Australia), it can only be a matter of time before schools (and then school boards) jump aboard. As it becomes a regular part of young girls’ lives, so too will it become a regular part of their schooling.
For now though, the spotlight remains on the big sisters in the senior leagues. All twelve teams have now been selected for Grits and Glory, the 2012 WFTDA Championship tournament in Atlanta, Georgia, and the seedings have also been completed, with the top seeded North Central Region team slated to meet the top seed from the East, leaving the South Central and West champs to—on paper anyway—meet in the other half of the final four bracket.
There is a definite divide among the participating teams with Gotham potentially in a league of their own and Philly, Windy City, Minnesota, The Oly Rollers, Denver, Bay Area, Texas, and now Atlanta looking like contenders. Whether they like it or not, Roller Derby’s current stars are blazing a trail for those current juniors. In 2012 that trail leads right to Atlanta.
****For complete-game recaps head over to the Derby News Network where Justice Feelgood Marshall captured the blow-by-blow action.
North Central Region
South Central Region