As with all of the regions, there was a definite and clear competitive divide in the East. While Gotham remains the cream of the crop (and the sport, really), the top five in the east (rounded out by London and Montreal) distanced themselves quite distinctly from the bottom five (concluding with Dutchland, who—in giving up 300 points once then 400 points on two occasions, all without ever facing Gotham—looked more out of place at a Regional playoff than any other team so far this season). While the world outside of the US was clamouring for an international participant to move forward, the two representatives—Montreal and London—faced off in a first-round match that would have served well as a Sunday placement game (for the second year in a row London was clearly ranked lower than they should have been), before London eventually fell to Charm (in surprisingly convincing fashion), while Montreal dominated the consolation bracket for the rest of the weekend. The wait for international representation continues.
But the consistently impressive performances by the international community’s two great teams, London Brawling and Montreal’s New Skids on the Block, speaks volumes about the competitive growth of the sport, and in turn, about the health of the sport in general. Despite being in the midst of a major rules rewrite, despite constant inner-bickering about the state of the sport on the track, despite the dire, apocalyptic exultations by some of the game’s more prominent commentators, the sport is not destroying itself, fans are not running away from it; indeed, roller derby is bigger, stronger, healthier and more relevant than it has ever been at any other point in its existence. Sure there’re no major television deals, sure there’s no chance Gotham could sell out Madison Square Garden, but contemporary roller derby—lead by the women’s flat track version of the game—has something that no version has ever had before: a full grassroots movement.
For the first time in the sport’s seventy-or-so-year history, the game of roller derby is being supported by its base as opposed to being held up by the top. In its previous heyday—the late 60s and early 70s—the sport was essentially a travelling road show: gaining much exposure through TV, but still limited to a single group of skaters who could switch jerseys at will. Currently there are thousands of leagues (and counting) in dozens of countries. The skaters are of a variety of skill and commitment level. In southern Ontario alone, there has been a boom of “loco” derby leagues popping up in Stratford, London, Kitchener, Sarnia, Brantford and Toronto. Rec leagues, or short-term commitment leagues are also becoming popular in larger centres, providing access to roller derby for everyone. Travel teams act as pillars in larger communities, bringing back skills and strategies and disseminating them through their house leagues, B-teams, and regional competition.
What this expansive, diverse community most importantly provides, is an audience. An audience for the select few who have made their way to the top and have become this generation’s first wave of superstars. There is a lot of talk about “fans” and needing to please them, but it’s actually we, the greater roller derby community, who are the fans. There is nothing wrong with this, it’s probably inevitable right now, and the size and breadth of this community is impressively expansive and growing continuously.
The community is also not local anymore. Just as southern Ontario’s roller derby community is expanding rapidly, so too is the sport rapidly spreading across Europe, Australia and South America. With the WFTDA providing the structure and the continuity, and the internet providing the platform through which to share, for the first time ever the sport has gone global. Last year’s World Cup of Roller Derby showed that, while there is still a ways to go toward global competitive parity, it is obvious that the sport is well on its way. From Bogota to Seoul, the sport has established a solid foundation that will prop it up through its early, often painful, evolution.
Not lost among all of this should be the strongest part of the base; the true sign that the sport has grown beyond any level that it had ever achieved before; the true reason that roller derby is bigger, stronger, healthier and more relevant than it has ever been at any other point in its existence is because for the first time, young girls are playing the sport: junior roller derby right now is populated with the future Suzie Hotrods and Bonnie Thunders, V-Divas and Teflon Donnas. But perhaps more importantly its populated by the future Stefanie Maineys and Kamikaze Kittens, Jess Bandits and Iron Wenches.
****For complete-game recaps head over to the Derby News Network where Justice Feelgood Marshall captured the blow-by-blow action.
North Central Region