Derby Day in Detroit! The Nerd heads to Motor City to catch up with the Detroit Derby Girls

The Grand Prix Madonnas moved into top spot in the league with the win over the Devil's Night Dames. (Photo by Joe Mac)

The Grand Prix Madonnas moved into top spot in the league with the win over the Devil’s Night Dames. (Photo by Joe Mac)

The wear and tear of the “American Century” can be seen clearly on the face of Detroit. One of the largest cities in North American, for centuries Detroit has acted as an important strategic, economic and industrial centre—ushering in the automobile era, nurturing transcendent musical forms, and producing extraordinary sports teams that once inspired the nickname “City of Champions.” Of course, the transition into the 21st century has not been an easy one for the Motor City. Famously mired in a bankruptcy and feeling the damaging effects of the decline of the automobile industry, Detroit is struggling to reshape its image in a new millennium.

In recent years there has been a clear attempt to rebrand the city as an entertainment centre, and the downtown core has been somewhat revitalized by the opening of a few new casinos and other tourist-drawing sites, yet wide swathes of the core remain underdeveloped and abandoned.

The Detroit Derby Girls play their games in the historic Masonic Temple.

The Detroit Derby Girls call the historic Masonic Temple home.

Near the intersection of Interstate 75 and Woodward Avenue is one such area. Massive buildings—beautiful beacons of the boom that occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century—stand empty; some are simply intricate facades standing sentry over gutted innards and crumbling supports. There are large empty lots—one of which, notably, will be the site of a hockey arena, the new home for the beloved Red Wings. Right now, however, the one shining beacon in the downtrodden area is a massive ornate neo-gothic Masonic Temple, the largest of its kind in the world, built late in the 19th century, and home for the better part of eight years to the Detroit Derby Girls.

DDG kicked off 2014 with the fifth game in its 2013-14 houseleague season featuring a showdown between the defending champion Grand Prix Madonnas and the perennial underdogs, the Devil’s Night Dames. Having come into the league in a 2011 expansion, the Madonnas have essentially been the top team since and heading into the game were riding a 6-game winning streak dating back to last season. The Dames, on the other hand, were mired in a 5-game winless drought and in three previous meetings, had yet to defeat the Madonnas (including a 191-36 drubbing last season).

However, the Dames are a team on the rise and now include a handful of members of Detroit’s WFTDA Division 1 All Start team (currently ranked 28th in the 40-team division). Led by their tireless captain, Murder City Mistress, the Dames roared out of the gates at the opening whistle on Saturday night and seemed to catch the champs off guard with their level of intensity. Having opened the season with a loss to the Pistolwhippers, the Dames had a slightly different look in their matchup with the Madonnas, seeing Doom Shakalaka take on the star and Terror Ettes (who had led the team with a 40% lead percentage in the opener) jump into the pack to bolster the pack offense.

The Grand Prix Madonnas joined the league in 2011 and are the defending league champions.

The Grand Prix Madonnas joined the league in 2011 and are the defending league champions.

The first half was defined by huge shifts in momentum as each team battled through penalty troubles. Led by the astonishing Racer McChaseHer (who played in 73% of her team’s jams in the season opener and neared that number again in this one) and supported in the pack by Spanish Ass’assin, ShamWow and Peaches N. CreamYa, to name a few, the Madonnas ran into early penalty trouble that saw an early lead evaporate. The Dames, led offensively by team leading scorer Feta Sleeze (5.9 points per jam in the season-opening loss) pounced and took the lead midway through the first.

But once the Madonnas were able to ride out their penalty troubles, they roared back themselves with some consistent jamming from Racer and Lily I. Monster in particular, to rebuild a significant lead. Yet the Dames refused to relent and Doom (who started slowly) broke out late in the half, including registering a 20-point jam, to pull the team back within reach, down 104-73 at the break (significantly, the 73 first-half points was already more than the Dames had ever scored in a full game against their opponent). However, disaster struck in the final moments of the half when Murder City Mistress went down a significant injury (the third skater lost to a leg injury in two games for the Dames).

After the highs of such a competitive first half, the Dames never seemed to recover from the loss of their captain. Feta Sleeze (who led the team in scoring with 33 first-half points) took on the “C” in the second and wore it admirably, consistently drawing the unenviable matchup against Racer in the second half (Racer scored her career leading 1700th point in the half). Sufferin’ Sucka Bash stepped up in the pack in the second as well, playing a very strong half for the Dames with the stripe to lead her packs in the absence of Mistress—but despite her strong play, and consistent jamming from the likes of Lost and Found (who had been held to only 7 points in the first half), the Madonnas controlled the action in the second.

Despite the improved play this season, the Devil's Night Dames remain last in the league.

Despite the improved play this season, the Devil’s Night Dames remain last in the league.

Triple threat Rocky Brawlboa did it all for the Madonnas, with bruising pack work alongside some physical jamming, Rocky was all over the track in the second half (and was eventually named the game MVP). Sista Slit’chya followed a similar trajectory of increased level of play in the second, and the depth of pack supplied by Ana Matronique, Mega Bloxx and others was too much for the upstart Dames to handle. Only managing 27 points in a smothering second half, the Devil’s Night Dames couldn’t keep up and the Grand Prix Madonnas jumped back into first place in the DDG standings (2-0), while the Dames, at 0-2, remain on the bottom.

Injuries seem to be conspiring against an inspired and much improved Dames team this season, while the Madonnas (after surprisingly tight 7-point win in the opener against the Pistoffs) are rounding into form.

Although they briefly left the Masonic Temple a few years ago, DDG seems comfortably established in the beautiful old building. It was a packed house on Saturday night, featuring a raucous and appreciative crowd. Among the physical rubble of decline, the Detroit Derby Girls stand as a model of consistency, part of this city’s psychological hope for renewal.

The 2013-14 season is DDG's ninth.

The 2013-14 season is DDG’s ninth.

***A big thanks to the Detroit Derby Girls for having the Nerd as a guest announcer this weekend. A special, and personal, thanks goes to the fantastic announcing crew of AK 40oz, Hi-Death, Big Poppa Razzi, Handle Barbarian, and Mr. Mauler; and also to Rusty Wheeler for the excellent stats work.

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