Starting at around 9:30 PM they begin to enter the new home of Cardinal Skate Shop one by one, responding to the call that they’d been waiting for. When each one enters there are loud cheers: Blue shirts are stretched over heads, green icing rubbed into faces, and baby bottles shoved into mouths. They’ve gone from the anxiousness of anticipation—the stress of waiting for a call that may not come—to being the celebrated centre of attention. There is excitement in their faces, joy even, but behind that there is also relief and, for some, shock. These are the twelve newest skaters in the Toronto Roller Derby league, the draft class of 2011.
For the skaters of the 2011 draft, this night was a culmination of up to 18 months of hard work and dedication. It was a reward for their commitment to this sport, but also an acknowledgment of their ability. And it certainly wasn’t a guarantee. It wasn’t that long ago that being drafted into ToRD simply meant finishing the Fresh Meat training program and declaring eligibility; since 2010 it has become a much more competitive venture. The burgeoning global interest in women’s flat track roller derby has been mirrored by the incredible interest in the sport in Toronto. With an increasing number of skaters successfully completing Fresh Meat, but only a limited number of open roster spots on the four hometeams in ToRD, the decision was made to resurrect the D-VAS (one of the original hometeams that made up the initial, over-ambitious birth of Toronto Roller Derby). Since 2010, the D-VAS has acted as a farm team for the four hometeams of the league. Given the steady growth of new leagues in Ontario (23 and counting as of October, 2011), there has been lots of equivalent-level competition entering the game that has allowed the D-VAS to put together a year-round bouting schedule of home and away games.
Smoke City Betties captain Misery Mae knows the importance of the role of the D-VAS better than anyone; only one year ago she was completing her time on the farm team and being drafted into the league. Advancing from rookie to captain in a year is a remarkable turn-around made possible by a solid foundation formed on the farm team. “Being a D-VAS brings out an understanding of the game (and) brings you up to being game ready,” she points out, alluding to the high level of preparedness that skaters entering the league now have. These sentiments are echoed by Chicks Ahoy! captain Candy Crossbones, “It was very easy to choose skilled players because it was a very high calibre (draft) in terms of skill.” There were about 40 skaters on the D-VAS by the time of the draft, with 33 skaters declaring eligibility for the 12 spots. Needless to say, this level of competition will raise the level of the entry into the league, thereby raising the base level of play. “(The D-VAS) has been a huge asset for ToRD,” agrees Misery Mae, “and in the future, it’s going to be a really strong factor in what moves ToRD forward competitively.”
The importance of this developmental process is not lost on the skaters either. hellbat, the lone draftee onto the Gore-Gore Rollergirls’ roster this season, was undrafted last year (the first year there were more skaters than spots in the draft). “(The D-VAS) are tremendously important to the future of ToRD…I feel like I had a rookie year already and then had to be a senior skater (to the newer D-VAS).” One of the Smoke City Betties’ four draftees, Laya Beaton was also a senior skater with the farm team this season. “This year was really awesome on the D-VAS; I got a lot of experience, a lot of game play, and I learned what I needed to fix.” As the competitive level of ToRD reaches new heights, it is not as easy for skaters to simply step into a role in the league, and there isn’t as much opportunity for the hometeams to train them either. “(Being on the D-VAS) prepared me more for the level of competition that exists in ToRD,” explains Roadside BombShel (draftee of the defending champion Chicks Ahoy!). “The level of drive and commitment is new from what I’d seen before,” she says (pointing out that she began her skating career with the more recreationally focused Rollergettes). “It challenges you to be more than just a skater; it challenges you to be a better athlete.”
But being a member of a competitive roller derby team takes a lot more than just skills on skates and a knowledge of the game, it takes tremendous dedication. “The D-VAS are a really important step…in the past we’ve drafted people who weren’t even sure if they really wanted to be on a team,” points out Gores’ captain Lady Gagya, who stresses the importance of the D-VAS in clearly separating the curious from the committed.
After the rigors of being on the D-VAS (with the intense focus on training and game play) and having the opportunity to take hits from unfriendly opposition, questions of commitment can most certainly be laid to rest.
(Deciphering the Draft continues tomorrow with a look at the teams’ selection processes and more interviews with the drafted skaters)