Interview

ToRD’s 2014 Entry Draft Defined by Experience

ToRD BannerThere could be another massive shift in power in Toronto Roller Derby next season as defending champs, the Death Track Dolls, had the biggest night of the 2014 entry draft, pulling a league-high eight new skaters to its roster from another impressive draft pool made up of a mix of homegrown D-VAS, some very impressive transfers, and some who were a little bit of both.

It’s consistently becoming a bigger challenge to gain entry onto one of ToRD’s four houseleague teams as play in the league reaches new heights: the recent success of Toronto’s charter team CN Power in the WFTDA playoffs will only make this league a bigger destination than it already is. Along with at least a half dozen skaters who learned the sport in some of Toronto’s less competitive and low contact leagues such as the Rollergettes, Toronto Loco and the GTA Rollergirls, this draft features skaters from as far away as Halifax and Vancouver, but also a number from closer leagues as well, such as Royal City (Guelph) and DRRD (Durham Region Roller Derby).

So while there will be a lot of new faces in ToRD next season (21 new skaters were chosen in the draft), don’t expect the level of play to drop at all.

Chicks Ahoy! logo

Chicks Ahoy!

Hyena Koffinkat

Rebel Rock-It

Sneaky Dee

Wheels of Misfortune

Three-time ToRD champs, Chicks Ahoy! are in the midst of a fairly massive rebuild. There wasn’t a lot of off-season change, which will be good for continuity, and with one of their draft picks, they nabbed former Chick, Rebel Rock-It, who brings a ton of experience in her return to houseleague play. They also managed to grab highly touted prospect Sneaky Dee (a standout with the D-VAS this season and already one of the speediest skaters in the league), and Durham Region’s veteran skater Wheels of Misfortune. Finally, Hyena Koffinkat transfers to Toronto from Vancouver, where she just completed her rookie season and could be ready to jump right into the Chicks’ jammer rotation.

Gore-Gore Rollergirls logo

Gore-Gore Rollergirls

Francesca Fiure

Guardian Paingel

Lumberjack Flash

Machu Beatchu

Moose Knuckles

The Gore-Gore Rollergirls are the team that never seems to rebuild. Rumours of their imminent collapse in 2012 proved to be premature as they roared back to finish second in the regular season before falling to the Betties in the semifinals. With five spots open, the team has filled those spots with experience across the board. Francesca Fiure transfers from Royal City (she is also a coach with Toronto Men’s Roller Derby), while Machu Beatchu, one of Eastern Canada’s top players, moves in from Halifax, and finally, Guardian Paingel is one of two skaters to have transferred from Vancouver’s Terminal City Roller Girls. Lumberjack Flash is also a local transfer who spent nearly a full season with the D-VAS this year, proving to be a physcial jammer. And finally, homegrown skater and D-VAS vet Moose Knuckles will don the leopard print when she debuts in ToRD’s houseleague.

Smoke City Betties Logo

Smoke City Betties

Babushkill

Darth Kater

Honey Boom Boom

Jam’herhead Shark

Jenny Specter

Whackedher

After making their second ToRD final last season (and first since 2009), the Smoke City Betties look to build on an up-and-down season and create a little more consistency in 2013, and with the Dolls slipping in to a mini rebuild, this could be the season for the Betties to finally raise the Boot.

The Betties picked up two skaters who are coming off of mini-sabbaticals. Whackedher was a rising prospect on the D-VAS two years ago before taking some time to travel; she returned this season and had great success with the farm team. Similarly Darth Kater was one of Durham Region’s brightest stars before also taking some time to see the world in 2013; she returned just in time for last year’s Gibson’s Cup (DRRD houseleague championship) before transferring in the off season. Babushkill is another rising star who recently had to take some time off and returned stronger than ever, while Honey Boom Boom has been turning heads in Toronto for a few years now and was key on the D-VAS in 2013. Finally Jenny Specter earned her stripes in Toronto Loco before stepping it up another competitive level, and Jam’herhead Shark is a homegrown rookie.

death track dolls logo

The Death Track Dolls

Aston Martini

Bloc Québécois

Devochka

Free Range Clam

Hanibelle

Sleeper Hold

Stringer Belle

Wheatabitch

The Death Track Dolls suffered massive roster change in the off-season, including the retirement or sabbatical of some key veteran skaters and the promotion of three skaters to CN Power.  The strength of the draft is evident in the Dolls strong pick ups despite selecting last in each round. The skater who will undoubtedly have the biggest immediate impact is former Gore-Gore Rollergirl and CN Power skater Aston Martini, who returns after taking a season off (she is also a member of the 2014 Bay Street Bruisers as well). However, there is a lot of depth in this group as well. Devochka is coming off of a strong season in Durham Region where she was a key member of the Durham Devils travel team. Hanibelle and Free Range Clam have a lot of experience in Toronto derby as well. Finally, Sleeper Hold (from Toronto Loco) and D-VAS-developed Wheatabitch, and local transfer Stringer Belle round out the new Dolls’ lineup.

The Dolls also picked up an impressive internal transfer from the Gores, seven year vet Junkie Jenny, who will also continue play on the Bay Street Bruisers this season.

**Keep your eyes on Toronto Roller Derby.com for updates on what promises to be an incredible 2014 season in ToRD!

2013 WFTDA Playoff Preview: Can Con Edition!

The 2013 WFTDA Playoffs will feature five international teams, including three from Canada.

The 2013 WFTDA playoffs will feature five international teams, including three from Canada.

On September 24, 2010, in White Plains, New York, Montreal Roller Derby’s New Skids on the Block would make history, becoming the first non-American team to play in the WFTDA playoffs, setting off the international era of flat track roller derby. That year Montreal entered the Eastern Regionals ranked 6th, setting up an opening quarterfinal showdown against their long-time (but friendly) rivals, the Boston Massacre. The Skids would lose the game and finish 7th in the Regional tournament. The event, boutcast on Derby News Network and watched widely in Canada, inspired a growth of competitive derby in this country and abroad that continues to this day.

Four years later and Montreal has qualified for its fourth consecutive WFTDA playoff. But this year they are not alone, joined by Vancouver’s Terminal City All Stars and Toronto’s CN Power as Canadian representatives. And the influence of that game stretches even further beyond the borders of the great white north, with the Canuck contingent representing just the tip of the international iceberg. London Rollergirls London Brawling are back for their third stint in the playoffs, and this year sees Australia’s first team, Melbourne’s Victorian Roller Derby All Stars, joining the fray.

Fittingly, Montreal will lead the way this Big Five season, being the first Canadian team in action this coming weekend in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The new divisional system means that old regional rivalries have been thrown out the window, leaving teams squaring off based on a purely competitive basis. Montreal roared up the rankings in 2013 to end the regular season at a historic high 8th in the WFTDA, giving them a second seed in their divisional playoff. The favourable seeding allows them a bye straight into the quarterfinals, where they will await the winners of a Wasatch (Salt Lake City) vs. Grand Raggidy (Grand Rapids) qualifying round showdown (Friday, September 6 at 6:00 PM eastern).

2013 will be Montreal's fourth straight trip to the WFTDA playoffs.

2013 will be Montreal’s fourth straight trip to the WFTDA playoffs.

Montreal head coach Ewan Wotarmy was on that historic New Skids team. Since retired from on-track play, she has taken over coaching this season, a season that has seen Montreal reach new highs in terms of rankings. While the high seeding surpassed their goals, it wasn’t necessarily a surprise.

“We had set a very achievable goal of making 12th place earlier in the season,” Ewan explains, “but I had been giving the team point differential goals for our games based on us being an 8th place team.” As usual, the team came on strong early, kicking things off with impressive victories over Tri-City, Maine, Chicago Outfit, and Boston before a narrow loss to powerhouse Windy City.

The early-season form got Ewan thinking: “I had a feeling, based on some of those early games, that we could make second seed.” Following the rankings and keeping up on the new system became key in planning: “The new ranking system makes it a bit easier to understand where you stand in relation to other teams…Athletes are inherently goal driven – having a clear, specific goal (like getting 87% of the total points scored) rather than more vague goals (‘doing better than team X, who played this team in April’) is huge in helping the team focus.”

From the very beginning, Montreal has been known for its endurance and fitness, but this year, after three season of coming up just short in the playoffs, the team has taken things to a new level. “The team has been very focused this year, and working hard,” Ewan says. “They are fitter than ever and incredibly focused on making Championships.” On the track, she says that one of the biggest positive changes for the team has been with discipline and taking fewer penalties: “All of our players have really made strides in this area. Having more players on the track is a huge advantage for any team.”

For Terminal City and Toronto, the situation is much different. After a few years of steady, under-the-radar growth—including making big impressions in 2012— both Toronto and Terminal City put in late-season runs to just sneak into the Division 1 playoffs for the first time. Ranked 10th in each of their divisionals, the teams will have to play a qualifying round game to kick off the tournament. Terminal City opens against Tampa Roller Derby (Friday, September 13th at 12:00 PM eastern) while Toronto will open things up against Sacred City (Sacramento)  (Friday, September 27th, 10:00 PM pacific).

2013 TCRG All-Stars

This will be Terminal City’s debut in the WFTDA playoffs.

Despite the tough draw, each team was more than happy for the opportunity.

“We were ecstatic,” says Terminal City’s Coach Mack the Mouth of his team’s reaction to making the playoffs. “Everyone keeps a close eye on Derbytron, DNN, and Flat Track Stats to try to figure out where we are going to land (in WFTDA).  We were very confident that would make top 40, but actually seeing it was a whole other level of excitement.”

Vancouver’s top team kicked off 2013 with two ultra-tight games against Jet City (Everett Washington) (a one-point win) and Santa Cruz (a two-point loss) before reeling off three straight wins over Sac City, Treasure Valley and Silicon Valley. But Mack sees their progress this season as more than just a single-season story. “We had such a strong year last year, climbing the west rankings from 53rd to 12th,” he explains of their astonishing leap in 2012. “Our work habits, discipline and fitness commitments paid off, so it wasn’t difficult to cultivate that energy around the team for this year. We knew we could build off of that momentum and move to the next level.”

Toronto also had a strong start to the season, with one-sided wins against Killamazoo and Fort Wayne, before encouraging losses to high-ranked Naptown and Ohio. CN Power Co-Captain Dusty says the team was “elated” at the news of their spot in the playoffs. Bench Coach Reverend Ramirez says that the team simply “got things right” in 2013. “We said ‘let’s go for broke’ (this season) and play teams like Windy City and Naptown—all the high level teams we could.”

CN Power just slipped into their first Division 1 playoffs.

CN Power just slipped into their first Division 1 playoffs.

CN Power Bench Manager Sonic Doom points out that while learning from those tough experiences was important, the confidence gained was just as valuable: “What we needed to do was learn that we are capable of competing against those high level teams. While we still haven’t earned that major result, we’ve had moments where we’ve competed.” Specifically, he points to the second half of the game against Naptwon where the Indianapolis powerhouse only outscored Toronto by 12 points as a particular turning point.

None of the teams has really changed too much in terms of their training heading into the playoffs, as they all point out that it was increased training over the course of the year that allowed them to achieve their goals. Instead, each team has been refining their games and fitness levels.

“We are really drilling the areas that have been challenges for us this season,” Ewan says of Montreal’s practices. “All of the players are watching a lot of derby and visualizing their individual roll in our collective success this fall.”

Mack says that the focus of their practices has changed, “I do run more scrimmage/game type scenarios as opposed to drills. Creating as many game type situations has always been the direction I like to take.”

Similarly, Toronto’s amount and intensity of practices has been at an all-time high for all of 2013 so not much has changed in that regard. One major addition has been adding an off-skates practice at a gym where the players can focus on fitness as a team. But again, the management team cites the increased level of their opposition as the best preparation. “We took some lessons from the Skids, who got their asses kicked by a lot of high-level teams (early in their WFTDA careers),” says Ramirez: “You’re not going to go very far if you just keep beating low-level teams.”

Dusty adds that one of the most important changes for Toronto was trust. “I think this year the team has finally become a team who has learned to trust eachother, and trust our coaches and captains and the decisions we have to make for the team.”

Montreal cam up just short of Windy City in March, their first loss of the 2013. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Montreal cam up just short against Windy City in March, their first loss of the 2013 season. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Also, the teams are focusing inwards on sharpening their own games, without worrying too much about their opponents. “That being said, odds would be better for us if we were to play Grand Raggidy, given that they are currently lower ranked and have not played any top 25 teams this year,” Ewan says, pointing out that Wasatch has been playing tougher teams later in their schedule. “Either way, the Skids are going into the game with the intent of controlling it from the first jam until the last.”

“By chance, I got to watch Tampa play at ECDX versus Boston and Windy City, then again at Rollercon versus Sin City,” Mack says of Terminal City’s first round opponents. “They match up well with us; fit, smart, high track awareness team. We are excited to play them.”

CN Power has watched some video of Sacred City says Dusty and Ramirez. “They are a great defensive team,” Dusty points out. “They have big, but agile girls, which is a huge strength to have in derby. We have been working a lot on our offense for that game specifically.”

Just as Montreal’s appearance in the playoffs in 2010 had such a profound effect on the sport in this country, having three teams play in the Division 1 playoffs (not to mention Tri-City’s success in their D-2 tournament) will have an extraordinary impact as well; one that will be felt from coast to coast.

“It’s going to bring the national game to new levels,” says Ewan Wotarmy who also happens to be Team Canada’s head coach. “It’s great that the are teams in very different locations across the country, so the learning can easily be shared in scrimmage and in more formal bouts across Canada…As the sport continues to get more competitive, we will likely be better able to attract experienced athletes to the sport. Given the number of young Canadian women who, like myself, grew up on skates…we could have an international advantage in that, but we have to show these athletes that they have a competitive future in this sport.”

Terminal City went 2-1 at the 2013 Wild West Showdown in March. (Photo by Bob Ayers)

Terminal City went 2-1 at the 2013 Wild West Showdown in March. (Photo by Bob Ayers)

Mack the Mouth is also part of Team Canada’s coaching staff and also sees how this success could impact our national team directly: “It will make the Team Canada try-outs explode with skaters. It will help push more Canadian teams to apply for their WFTDA apprenticeship. And lets not forget Tri-City and Rideau Valley; I expect both of those teams to be pushing for Division 1 spots in 2014.”

Toronto’s Sonic Doom agrees that Canada’s impact on WFTDA is just beginning. “I expect the number of Canadian teams in the playoffs to triple next year,” he explains. While agreeing with Mack’s selections, he adds Hammer City to the list as a Division 2 team.

One of the biggest changes this season is that Canadian teams have somewhat lost that element of surprise. Montreal, in particular, is no longer seen as an underdog with many expecting them to advance to Championships this season. “I feel that we are still punching above our weight (literally and figuratively),” Ewan points out. “We certainly have an advantage going into the tournament, given that we are seeded second, but all the teams at these tournaments are really fantastic! This has been a year of many upsets in the WFTDA.” And they do have a tough bracket, joined by WFTDA stalwarts Denver and Rose City, but also Arch Rival, Ohio and their playoff rivals London.

Toronto narrowly lost to Ohio at the 2013 Quad City Chaos. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Toronto narrowly lost to Ohio at the 2013 Quad City Chaos. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Sonic Doom points out that while Toronto is new to the playoffs, they do have significant tournament experience, “We’re not unfamiliar with tournament play. We’ve done well at Brewhaha and ECDX and we host the Quad City Chaos every year (since 2010).”

What it all boils down to for these teams is hard work: It took hard work to get to this point and it’s going to take hard work to advance.

“We are seeing this as an opportunity, and opportunities don’t make themselves,” explains Ewan Wotarmy. “We have to rise to the occasion and shine that weekend. That’s not going to just happen on its own – but it will happen when we stay focused, play clean and work hard. I have faith in my team to do just that.”

Dusty is also brimming with an excited confidence at Toronto’s chances. “I know we just squeaked in there in the last quarter, and we all know we are coming in at the bottom, but we have something to prove, and we have nothing to lose, and those kinds of teams can be the most dangerous.”

*For a game-by-game preview, check out Derby News Network.

PLAYOFF PRIMER:

Montreal Roller Derby: New Skids on the BlockMontreal Roller Derby: The New Skids on the Block

Season Record: 10-4

WFTDA Ranking: 8th (2nd in their Divisional tournament)

First Game: VS. TBD (Wasatch or Grand Raggidy): Friday, September 6 at 6:00 PM eastern

Usual Suspects: Blockers: Jess Bandit, Smack Daddy, Bone Machine, Lil Mama. Jammers: Iron Wench, Georgia W. Tush.

Skaters to Watch: Blocker: Surgical Strike. Jammer: Greta Bobo

HELP THEM TRAVEL TO THE PLAYOFFS!

Terminal City All StarsTerminal City Roller Girls: Terminal City All Stars

Season Record: 5-4 (in WFTDA play, 8-4 overall)

WFTDA Ranking: 38th (10th in their Divisional)

First Game: VS. Tampa Roller Derby: Friday, September 13th at 12:00 PM eastern

Usual Suspects: Blockers: Kim Mackenzie (AKA: 8Mean Wheeler), Lisa Suggit (Rollergirl). Jammers: luludemon, Bobbi Barbarich (Beretta Lynch), Kim Janna.

Skaters to Watch: Blockers: Flow’erPlower, Scarlett Bloodbath, Jocelyn Ingram. Jammer: Evada Peron.

HELP THEM TRAVEL TO THE PLAYOFFS!

CN Power LogoToronto Roller Derby: CN Power

Season Record: 6-6 (in WFTDA play, 7-6 overall)

WFTDA Ranking: 39th (10th in their Divisional)

First Game: VS. Sacred City: Friday, September 27th, 10:00 AM pacific

Usual Suspects: Blockers: Nasher the Smasher, Dyna Hurtcha, Tara Part. Jammers: Dusty, Bambi.

Skaters to watch: Blockers: Bruiseberry Pie, Betty Bomber. Jammers: Kookie Doe, Bala Reina.

HELP THEM TRAVEL TO THE PLAYOFFS!

Off the Beaten Track: Pain Eyre

Talking Derby Cover (Black Moss Press)

“Roller derby is not a pretty sport.”

-from Talking Derby: Stories from a Life on Eight Wheels (Black Moss Press, 2013)

Since the rebirth of modern roller derby in 2003, the sport has been slowly jamming its way into mainstream culture, fighting a constant battle—it sometimes seems—against stigma and preconceptions, the most notable of which, is that roller derby is a staged, sexy throwback to the sports entertainment version that prevailed in the 70s and 80s.

Of course, those in the know are well aware that for every game-day polished, crisply uniformed skater who takes the track, hours of blood, sweat and tears have been shed to get there.

Pain Eyre helped found the Border City Brawlers in 2010. (Skater Photo)

Pain Eyre (AKA: Kate Hargreaves) helped found the Border City Brawlers in 2010. (Skater Photo)

In her book Talking Derby (Black Moss Press, spring 2013), Border City Brawler skater Pain Eyre (AKA: Kate Hargreaves) takes great pains to present flat track roller derby in all its smelly, oozing, gut-wrenching reality. Most importantly, in its raw, honest glimpse behind the scenes, Hargreaves presents roller derby as a highly competitive, deeply challenging sport. It’s an approach that created a book that has garnered attention within the roller derby community (Scald Eagle, Bonnie D. Stroir, Luludemon, and Greorgia W. Tush all contributed blurbs), but outside of that community as well, especially within the literary community of which Pain is a part.

While most books about roller derby have been in some way instructive or explanatory (even Talking Derby includes a glossary), Pain Eyre’s collection dives straight into the action, giving readers an honest, almost autobiographical portrayal of the sport and its competitors.

Urged on by an acquaintance—Ladytron—who had the idea of starting a roller derby league in Windsor, Ontario, Pain Eyre got swept up in the derby revolution in August 2010.  Hooligal, at the time a skater with the nearby Detroit Derby Girls but with roots in Hammer City, helped Pain and Ladytron and the other interested skaters in Windsor get things started, including providing important early coaching of the league. Aside from Hooligal (who now plays in Montreal), none of the skaters had derby backgrounds. Pain Eyre had virtually no skating experience.

“There was a bit of a learning curve,” she admits, noting that her last team sport experience had been soccer when she was 13-14 years old. “But it motivated me…it gives me motivation to exercise.” Like so many involved in this sport, Pain had little sporting background but was nonetheless overwhelmingly drawn to derby. By 2010, the sport was booming in Southern Ontario and Michigan State. Windsor, teetering on the border of both regions, was a prime location to start a roller derby league.

But it was also post-2009, after flat track roller derby’s Great Leap Forward, and roller derby was rapidly moving away from simply being a lifestyle sub-culture and into being a highly competitive sport.

Pain Eyre in action with the Border City Brawlers All Stars. (Photo by Robert Bornais)

Pain Eyre in action with the Border City Brawlers All Stars. (Photo by Robert Bornais)

“I’m lucky that I came into it at a time when the level of competition started rising rapidly, and I came into it knowing what it demanded,” she says of the atmosphere surrounding derby when she started. “Hooligal was a great coach right off of the bat, letting us know that if you weren’t willing to work, maybe it wasn’t the sport for you.”

With her background in the literary community, her base as a writer and her newly forming identity as a roller derby skater, it seemed inevitable that a book—or some form of literary endeavor—would accompany the transition.

At the same time that Pain Eyre discovered roller derby, Kate Hargreaves was just beginning her graduate degree at the University of Windsor. As part of her graduate assistantship, she was working for the literary journal, The Windsor Review, doing layout and design and other editorial duties. The managing editor of the journal, Marty Gervais, noticed that Kate was always coming in to the offices covered in bruises. Eventually curiosity got the better of him and he enquired about them. Intrigued by the sport, he encouraged Kate to start journaling about her experiences.

Those initial scribbles would form the basis of what would become Talking Derby.

The book is fascinating in its structure. As series of short stories (or more accurately “vignettes”) that traces the story of a skater through a series of practices, games and tryouts interwoven with intriguing pieces—sometimes just lists—that read like poetry (no surprise that in her writing life Kate is primarily a poet). While the book is seemingly episodic, there is a discernible arc, and with its focus on Pain herself, is almost autobiographical.

“I thought it would end up being a lot different from my poetry and it did end up becoming a lot different,” she says, admitting that there was no sense of what the final shape of the text would be going into it, and also that she’d never written short fiction. “It ended up coming out of those journals and being shaped through the writing and editing process into the form it took…I wanted it to function as a whole, but I also wanted it to be something that someone could pick up, open and read a few pages at a time.”

The opening story of the book begins in a practice space during a team scrimmage:

“Stale air weighs down the warehouse. 50 feet above our heads,

the grid of fans struggles to manufacture a breeze. A zebra skates

over the door, grabs the iron handle and lurches backward to roll

it open along metal tracks. The sun stretches his shadow across

the dusty concrete, toe stoppers to helmet, as he stands between

warehouse and daylight.”

Pain Eyre must juggle her life as a skater with her busy life in the literary community. (Photo by Jodi Green)

Pain Eyre must juggle her life as a skater with her busy life in the literary community. (Photo by Jodi Green)

It’s an opening that is pleasantly universal in its tone (for insiders anyway), but one that would seem a surreal entry point for an outsider. And during that scene, a few outsiders do stumble into the practice space and start taking pictures, asking, at one point, what it is they are watching. Right from its opening, the book rides that fine balance of speaking to insiders as well as outsiders.

Those early, personal, and visceral journalistic vignettes would shape not only the structure of the book, but the focus of it as well. “I wanted to give a five-senses experience about roller derby: what it feels like to get hit, what it smells like to walk into a dressing room….and talk about how derby impacts that sense. It’s so chaotic out there on the track; you’ve got hits and smells coming at you at the same time.”

The book is relentless in its physicality and despite the raw violence, almost sensuous in its description of the toll that the game can have on the body: bodily fluids spurt, bruises bloom. This is a celebration, sure, but also very much a reality check for those who question the voracity of the game.  “One of the things that I wanted to get across was the actual physical experience of the sport and how difficult it can be,” she admits. And it is something that is clear throughout:

“A split lip. A bloody nose. A goose egg. An elbow to the ear.

Marker smears under the chin. Numbers smudge from arms

to cheeks. I’ve been hit in the face more times than I can count

on my wheels. I’ve tracked bruises tie-dying knees, butt, arms,

legs, hips. Black and purple, fading yellow to green. Bruises I

don’t remember receiving. Bruises that pang every time that flesh

meets chair.”

“It’s one of my preoccupations,” she admits, about the fascination she has with the body and its functions. She has a second book coming out in the spring, a book of poetry tentatively called Leak that shares many of the preoccupations of this book. Pain Eyre does admit that roller derby gave this preoccupation a boost and even became an inspiration:  “There would be bruises turning up (in my poetry) and aches and pains and bloody noses…it gave me a lot of material for sure.”

Writing Talking Derby was somewhat of a throwback for Pain, who actually made a hard shift from prose (even journalistic prose) to poetry only when she began taking creative writing at university. “You can never predict I suppose, even as adamant as I was that poetry was stupid,” she says with a laugh. She explains that it was only after being exposed to a lot of the innovative writing going on in the University of Windsor writing department that she saw the potential for poetry: “I realized that it didn’t have to be what I thought poetry was, and (I discovered) that poetry can be expressive in a wide variety of ways.” She sites Canadian poet (and innovative prose writer) Jenny Sampirisi as an influence, but also Susan Holbrook and Nicole Markotic who also helped introduce her to key poets in her reading life.

Pain Eyre’s breaking through of those preconceived notions of what poetry was mirrors the experience that many outsiders have with roller derby: They come in assuming one thing, only to discover an unexpected depth.

“I wanted to reflect the real sporting nature of derby,” she explains in regards to what she hopes outsiders will take from the book. “People who don’t know about derby will immediately assume that it’s not a real sport or that there is no athletic value to it.” Dealing with these preconceptions is a clear presence in the book, laid bare in one of the more traditionally poetic segments of the text:

faq

So you play roller derby?

do you punch each other in the face?

or wrestle?

on the track?

in the mud?

in jello?

I hear you don’t wear pants

just cute little uniforms like lingerie football

is that true?

While the text does speak to outsiders, it is very much written from an insider’s point of view. Right from the very first Windsor-based book launch, Pain Eyre wasn’t sure how people were going to receive the book. But the reception has been positive and supportive, garnering a number of reviews and interviews, including on CBC radio. “When you get literary people who may not be derby people reading about it, that’s kind of neat,” she says of the positive reception she’s received from the literary community.

Pain Eyre skaters with both the All Stars and also the Hiram Stalkers, a house league team. (Photo by Robert Bornais)

Pain Eyre skaters with both the All Stars (seen here playing Sudbury’s Sister Slag) and the Hiram Stalkers, a house league team. (Photo by Robert Bornais)

As everyone in the derby community knows, managing a derby-life balance can be challenging. Through her first three years of skating, Pain Eyre has grappled with this head on: “It’s sometimes tough. You realize that you’ve had three nights of practice and a game and two days of cross training and there’s a board meeting on Thursday and people are asking you where you have been.”

She used to be involved in a poetry night called TOAST in Windsor, and it used to be on the same night as practice: “I’d have to run out of derby, put on my backpack and jump on my bike; bike to the venue and throw my gear under a table and then jump up on stage and read poetry,” she says of trying to do it all. She’s also knows the toll that being involved in two all-consuming past times can be. “It’s difficult for my friends who are not part of the roller derby community…and that’s something that has been difficult, but I try to balance it.”

She remains deeply embedded in both communities. She remains a key member of the Border City Brawlers where she is immersed in a serious, competitive league nearing completion of a WFTDA Apprenticeship (she plays on the travel team in addition to one of the house league teams), but she remains deeply involved in the literary community as well, both through her writing and through her job as Production and Marketing Assistant for Biblioasis, a literary publisher in Windsor. She has clear goals for both. She’s currently finishing up the manuscript that will become her second book (and first collection of poetry), but also helping Border City navigate its second competitive season.

She is optimistic about the future of the sport (“I’m a little bit terrified about the juniors coming up, to be honest,” she says half jokingly), but also about her league and its travel team, who despite being on a bit of a losing streak this season, is playing better competition and improving all the time.

The book, which kind of has two endings, ends with a note of similar optimism. The second last vignette, “Take a Knee” traces the final game of a season and ends with skaters pulling up the track:

“Skates and helmets off, hair lank and wet, we knee pad clatter

across the floor, scratching at tape and rope. Tug. Collecting stray

programs from empty stands. Black shirts and blue, ripping the

last scraps of derby off the floor.”

It’s a beautiful final image of the track, physical and tangible. But the book adds one more vignette, a description of two snapshots: one of Pain Eyre at her first practice—awkward and uninitiated—and then another from two years later:

“Bigger knee pads. Stronger helmets. Uniforms and strategies.

But we still fall hard.”

The books ends with that dose of thudding reality: “we still fall hard.” For a text that has been so focused on the physicality of derby—of the barely controlled chaos that pushes play and punishes the body—it seems a fitting conclusion.

**Talking Derby is available in bookstores or online. You can also engage with the book on Facebook or on Twitter.

**The Border City Brawlers All Stars take on the Hammer City Eh! Team in Hamilton on August 17th.

Introducing: The Canadian Power Ranking

On Monday, April 1st, the first ever truly national Canadian Power Ranking will be released on the Derby Nerd.

Captain Lou brings years of coaching and announcing to the Power Rankings.

Captain Lou brings years of coaching and announcing experience to the Power Rankings.

For the past two years, Rollergirl.ca, most recently in conjunction with flattrackstats.com, has been doing a fantastic job in providing a consistent numbers-based ranking system for Canadian teams, which has provided an excellent source of comparative information about the burgeoning Canadian roller derby community and has led to some great cross-country discussion. In much the same way that the Derby News Network’s Power Rankings complement flattrackstats.com, the Canadian Power Ranking will be working to complement this great endeavor by adding a slightly more subjective look at things—although through objective lenses, of course.

Power rankings simply add value to the comparative discussion of teams; unlike purely statistical ranking systems, power rankings are a human (some would say opinion)-based system able to take a much wider range of variables into play. Power rankings can account for circumstances beyond the control of numbers, like changes in rosters (through injury, transfer etc.) and winning streaks—things that stats-based systems need time to account for. The best, most reliable power rankings, therefore, require more than one brain to be truly representational.

So, the Nerd is not going about this alone: to ensure broad, regional, unbiased decision making, some of our country’s finest derby nerds will be working together equally on the power rankings.

Captain Lou El Bammo comes to the team armed with an overwhelming amount of knowledge gleaned from days as a coach and bench manager with the Tri-City Roller Girls, where he worked with house league team the Venus Fly Tramps and the WFTDA travel team, the Thunder. Currently he’s on the coaching staff of the Royal City Roller Girls’ travel team, the Brute-Leggers. Along with watching the game from that side of the bench, he’s also been active on the mic, acting as a play-by-play and colour commentator for Rogers TV, Canuck Derby TV, and WFTDA.TV.

Andi Struction brings both a skater and an announcer's perspective to the sport. (Photo by Stephen Giang for SeattleWeekly.com)

Andi Struction brings both a skater and an announcer’s perspective. (Photo by Stephen Giang for SeattleWeekly.com)

The Nerd and Capt. Lou will be joined by a few representatives from western Canada. Dick Pounder was recently appointed Head Announcer for the Roller Derby Association of Canada (RDAC) and has been announcing games in Alberta and for the emerging Calgary Roller Derby Association for years. On top of that, he’s been known to lace up the skates and get out there on the track as well (skating previously for the Glenmore Reservoir Dogs and currently with the Red Deer Dreadnauts), so knows the game from inside and out.

And finally, Vancouver’s Andi Struction also brings that inside/out perspective to the proceedings. A skater with Terminal City Roller Girls since 2006 and currently an assistant captain with the house league team, Faster Pussycats, Andi is also a noted commentator and announcer. A former co-host of the Derby Deeds podcast, she’s been honing her chops on the mic at such major events as the Big O, Flat Track Fever and the RDAC regionals over the past few years

Announcer Dick Pounder has also played the game so knows the game from the inside as well. (Photo by Steve Recsky)

Announcer Dick Pounder has also played the game, so knows the game from the inside as well. (Photo by Steve Recsky)

Captain Lou also sees the Canadian Power Rankings as being an important part of the Canadian roller derby discussion: “Canada is really big and teams are really far apart…which makes it harder for the math to be properly predictive. There just isn’t enough correlative games to make a truly accurate list (based purely on stats),” he says, discussing the importance of this endeavor, and “since we don’t have a proper cross-pollination of games, creating a Power Rankings crew filled with people who have a lot of derby knowledge and are able to sift through disparate datasets to filter out the best of the best is the optimal solution.”

Andi Struction thinks the timing is right and is excited about the future of the sport in this country. ” ‘Canadian’ roller derby didn’t really exist because the east and west teams didn’t really have a chance to play each other,” she said. Dick Pounder agrees that this will be a big year for Canadian derby: “The WFTDA factor should prove to be interesting in Canada this year.”

Andi is also optimistic about the top leagues joining the WFTDA, which would encourage more top-level play. “With Calgary and Kootenay joining the ranks (soon), the eastern teams could potentially do western Canadian tours and hit three WFTDA birds with one stone.”

As alluded to, the Power Rankings Team will be limited by some of the challenges of living in a massive country like Canada with very little cross-region play. Some things to keep in mind about the Canadian Power Rankings:

  • The rankings will be a consensus-based: much like the system used by the DNN (and consistent across many sports). All four voters will present their personal choices to each other and then engage in debate until a consensus is reached.
  • The rankings will be quarterly: at least to start. Due to the lack of inter-region play, allowing time for a wider number of games seems advantageous right now.
  • The rankings will only consider A-level travel teams. It’s just simpler that way, and as more and more Canadian leagues follow the WFTDA model, the opportunity for A-level interleague play has been increasing as well, and it is becoming much easier to speculate how these teams would fare against one another.

    The Derby Nerd rounds out the Power Rankings team. (Photo by Todd Burgess)

    The Derby Nerd rounds out the Power Rankings team. (Photo by Todd Burgess)

We’re only a few weeks away from the inaugural ranking on April 1st, but there is a lot going down in those few weeks that will affect that premier ranking: The RDAC Championship is this weekend in Edmonton featuring A-level travel teams from the West, Saskatchewan and the Maritimes, while ToRD’s fourth annual Quad City Chaos (March 23rd, 24th) will feature two of Canada’s top teams, ToRD’s CN Power and the Rideau Valley Vixens, facing off against top level WFTDA competition. Both tournaments will be boutcast on Canuck Derby TV.

It’s going to be an exciting year for Canadian roller derby, all involved in putting together this Canadian Power Ranking are proud to be bringing another angle to the exciting discussion that will take place. Captain Lou also hopes that these rankings will inspire more than just healthy debate: “I’m hoping that new leagues just starting out will be able to look at the Power Rankings list and use it as inspiration to keep going through the hard times (and) I really hope that a Canadian Roller Derby Power Rankings list will inspire more cross-Canada roller derby bouts, so that east will meet west more often than they have in the past.”

Check back in on April 1st for the first Canadian Power Ranking.

Level Up! So Called “Rookies” Have Major Impact in ToRD House League Opener

The 2013 ToRD House League Opener saw 23 rookies on the track. (Photo by Derek Lang)

The 2013 ToRD House League Opener saw 23 rookies on the track. (Photo by Derek Lang)

Those who watched Toronto Roller Derby’s 2013 season opener on Saturday night were introduced to (and undoubtedly impressed by) a whole new crop of “rookie” skaters, only you have to use the term “rookie” lightly. In all, 23 new skaters donned their teams’ colours for the first time on the weekend, but of that crew, only three were true rookies, in that they had little to no bouting experience before the weekend. So while there was a considerable amount of fresh names and faces on the track, there was surprisingly little drop off in the level of talent. There are a few reasons behind that.

For starters, ToRD fans (and Canadian roller derby fans in general) know that this year the skaters on Toronto’s top WFTDA team, CN Power, left the home teams to focus solely on skating for the travel team (to considerable early season success). It left a wide gap in the teams’ rosters, pulling away core skaters, some of whom had played for their teams from the start of the league.

Secondly, the skaters who filled those gaps were largely products of ToRD’s farm system, the D-VAS (which is about two years old). In total 11 of the 23 rookies on Saturday night played on a D-VAS team that played seven games least year, not to mention took part in the annual Fresh and Furious tournament (finishing third). Some of the the games were home games (including an intersquad game to kick off the year), but also travel games as well, giving this batch of D-VAS a level of competitive experience unsurpassed in a ToRD draft.  “Some of the rookies [on ToRD home teams in 2012] didn’t get to play as much as the D-VAS did,” said one of those D-VAS products, Mazel Tough—now a Smoke City Bettie—in a preseason interview.

Rookie (transfer) Rosemary's Rabies jams for the Chicks while fellow rookies R-2-Smack-U and Smack Mia Round work the pack. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Rookie (transfer) Rosemary’s Rabies jams for the Chicks while fellow rookies R-2-Smack-U and Smack Mia Round work the pack. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

And finally, nine of the 23 skaters on the track on Saturday were transfers of varying levels of experience, from World Cup skaters like Rainbow Fight (Canada) and Udre (Finland) to a skater like SewWhat? who has played in multiple leagues to a skater like Getcha Kicks who has been playing for a number of years and comes to ToRD with a solid on-track reputation in place. For these skaters, a lot of their decision making process on transferring was based on wanting to improve their level of play. “To have people around (me) better than (me) and pushing me to be better is really important to me,” said Betties rookie SewWhat?

The experience of these skaters means that unlike rookies of the past, they will be put into big roles early and often and expected to take on a lot of responsibility. Judging by the performances on the weekend, these skaters are relishing the role. “I’m excited to develop my game (as a jammer) and to get a lot of play time because there is a lack of jammers on the team,” said D-VAS product Lexi Con, who led the offense for the Gores in the opener.

“Whatever they need me to play, I’ll do it,” said debut Doll Rainbow Fight talking about being a potential triple threat in a long line of Dolls triple threats such as former Dolls captains Betty Bomber and Panty Hoser (both now playing for CN Power). This level of confidence in ability and in being able to perform an immediate role, bodes well for the future of not only the house league, but of the league in general.“I like to do a bit of everything,” said new Bettie LowBlowPalooza, echoing Rainbow’s sentiment. “I like pivoting,” she said with a confidence that many rookies in different situations wouldn’t be able to back up.

Chicks rookie jammer Chevy Chase Her led her team in scoring. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Chicks rookie jammer Chevy Chase Her led her team in scoring. (Photo by Greg Russell)

The games on Saturday night showed that the supposed rebuilding that will take place this year will be a different sort than those rebuilds seen in the past (such as when the original Betties roster imploded following the 2009 season beginning a rebuild that really only ended last season). The transfers like Chevy Chase Her (who led the Chicks in scoring), Canadian Psycho (Dolls), and Tomy Knockers (Betties) had immediate impacts on their teams, while the D-VAS graduates like Lexi Con, LowBlowPalooza, Purple Pain (Gores) and Chicks Ahoy!’s Smack Mia Round (who seems to have finally shaken off the injury bug long enough to begin to reach her potential of being a solid, impactful blocker) also took on big roles early. But even the recruits of the most recent fresh mean class fared well, with Emraged fitting into the pack surprisingly well on the Chicks, and the Gores feeling comfortable enough to dress two pure rookies (Full Deck and Cirque du So-Laid).

The house league captains are well aware of the impact that these skaters are having on the teams. Gores co captain Santa Muerta pointed out how much easier it has been to train: “We get to skate next week and work on team integration and not so much picking up basic skills,” she said after the draft, citing the exceptional level of the new skaters.  Dolls co-captain Scarcasm knows the impact will be felt all across the league, “I think it’s an exciting year for ToRD; it’s going to push everyone a little bit further and harder.”

** Next up for ToRD is the 4th Annual Quad City Chaos, a WFTDA Sanctioned tournament with CN Power (and the Bay Street Bruisers) hosting teams from Ohio Rollergirls, Queen City Roller Girls, and Rideau Valley Roller Girls. Weekend passes, day passes and even individual tickets for Saturday night prime time game are available.

Of the nine Chicks sitting on this bench, seven were playing in their first ToRD house league game. (Photo by Derek Lang)

Of the nine Chicks sitting on this bench, seven were playing in their first ToRD house league game. (Photo by Derek Lang)

ToRD Tops Up: Second Draft Completes 2013 Rosters

Toronto Roller Derby’s top-up draft completed the roster selection for the 2013 home season, and with a set of draftees ranging from experienced transfers to the freshest of D-VAS, it marked a stark contrast to the experience-heavy December draft.  The lack of comparative experience allowed the teams to draft with an eye more to the future, as most core rosters had already been sent. Not to say there aren’t some clear impact players in this draft, because there certainly are (6 of the 15 skaters have significant experience outside of ToRD); yet a majority of the skaters have yet to gain any track experience.

Death Track Dolls Logo

Death Track Dolls

Android W.K.

Chicken Sluggets

Rainbow Fight

Robotomy

As they did in the December draft (when they picked up two of the most experienced players in Getcha Kicks and Canadian Psycho), the Death Track Dolls managed to grab highly touted transfer Rainbow Fight, formerly of the 709 Derby Girls in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. One of the founding members of that league and a member of Canada’s World Cup team, Rainbow Fight is another game-ready weapon in the Dolls’ arsenal; a noted jammer, Fight is a potential triple threat in the same vein as former Dolls triple threats like Betty Bomber and Panty Hoser. Rainbow herself speculates that this may be the case behind her selection: “Maybe they hope that I will build on my blocking…they are looking for another PBJ (Pivot/Blocker/Jammer).” Whatever her role, she is excited to be on a team that, on paper, looks like a contender. “I feel like it’s going to be a great year of the Doll.”

With one of the most experienced rosters in the league, the Dolls give us a glimpse of the future in their other picks. Android W.K., Chicken Sluggets and Robotomy are all fresh D-VAS who have yet to gain track experience, but will make for good long-term prospects. But it seems that the future is now for the lone ToRD team to never have battled for The Boot.

“If the Betties and Dolls aren’t in the championship, I’m going to eat my hat,” concludes Rainbow Fight, confident that there has been a power shift in the league.

Smoke City Betties Logo

Smoke City Betties

Kil’Her At Large

SewWhat?

Udre

The Betties went for experience in this draft, with a clear eye toward building on last year’s breakthrough season. Of their three pickups, only KillHerAtLarge is lacking significant game experience. Back in Canada for a year, jammer SewWhat comes to ToRD after taking a three-year winding road through Australia (picking up the sport with the Sun State Roller Girls and helping to found Malice Springs Roller Derby) and then Toronto’s Rollergettes before arriving on the D-VAS, ready, she says, to play in a competitive league. “The Betties were my favourite team last season,” she says of her new team. “They were the underdog…but they are really building to win…My goal is to work really hard,” she says, adding that she believes the Betties have a roster that is capable of pushing her to a new level.

Also transferring to ToRD with three years’ experience is Finnish skater, Udre.  A former member of Kallio Rolling Rainbow (a district of Helsinki), Udre was also a member of Finland’s somewhat surprising 5th place team at the Roller Derby World Cup (making her the second World Cup skater who has transferred to ToRD for this season).

The Betties add experience to an already solid roster. After last year’s fantastic (though inconsistent) season, hopes haven’t been this high since 2009, the year of their one-and-only trip to championship.

Gore-Gore Rollergirls logo

The Gore-Gore Rollergirls

Amefyst

Cirque du So-laid

Full Deck

Tarantulove

Last year was a challenging year for the three-time ToRD champions. Wracked with injuries and a lack of offensive depth, the Gores managed to slip into the ToRD playoffs on a tiebreaker after a demoralizing regular season loss to the Smoke City Betties. It was their worst regular season showing ever, but buoyed by the return of some of those injured skaters, the Gores were able to make it to their sixth consecutive Battle for the Boot.

In the initial draft, the team looked to shore up these inefficiencies (only exacerbated by the loss of the two highest scoring jammers in league history to CN Power), and continued to do so with the Top-Up Draft. While Cirque and Full Deck are rookies, Tarantulove and Amefyst are experienced transfers. Amefyst spent the past two seasons helping to develop Durham’s Atom Smashers (she was  key part of their Gibson’s Cup victory this season) and DRRD’s travel Team, the Devils. She is smart pack player capable of wearing the stripe. Tarantulove, meanwhile, was one of Rideau Valley’s most highly touted prospects last season and gained valuable experience at the WFTDA level with the travel team Vixens. She will fit in nicely with the Gores young jammer rotation, and admitted after the draft, that she had a feeling she’d be a Gore.

Chicks Ahoy! logo

Chicks Ahoy!

(B)lackey(E)

Emraged

Heavy Knitter

Smack Mia Round

The winners of back-to-back ToRD championships in the past two seasons (and three overall), the Chicks roster was left in tatters after CN Power separated from the home teams this year. The rebuild begins in earnest with four more skaters added to a very young roster. Kingston transfer (B)lackey(E) is probably the most experienced in the group, but Smack Mia Round has spent the better part of two seasons with the D-VAS and has picked up valuable track time along the way.

It could be a challenging season for the Chicks who have barely faced any adversity since the 2009 season. But Smack Mia Round, who did not hide her desire to be drafted by the Chicks (“I’ve been a Chicks fan from the start,” she openly admits) believes that the positive attitude at the foundation of the team will pull them through. “The spirit of the Chicks is still there. That’s still clear,” she says, despite the massive shake up of the roster in the off season (they lost the most skaters to the new CN Power team). “In the past few months I really figured out what about derby was most important for me…they are ‘Team Number Fun,’ ” she says of their famous motto, “and that’s what I wanted.” She’s confident that the team can get over the roster shake up.

“Also,” she points out, “You can practice really hard when you are happy.”

**ToRD’s regular season kicks off on March 2nd with all four home teams in action. Stay tuned for a full preview.**

2013 ToRD HOME TEAM ROSTERS

(Before the Top-Up Draft; *R* signifies 2013 rookie)

  Chicks Ahoy!
Biggley Smallz 1017
Chevy Chase-Her 7 *R*
Doris Doomsday 818
Dyna Hurtcha (C) 21
Furious Georgia 2
Hoff 65+
Joss Wheelin 5by5 *R*
Kookie Doe (C) 807
Machete Maiden 613 *R*
Marmighty 41
Mean Streak 529 *R*
R2-Smack-U 1977 *R*
Roadside BombShel 3165
Robber Blind 34A
Rosemary’s Rabies 15 *R*
Tess D’Urb-Evil 1891
  Death Track Dolls
Ames to Kill 747
Audrey Hellborn 1134
Bellefast 5678
Canadian Psycho 1000*R*
Demolition Dawn 36
Dolly Parts ‘Em 925
Dawson Z682
Getcha Kicks 76 *R*
Monichrome 35
Rhage InA Cage 2112
Santilly In Yo’ Face 1129
Scarcasm (C) 204
Sinead O’Clobber 87
SlamWow 1995
Speedin’ Hawking (C) 3E8
UpHer Cut TK0
  Gore-Gore Rollergirls
Beaver Mansbridge 422 *R*
Chronic 60
Draculaura 467
Emma Dilemma 716
Foxy Sinatra 13
Gamma Rei 300
Gypsy Nose Bleed 1066 *R*
Junkie Jenny 37
Kandy Barr (C) 8
Lexi Con 66 *R*
Miss Kitty La Peur 44
Purple Pain 2627 *R*
Santa Muerte (C) 111
Taranosaurus Rex 4*R*
Viktory Lapp 148.5*R*
Wheely Nasty 705
Smoke City Betties
Genuine Risk 1301
Hailey Copter (C) 1
Laya Beaton 83-5
LowBlowPalooza 483*R*
Mazel Tough 18*R*
Misery Mae (C) 101
Mouth of the South 17
Platinum Bomb 78
Renny Rumble 1205
Sin D Drop-Her 1983
Slaptrick Swayze 79
Tomy Knockers 416*R*
Tropic Thunder 47
Uncivil Servant 8305*R*
Wolverina 111
Zom-Boney BON3*R*

Building the Future: The 2013 ToRD Entry Draft

The 2012 D-VAS bench in an early season game against Kingston’s Disloyalists. (Photo by Kevin Konnyu)

The four home teams that make up Toronto Roller Derby’s house league held their annual entry draft this past weekend at Cardinal Skate shop in Toronto.  The developing competitive structure of the league has seen the timely development of the D-VAS, which in 2012 has—more so in this generation than ever before—become a true farm team, developing smart, game-ready (and experienced) skaters who will be able to fill immediate roles on the teams.

On top of the usual retirements, ToRD’s WFTDA-level travel team, CN Power, is now built of a (mostly) unique twenty-skater roster, meaning that there were plenty of spots to be filled on the home teams this season. So much so, that this year’s draft will actually be conducted in two parts. This past weekend, each team filled their roster to sixteen skaters, and early in 2013, there will be a top-up draft that will include the remaining current D-VAS and also the skaters who make up the most recent graduating Fresh Meat class.

Joss Wheelin (jamming) and R2-Smack-U were both drafted by the defending champion Chicks Ahoy!. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The two teams who combined have won the first six ToRD Championships, the Chicks Ahoy! and the Gore-Gore Rollergirls, saw the greatest off-season roster shakeups, leaving room for six skaters apiece. Last year’s third-place finishers, the Smoke City Betties, were able to pick up five skaters, while the comparatively unchanged Death Track Dolls had only two openings to fill.

Despite the potentially appealing desire to just try to replace the exiting skaters with carbon copies from the D-VAS, none of the teams took that approach to the draft, yet each team still had a particular approach in mind. “We approached it a lot like (the Chicks) have in the past,” explained Chicks Ahoy! co-captain Kookie Doe, “a lot on personality.” Her co-captain Dyna Hurtcha further refined their stance. “Teamwork,” she said when asked about what qualities they were looking for . “And how they fit in with the team; how they will affect the team dynamic.” During a slight rebuild a few years ago, the defending champion Chicks took on a “We’re number fun!” mantra that they will look to continue this year.

Lexi Con (now of the Gores) jams in her last game as a D-VAS (vs. Royal City’s Top Herloins). (Photo by Greg Russell)

Attitude was also something the attitude-rich Gore-Gore Rollergirls were also looking for. More than any of the teams in the league, the Gores emanate a particular aura that has always been hard to define even as it remains so unmistakable. First-year captain Santa Muerte cited that as the number one criterion for the Gores: “We look for skaters who have that same Gore attitude,” she said, adding that on the track that translates to skaters who “try really hard and want to be better than everybody else.” This Gore attitude was what first drew draftee Lexi Con to the team: “I met some of the Gores before Fresh Meat and felt a connection to that team for personality reasons,” she explained, saying that she knew she wanted to be a Gore even before she began to skate. “I’m super excited.”

In terms of filling positions, returning Gores co-captain Kandy Barr says that despite their loss of key jammers this season, they “were looking for triple threats,” but acknowledges that “jamming was definitely on (their) mind.” And that suits Lexi Con just fine. “I’m excited to develop my game (as a jammer) and to get a lot of play time because there is a lack of jammers on the team,” the draftee said, before adding, “I’m just excited to be on the team, and I’ll do whatever they tell me to do.”

New Doll Canadian Psycho pivots for the Bay Street Bruisers in a recent showdown against Royal City’s Brute-Leggers. (Photo by Greg Russell)

But drafting diverse, multi-position skaters seemed to be a trend. It was something that the Death Track Dolls could do as well. Having veteran skaters locked into many key positions on the team, they were able to choose well established transfers capable of playing in any capacity. Getcha Kicks and Canadian Psycho were just two of a number of those veteran transfers who were a part of this year’s draft, and Getcha Kicks, who has skated primarily as a jammer during her career, is looking forward to the opportunity to play on a Dolls team known for developing some successful triple-threats.

The Betties were extremely pleased with the way things went in 2012, and for the first time in years were able to enter the draft not looking to rebuild, but to fill gaps. “We thought of it as a chance to build on complementing the skaters that were currently on the roster,” said co-captain Misery Mae. “We looked for skaters who were game ready, and who were driven to be competitive,” she explained. But attitude had something to do with it too. New Bettie LowBlow Palooza admitted that in retrospect, there’d been hints that she could be a Bettie. “At the Beast of the East Misery Mae said to me, ‘You’re crazy; you’re meant to be a Bettie,” she laughs.

But her former D-VAS and now new Bettie teammate Mazel Tough admitted that, like Lexi Con had been drawn to the Gores, there was something that drew her to the Betties: “Before I really knew anything about the league, I felt aligned with the Betties,” she said

Gore draftee Viktory Lapp gets a helpful shove from new Bettie Mazel Tough. (Photo by Kevin Konnyu)

The talk of the draft was the level of play of the skaters entering the league. Because of the active game and tournament schedule, this batch of D-VAS has more track-time than any cohort has had previously. Add to that the handful of transfers, and there shouldn’t be too much of a dip in the league’s competitive level in 2013 (“Some of the rookies [on ToRD home teams] didn’t get to play as much as the D-VAS did,” Mazel Tough points out.). The way Santa sees it, these experienced rookies mean that the teams can essentially continue where they left off to the end the 2012 season: “We get to skate next week and work on team integration and not so much on picking up basic skills.”

What this means to most, is that every team has the potential to develop a competitive team. While Betties co-captains Hailey Copter (formerly titmouse) and Misery Mae both strongly believe the Betties had a competitive roster before the draft, Misery Mae does acknowledge that the additions will help, “with the draftees we have now,” she said confidently, “I feel that we are definitely at a competitive level.” But everyone admits that it’s hard to get a read on how things will play out next season, which makes for 2013 an exciting time for Toronto Roller Derby. “It’s unchartered territory,” said Dyna Hurtcha. Kookie Doe agrees, “We don’t know if all of the teams will be close or if there will be weaker and stronger teams.” Dolls co-captain Scarcasm echoes the sentiment as well, “I think it’s an exciting year for ToRD; it’s going to push everyone a little bit further and harder.”

LowBlowPalooza was drafted by the Smoke City Betties. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

And with the Death Track Dolls and the Smoke City Betties losing the least amount of core players, there could be a potential power shift in the league. “Last year we gained huge momentum from what we did the year before,” said Misery Mae, “and we hope to do that this year…this year we’ve gotten to the point where we feel our improvement level is Boot level.” Both teams also boast a high number of members of the Bay Street Bruisers. New Doll ( and current Bruiser) Canadian Psycho acknowledges that “the familiarity will be good for the team competitively.  Her captain Scarcasm agrees that the extra training won’t hurt, but cautions against relying on that, “It’s only half the team that ‘s on the Bruisers,” she mentions, “and we really need to work together as the Dolls and keep those teams separate.”

While this weekend only built up the core sixteen of the team, the competitive heart of each of the four teams is essentially in place. The January top-up draft will provide a unique opportunity to pick up some long- term prospects and even take risks on skaters based purely on potential. All in all, with a nearly level playing field, nineteen new skaters ready to take ToRD by storm, and a crop of rookies brandishing more track time than any other class in history, Toronto Roller Derby’s 2013 season is quickly becoming the most heavily anticipated season yet.

2013 ToRD HOME TEAM ROSTERS

(*R* signifies 2013 rookie skater)

  Chicks Ahoy!
Biggley Smallz 1017
Chevy Chase-Her 7 *R*
Doris Doomsday 818
Dyna Hurtcha (C) 21
Furious Georgia 2
Hoff 65+
Joss Wheelin 5by5 *R*
Kookie Doe (C) 807
Machete Maiden 613 *R*
Marmighty 41
Mean Streak 529 *R*
R2-Smack-U 1977 *R*
Roadside BombShel 3165
Robber Blind 34A
Rosemary’s Rabies 15 *R*
Tess D’Urb-Evil 1891
  Death Track Dolls
Ames to Kill 747
Audrey Hellborn 1134
Bellefast 5678
Canadian Psycho 1000*R*
Demolition Dawn 36
Dolly Parts ‘Em 925
Dawson Z682
Getcha Kicks 76 *R*
Monichrome 35
Rhage InA Cage 2112
Santilly In Yo’ Face 1129
Scarcasm (C) 204
Sinead O’Clobber 87
SlamWow 1995
Speedin’ Hawking (C) 3E8
UpHer Cut TK0
  Gore-Gore Rollergirls
Beaver Mansbridge 422 *R*
Chronic 60
Draculaura 467
Emma Dilemma 716
Foxy Sinatra 13
Gamma Rei 300
Gypsy Nose Bleed 1066 *R*
Junkie Jenny 37
Kandy Barr (C) 8
Lexi Con 66 *R*
Miss Kitty La Peur 44
Purple Pain 2627 *R*
Santa Muerte (C) 111
Taranosaurus Rex 4*R*
Viktory Lapp 148.5*R*
Wheely Nasty 705
Smoke City Betties
Genuine Risk 1301
Hailey Copter (C) 1
Laya Beaton 83-5
LowBlowPalooza 483*R*
Mazel Tough 18*R*
Misery Mae (C) 101
Mouth of the South 17
Platinum Bomb 78
Renny Rumble 1205
Sin D Drop-Her 1983
Slaptrick Swayze 79
Tomy Knockers 416*R*
Tropic Thunder 47
Uncivil Servant 8305*R*
Wolverina 111
Zom-Boney BON3*R*

Off the Beaten Track: Penny Whistler

Off The Beaten Track

Penny Whistler

On the track, she strikes an intimidating pose: tall, stern, with shocks of red hair spitting out from under her helmet. She’s grown certain on her skates and performs with a confidence and fluidity natural for someone who has been skating week-in and week-out since 2007 when Toronto Roller Derby first began. During league games in Canada’s largest city, she’s as ubiquitous as the very roller skates the game is played on. She’s developed a certain nod when discussing things with coaches and captains in those heated moments in the centre of the track—head tilted, eyebrows raised, never mean or angry. It’s almost teacher-like in its certainty. She’ll listen to you and hear you out; she’ll even seem sympathetic in the moment, but in the end you can just tell that she knows she’s right. No matter how certain you may feel, she’s going to get her way in the end.

Penny officiates a game at the Hangar in 2010. (Photo by Derek Lang)

When you meet Toronto Roller Derby’s head ref in person, Penny Whistler strikes the same kind of pose. Only stripped of the referee’s black and whites and without the helmet and whistle she’s much less intimidating and it’s more striking than anything. But there is little of the awkwardness you see in some people as tall as long and as lanky: it’s a comfort born from familiarity. Though it certainly wasn’t always that way. She reached the six foot mark at the age of fourteen, but at that time, in adolescence, she was far from what you would call athletic.

“I hated sports,” she admits now. “I preferred art class, math, anything that didn’t require being coordinated.” And off the track, that’s not surprising to hear; there is little of the “jock” in her attitude or style, the sternness of competition and confrontation leaves her very quickly when the final whistle blows and the gear comes off. She fits right in, in the artsy/hipster hood of Parkdale in downtown Toronto’s west end.

Raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she began the migration north when she moved to Minneapolis to study at the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities)and ended up staying in the city for eight years. It was there where her initiation into sport finally took place.  “I tried rowing at university and was actually really good at it. It totally turned me into an athlete and saved me from the ‘Freshmen 15.’ ” She rowed for five years and after university found a job with a travel agency. The job allowed her to travel and broaden her view of the world at a very important time. “I never pictured myself staying there,” she says of Minnesota, and with a three-year relationship ending and her company announcing an expansion into Canada, the opportunity arose for her to move on. “I’d only been to Toronto once before, on a three-hour day trip, but I was ready to try someplace new,” she explains. In 2002, she made the move, heading north to open up a new company branch in Toronto.

Penny inspects equipment before a showdown between ToRD’s D-VAS and Tri-City’s TKOs in Kitchener. (Photo by Sean Murphy)

Things seemed to click into place for Penny. She made friends quickly, befriending a guy named Andrew Wencer within a few weeks of moving to the city, and through another friend connecting with Monica Mitchell (another transplanted American) through LiveJournal. To help broaden her community, she tried rowing again (but it didn’t quite work out) and volunteered at TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival (which she continues to do to this day). She and Andrew eventually began dating and very quickly she began to put down roots in a new city and a new country.

She couldn’t have known that around the time she left Minnesota, the stirrings of a new sport had started to take shape in the city. The Minnesota Roller Girls were part of the first wave of the flat track roller derby expansion. Quietly, in American cities like Austin, Tucson, Seattle, New York, and Denver, the flat track revolution was just beginning to take shape.  By 2006, the sport was on the verge of exploding into the international consciousness. Through the A&E series Rollergirls and the documentary Hell on Wheels, the world was slowly beginning to pay attention. Penny Whistler very quickly discovered that the sport was making its way into her life as well. “I started hearing from my friends in Minneapolis and Milwaukee about roller derby leagues starting there, and they were all getting involved,” and she followed her friends’ progress closely. “I was really envious; it just sounded liked something unique and fun.”

Then, as it eventually began to happen for so many, roller derby came to her.

Penny chats with her crew before this 2012 Toronto Roller Derby game. (Photo by Kevin Konnyu)

On LiveJournal, she noticed her friend Monica (soon to be known as Monichrome) began to post about the creation of a new league in Toronto and that she was going to try out; then she posted that the fledgling league was in need of referees. For Penny, something clicked.  Still searching for that sense of community she’d discovered through rowing, she immediately considered roller derby an option. “If all the cool people I knew in Minneapolis and Milwaukee were getting involved in (roller derby), then that meant there were cool people getting involved in Toronto,” she says of her immediate interest. Having never seen a game (there was simply nowhere to do so, the boutcast boom had yet to begin and as slick and polished as Rollergirls was, it was short on sport and big on drama), she actually saw her first roller derby bout in Milwaukee on a visit home when one of Minnesota’s home teams, the Atomic Bombshells, came to town to school Milwaukee’s newly formed travel team, The Brewcity Bruisers. 

Refereeing appealed to her immediately. “Officiating really chose me,” she admits. “I thought it would be fun to skate (as a player),  but I hadn’t been on skates in years and since I wasn’t at the point where I could just jump into it and there wasn’t really the training program we have now…there was never a calling to (play).”  And even watching that first game she was drawn to the officials. “I was already watching the refs,” she says of that first game, and she even noticed a mistake when both jammer refs signaled their jammer was lead.

Penny talks with Coach Adam of the Slaughter Daughters during the 2011 Beast of the East championship game. (Photo by Derek Lang)

Beyond just ability and experience, reffing appealed to her personality as well. “I’m more comfortable in the background of things,” she admits. “(Roller derby) is a sport ‘by the skaters, for the skaters,’ and as an official you’re mostly in the background; you’re in the middle of everything but barely there.” The subculture within the subculture. “I’ve always been sort of a reject, so I’m right at home as a referee,” she laughs at her own use of the term reject. “We’re kind of like the underdog team,” she clarifies. “And I’m an introvert, so the nerdy part of me likes the whole methodical process of it and the challenge.”

And she makes a good point. In many ways, roller derby has gone out of its way to avoid the trappings of the mainstream North American sports culture; it’s aggressively carved its own path. But the one thing in roller derby that has directly translated from mainstream sports is the vitriol and anger often directed at referees. Penny seems unable to explain why this is, but explains that their role in the sport is much like the roles of referees in all sports. “We have a lot of responsibility as officials to show that roller derby is a credible sport, so we have dress codes and codes of conduct,” she says, searching for words.  “We’re expected to be sports officials at the same time we’re volunteer sports officials, but we’re held up to the same standards.” In the end she says what referees in every sport say: “You can’t take that sort of thing personally, and most of the time I don’t think it is…it just goes with the job.”

Penny Whistler at The Hangar in 2010. (Photo by Lisa Mark)

That first season in Toronto was one of experimentation. Although a ref crew from Detroit came up to help train the officials, there was still a lot of trial and error. Generally, there were four referees outside and five inside, but it wasn’t consistent: “The first season, we did something different every game.” Although the United Leagues Coalition (quickly changed to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) had formed and disseminated the rules widely, there wasn’t as much overarching control as there would be, and the rules themselves were still far from refined. Changes happened often and were usually major compared to the tweaks that occur now.

“For those first few years there were a lot of inconsistencies…so you’d have two teams come together playing under different rules (interpretations).” But she thinks the rules are always getting better “little by little,” and she thinks that WFTDA is necessary for the consistent and steady growth of the sport. “It has helped package roller derby where a group in a small town can download the rules and lay the track and start playing the game the same way everyone else does.” And she does believe that the moves made have helped and is looking forward to the elimination of minor penalties in 2013. “I think it’s a positive move on a few different levels: it will make it more accessible to the fans. (Right now) people don’t know why skaters go to the box, and it will eliminate a lot of messes with tracking and making mistakes. But it will also be good for the leagues.  It takes a lot of staff to track those minors, so…the whole process will be streamlined. It will keep the game moving and make things a little more cut and dry.”

While she certainly seems to think that the sport is on the right path, she’s a little more guarded than some on the immediate future of sport: She still thinks that we’re far away from seeing roller derby at an event like the Olympics. “You need derby to be a little more universal. We still need to have a few more world cups.” The inaugural, Toronto hosted, Roller Derby World Cup remains one of the highlights of her long and varied career. She still expresses genuine amazement at “being a part of that first world cup and seeing all of these countries come to this tournament to play this weird sport that we do.” She also, wisely, says that more than the Olympics, the future of the sport is in the burgeoning junior roller derby movement.  “There will be a whole new level of skill,” she says of when this generation of junior skaters begins to infiltrate the ranks of the senior leagues.

The crew for the Australia vs. England showdown at the inaugural Roller Derby World Cup (photo by Joe Mac)

What started as a hobby and as a way to gain a community of like-minded friends has turned into much more than that for Penny Whistler. It’s a grueling, hard, almost selfless job that sees her traveling around Ontario and even the United States now with CN Power and she’ll be NSOing this year’s WFTDA North Central Regionals for the first time. It’s become, essentially, a second job.  “I didn’t quite know what I was getting into and I don’t think that any of us at that time necessarily did, which was kind of fun to all start at that level and figure it out together,” she says. And she has a history of diving into things fully.  “When I was on the rowing team I was the treasurer and really involved in the organization; I’m not one to sit back and do anything half-assed: If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this.”

One thing about a new and developing sport is that there hasn’t been any traditional career trajectories laid out. No one knows what constitutes a full and successful career.  “I haven’t given myself a deadline. As long as I’m still getting something out of it,” she explains when asked about her own personal timelines. But even after all these years, officiating the sport still challenges and intrigues her.  “I don’t think I’ll ever really know everything about being a roller derby official because it’s always changing and there are a lot of complexities to officiating. There is always something I can improve on.”

Penny Whistler from the series “Facing Toronto: Roller Derby Volunteers” by Neil Gunner.

But then she gets to the heart of being involved in this nascent sport: “It’s more being able to balance volunteering at this and real life. As an official you have to be at every game and you are at the mercy of the schedule. To be a good official, it’s not something you can do only six months of the year.”  But after years of transience and transition, things seem to be settling down in Toronto. “We have a solid crew in Toronto and being able to delegate responsibilities will allow me to have a few more years in derby,” she says hopefully.

She’s already accomplished quite a lot in the game, from helping to start one of Canada’s largest and most successful leagues, to muscling her way into the “boy’s club” of roller derby refereeing. “Being the first certified female referee in Canada was a proud moment, but I certainly don’t want to be the only one!” she says of her position as a role model for female Canadian refs (and others, like Tri-City’s Jules and Regulations have quickly followed). “It’s okay to be a woman in roller derby and not be a skater.”

Despite all of these accomplishments, she is certainly not resting on her laurels and still has clear goals. “Right now there is only one female Level 5 WFTDA certified referee and one Level 4,” she says without explanation. And none is needed. Someday, it almost goes without saying, we will certainly see the name Penny Whistler added to that very exclusive list.

Off the Beaten Track Revisited: Crankypants

It’s been a full year since the launch of the series “Off the Beaten Track,” a series of interviews with people involved in derby off the track. The third entry in the series will be published on September 4th. To celebrate the anniversary I thought I’d repost the first entry, featuring Toronto Roller Derby announcer Crankypants.

Off The Beaten Track

Crankypants

He stalks the track during Toronto Roller Derby (ToRD) bouts often dressed in a sports jacket and tie. During the hockey season there will be a logo of his beloved Boston Bruins somewhere on him. His hair is often wild and exquisitely disheveled. He clutches the mic and implores the crowd to get “louder”; his voice, a deep raspy groan, often cracks, and it’s not uncommon for mics to top out or fizzle under the abuse. By the midway point of the first half of any given bout, he’s usually red faced and wild eyed: maniacal. It is no doubt frightening for the uninitiated. But it’s this wild image that makes his smile all that more disarming when it flashes. Breaking that craggily scowl, it’s as genuine a grin as you’re likely to get.

Crankypants calls a ToRD bout at the Hangar (Gores vs. Betties, 09/20/2009). (Photo by Kevin Konnyu)

Sean Crankypants Condon has been calling bouts for ToRD since the inaugural season in 2007, but just as so many of the league’s skaters at that time were playing a sport they knew little about, Cranky was helping create a role that had no definition: the trackside announcer.

PICKING UP THE MIC

In the mid 90s, Cranky, like many left-leaning Ontarians, found himself part of the exodus out of the province in defiance of conservative Mike Harris’ election as Premier. Taking courses at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University led to a stint at the campus radio station, CJSF. Despite being in his early 30s at that point, he’d never been behind a mic before. “The microphone wasn’t that daunting to me…I just thought that I was having a conversation with someone I couldn’t see,” he remembers during a recent interview at the Magpie, a comfortable pub in his west-end Toronto neighbourhood. While at the station, along with hosting DJ slots, he did interviews for special events like elections and Vancouver’s Pride.

When he eventually returned to Ontario (“Vancouver wasn’t my kind of town,” he says almost apologetically), he lived in St. Catharines and continued his involvement with local music, turning his attention to booking bands. For a few years he booked acts like Scandalnavia, Lesbians on Ecstasy and Cougar Party to play the southern Ontario town. Cranky acknowledges that there was a trend to his selections, but one that wasn’t originally intended. “Nine tenths were lesbian-gay-queer bands; it wasn’t planned, I just happened to like their stuff, and it wasn’t coming to St. Catharines otherwise.” He got to know the members of the bands and struck up a friendship with one particular singer/guitarist from Cougar Party—Amanda Caskie—that would prove to be an important connection in his life.

Crankypants announces trackside at a bout in 2008. (Photo by Andrew Wencer)

DISCOVERING DERBY

Amanda Caskie, better known in derby circles as Jubilee, was one of the girls involved in the fledgling Toronto Roller Derby league (ToRD), a league formed from the merger of a few independent teams in the city, and destined to become—for a few years anyway—the largest flat track roller derby league in North America. It was early in 2007 and the six-team league was about to kick off its inaugural season. They needed an announcer and held try outs for the spot at the Magpie. For that initial tryout, Cranky was the only one who showed up.

He clearly remembers walking into the bar for the first time and having to face skaters Jubilee (of the Death Track Dolls), Seka Destroy and Dolly Parts’em (then D-VAS, now Dolls), and the head ref, Sir Refs A Lot. Aside from a brief stint playing bass in bands, he’d only spent time behind the mic on radio, engaged in those “conversations with people (he) couldn’t see.” “I was totally intimidated,” he says now of the experience, despite the comparatively small audience. Some footage from Hammer City was projected and with only a rudimentary understanding of the rules gleaned from conversations with Jubilee, he called the action that he saw on the screen. He got the job.

The move to the Hangar allowed Cranky to interect more closely with the fans. (Photo by Derek Lang)

ToRD’s 2007 season would actually begin with three different announcers (he was joined by Tomb Dragomir and Buck Fever). Initially they called the bouts from the broadcast booth high above the play, eventually shifting to a table by the sound board and DJ. As the season wore on, Cranky’s commitment to the sport and his embracing of the role became obvious, and by the first Battle for the Boot 2007 (at Rinx), he points out proudly: “I was the only one left standing.”  It was at that first championship game that ToRD became the face of the sport for this city and that Crankypants became the face (and voice) of Toronto Roller Derby.

FEMALE CONNECTION

In February 2011, Cranky organized a fundraiser for the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic (a Toronto clinic that provides many forms of support for women experiencing violence). With the help of Diva Zapata (of the Smoke City Betties), Cranky connected with the Clinic and pulled off the fundraiser at the Garrison. A few weeks later ToRD gave the proceeds from a 50/50 draw at a CN Power game to the cause. In the end, his efforts raised a few thousand dollars and inspired an annual event.

It’s never loud enough for Crankypants. (Photo by Derek Lang)

Cranky’s desire to hold a fundraiser of this kind had actually been a long time coming. With a brother twelve years older and a father doing shift work at an auto plant, Cranky’s childhood was defined by the relationships he had with his two sisters and his mother. It was in this upbringing that the roots of his sensitivity to women’s issues were planted. Though he says “it wasn’t something that I thought about, (or) that I grew up with a hard and fast political agenda about…,” it had been a growing concern within him, with action finally being prompted after a few women in his life were victims of violence. In spite of his outwardly gruff demeanour, it is this core sensitivity that has allowed him to have a successful and continuing role in the female-dominated community of flat track roller derby.

“It’s not that easy, especially as a guy,” he says about integrating into and remaining a part of the community. “Cardinal rule number one: It’s women’s flat track roller derby. It’s their sport, (and) and you’re a volunteer in service to the league, the players, and the sport.” While he does own a pair of Reidell 265s, and even completed ToRD’s Fresh Meat program, he’s uneasy about Merby. “No offence to guys doing derby, but women are and always will be the experts of flat track roller derby… guys have a lot of sports… these women, just like you’d say about athletes in other sports, were born to play.”

Crankypants with his aunt Elizabeth Henderson (centre) and mother Barbara Condon. (c. 1998)

In September of 2010, Cranky’s mother, Barbara, passed away.  Only ten days later, on October 2nd , he was back at the Hangar to call a bout. Just before the game started he asked everyone to stand and raise their drinks: “This is for our moms,” he began, “sisters, daughters and nieces. Cheers and thank you.” There were over 800 people at the Hangar that night and sensing the weight of the moment, all shared the sentiment. “That was my most important time in derby,” he says now about that intense period of his life. “There was a lot of love there.”

PROWLING THE TRACK

It was ToRD skater Foxy Sinatra who inadvertently came up with the Crankypants name. Cranky had created Crankypants Management to help facilitate the band bookings he was doing. On caller IDs at the time, it showed up Crankypants Man. Foxy Sinatra ran with it. “Thank you Foxy,” Crankypants says now of the appropriate name (the “Man” was dropped after the first season).

Crankypants and Montreal’s Plastik Patrik call a bout at the 2011 Quad City Chaos. (photo by Sean Murphy)

But having a derby name is one thing: Becoming a roller derby announcer was another thing all together. “I’d never seen anyone do it before,” he points out. “Instinct took over.” Eventually, during ToRD’s 2008 season, he rose from the track-side table and began his now customary pacing. This is all part of becoming a piece of the action, which is an important aspect of the flat track experience. “You’re a direct conduit in real time to the players on the track and the crowd and they all function as one; it’s a real back and forth relationship.” It was important in those early days to establish a style. “We all have different ways of doing things,” Cranky acknowledges, “(but we) become part of the fabric (of the league).” He mentions the Montreal duo of Single Malt Scott and Plastik Patrik, Tri-City’s Lightning Slim, and Queen City’s Maul McCartney as examples of announcers who have become a part of that fabric.

Although he’s had some memorable experiences working alongside other announcers at tournaments (“Love Plastik Patrik!” he points out enthusiastically), he prefers to work alone at ToRD bouts. “There’s a rhythm that’s been established with the crowd and the players.” It’s not uncommon for Cranky to have conversations with particular members of the audience, and his pacing and frenetic game calling draw people into the action. He’s also had such track-side access to ToRD for such a long period of time that he can see things that the average fan cannot, and feels like part of his role is to point out players, especially, who may not get noticed as much. “Some players don’t stand out on a larger level, but I see them out there doing their job,” he says, discussing those “utility” players who battle it out in the trenches without getting a share of the limelight (one of his favourite hockey players of all time is Don Marcotte, a defensive forward who grinded out a thirteen-year career with the Bruins in the 70s and early 80s).

Crankypants Jr. is the announcer for Toronto Junior Rollerderby. (Photo by Joe Mac)

While every announcer brings his or her own personality to the role, Cranky is having a direct influence on the next generation of flat track announcers. Toronto Junior Roller Derby has its own announcer, Crankypants Jr., who is a direct derby descendant of ToRD’s track side figure. “He’s such a good kid,” Cranky says, “and his parents are the tops.” Cranky can’t hide his pride at this homage, and has supported the young announcer, offering him simple, but effective advice: “Don’t be nervous; less is more.” In other words, let the game speak for itself. On May 2, 2011, when the Toronto Junior Roller Derby league played its inaugural bout, Crankypants Jr. was there to call it. He’s taken to walking around as Cranky Sr. does and has adopted the “louder” yell that has become Cranky’s trademark. We’re assured that when the elder Cranky’s voice finally relents, there will be another there to carry on the tradition.

THE FUTURE OF FLAT TRACK

“The sport has changed overwhelmingly for the positive,” Cranky declares when asked about how the sport has evolved. And this is high praise for an admitted traditionalist.  “The reason the fans stick with it is because this is a hard-core sport, and they have full respect for it; to me that ensures the long term health.” But despite this level of growth, he’s wary of taking things too far too quickly (a serious problem with other incarnations of the sport). “I don’t want to see flat track roller derby in the Olympics,” he says, countering a popular sentiment (and one that Jerry Seltzer claims was always the long-term goal of his derby-creating father, Leo). “We’re still in the early days and people will get this image of the sport happening in these sleek outfits: people expect athletes to look and act a certain way,” he explains, preferring derby to spend a little more time building the ever-expanding grass roots. “I think that (going to the Olympics) would take away from what this sport, this time around, is founded on, which has more of a community aspect to it, more of a ‘we’re going to get up and do this’; it doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like…just can you come in and do the job and can I trust you as a teammate?”

The 2010 season opener (Gores vs. Betties, 05/29/2010 ). (Photo by Kevin Konnyu)

Cranky believes that growing too fast at the top will even stunt the current growth at the bottom. “To push for that too hard means that the major cities may represent something that has not built up enough (of a foundation) to succeed on the long term and through that, smaller communities die out.” And it’s obvious that the small (though broad) scale that the sport has been played on so far has allowed for places like Austin and now Olympia to produce competitive teams without having to exist in the shadows of major-city competitors. “If ToRD becomes too big, what happens to Tri-City or Hammer City or even Durham? It’s vital to the community (in small towns like Sudbury for example).”

But he also knows that the sport itself is still in its infancy and has some growing left to do before it’s ready for a close-up on that scale. “The whole culture is going to go through some growing pains over the next few years,” he points out, saying that going to the Olympics too soon would be “like taking a shot of cortisone when you really need leg surgery.”

GIVING AND TAKING

As much as Cranky has given to the sport, he’s gotten back as well.“It’s given back a lot of frustration,” he says, that scowl back for a second, but he can’t hold back the grin. “It’s given me friendships and exposure through these relationships to different aspects of life that I would have never been exposed to otherwise. There’ve been artistic connections, volunteer connections, community connections.”

Roller derby has a way of affecting people’s lives off the track as much as it does on the track, and the effect on Cranky has been profound. “I enjoy the people I know; I know it sounds like one of those crappy axioms, but life is too short to get bogged down in a lot of little stuff. I don’t get aggravated by stuff as much as I used to,” he says acknowledging the real impact being a part of the community has had on him. “I made the best friends of my life through this…it got me to be real about a lot of things, and as I get older…I got to be more easy going about things.” What it all comes down to, he says, is that “we’re building a community.” One whose reach extends far beyond the track.

“Part of my ego hopes that whenever they make that Toronto Roller Derby Hall of Fame, in some corner of it one of my jackets might be hanging.” (Photo by Kevin Konnyu)

In the end, like all of us at this point in flat track history, Crankypants feels honoured to have had his small place in the sport’s development. “The chance to be a part of something that long after I’m gone will be a strong and a permanent part of our sports and community culture,” is the biggest pay off for the commitment and hard work it requires. “When I ‘m looking in from wherever I’m looking in from a hundred years from now, I want to know that Toronto Roller Derby is still around in some form, and that all these other leagues (are too).”

As the interview winds down, there is a discussion about how he and the others will be remembered in the future. “Part of my ego hopes,” he begins, “that whenever they make that Toronto Roller Derby Hall of Fame, in some corner of it one of my jackets might be hanging.”

Undoubtedly it will be, a colourful reminder of one of the more colourful characters in Toronto’s early days of flat track roller derby.

Dames of Thrones Preview: Eastern Champs Second RDAC Regional Tournament

A TALE OF TWO TOURNAMENTS

Last month the Terminal City All Stars won the 2012 RDAC Western Canadian Championship in fairly convincing fashion: holding off a more than game West Kootenay Kannibelles team in the final, 159-75. The Kanibelles turned a lot of heads with their dominant performance in the tournament, and with E-Ville upending Red Deer’s Belladonnas in the third place game, it was clear that the top four teams in the region had performed as expected, and the top two teams had qualified for the Canadian Championship.

It will be a slightly different story at this weekend’s Dames of Thrones: RDAC Eastern Canadian Championships.

With the top leagues in the east focused squarely on the WFTDA, the Eastern Championship has developed into an Eastern Canadian B-Team Championship (although Montreal and Tri-City will not be sending their B-Teams).  Nonetheless, with the absence of the top teams in the region, this tournament will feature a fairly even field of teams that should provide a close, exciting tournament. A lot of these leagues are looking to work their way into that upper-echelon of derby, and this weekend will provide them with a platform on which to do that. With a wide open field, the scene is set for a team to make some waves and announce itself as a the Next Big Thing in Canadian Derby.

THE TEAMS

The Forest City All Stars won the inaugural Eastern Canadian Championship last year in Ottawa. (Photo by Neil Jeffry)

The Favourites

Given the relative lack of play between participants, it’s somewhat challenging to pick favourites, but as defending champions (winners of the precursor CWRDA Championships last year), London’s Forest City All Stars are the team everyone is gunning for. Formed out of Forest City’s two hometeams, the All Stars came together exclusively for last year’s Eastern Canadian Championship and took the tournament by storm, scoring one-sided victories at every level (and defeating a Rideau Valley B-Team for the championship). The All Stars have seen limited action this year, but have scored lopsided victories over Blue Water (Port Huron, Michigan) and Lansing’s Mitten Mavens in preparation for the tournament. Part of eastern Canada’s first wave of leagues, Forest City has the most experienced core of skaters in the tournament, and boasts a roster very used to these big-game situations.

The Bruisers and the Brute-Leggers recently faced off with the Bruisers winning 176-153. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The Contenders

One of Canada’s top leagues, Toronto Roller Derby, will be sending its B-Team, the Bay Street Bruisers, to compete in the tournament and should be looked upon as a threat. Although the teams itself has not been playing together long (the B-Travel team was born this year and has only two games under its belt), it is made up of an experienced roster of skaters from ToRD’s four houseleague teams. 1-1 on the season thus far, they enter the tournament as the #2 seed on the strength of a recent victory over the Royal City Brute-Leggers. The Brute-Leggers have been rounding into form over two years now and have been very busy this year, compiling a 6-3 record on the season. But two of those losses have come to the Bruisers and the Thames Fatales (Forest City’s top hometeam), which should give Toronto and London some confidence heading in.

The Dark Horse

Renegade Derby Dames’ Misfit Militia, could be the dark horse pick of the tournament.

If there is one team that could shake up the top, it could be the Renegade Derby Dames’ Misfit Militia. Training in relative quiet in Aliston, Ontario, there isn’t a lot to base judgement of this team on, but it is a squad made up of a core of very strong skaters. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that they have had uneven results this year: They’ve faced off against two tournament participants in their only two bouts of the  season, dominating the Derby Debutantes before falling in a tight one against Capital City’s Dolly Rogers (who will also be participating).

The Field

Ottawa’s Dolly Rogers lead the pack of the rest of the participants and have had an interesting season as well. The team is 4-3 on the season but seem to rounding into form and are coming off of back-to-back victories that included a 283 point thrashing of Peterborough. Dolly Rogers skater Lobster, veteran skater with Capital City, said the team was not too surprised with their victory over Peterborough and will be use it as “a bit of a confidence boost.” The team Brazil representative at the World cup added that “this tournament’s going to be what we need right now: a challenge.”

Capital City’s Dolly Rogers defeated the Renegade Derby Dames earlier in the year.

Although GTAR’s G-sTARs did exceptionally well at last year’s tournament, finishing in  third place, the team has gone through a recent roster overhaul that sees them slipping into a mid-season rebuild that could hamper their chances this weekend. The G-sTARs are 1-6 on the season with a lot of losses coming against stiff competition, but the sole victory was in their final tournament tune-up against Durham’s Atom Smashers that ended the six-game slide.  Nickel City’s Sister Slag has the least amount of game play this year. Playing out of Sudbury, Nickel City has followed an optimistic 2011 (going 2-4 in their first season of bouting) with a quiet 2012. Their only competition has come in a one-sided victory over the Derby Debutantes, GTAR’s B-Team, in May.

THE OPENING ROUND

While the defending champion Forest City All Stars will receive a bye to the semifinals, the other six teams kick things off in the opening round. First whistle blows at 8:30 AM, with the host Brute-Leggers facing off against the Dolly Rogers. Up next (10:15) will be the Misfit Militia against the G-sTARs; the Misfit Militia crushed the G-sTARs’ little sister (the Derby Debutantes) early this season, so the GTA skaters will be looking for revenge. The opening round ends with the Bay Street Bruisers squaring off against the Sister Slag at 2:00 PM.

The winners of these three games will advance to the final four, while the losers will continue the tournament in a round-robin consolation bracket to determine final seedings.

***Dames of Thrones: RDAC Eastern Canadian Championship will be boutcast live all weekend by the fine folks at Canuck Derby TV. Check here for the complete schedule.