Rat City Rollergirls

Weekend Results: Canada’s WFTDA Teams Have Up-and-Down Weekend

It was a busy weekend for Canada’s WFTDA teams, with most of Canada’s top teams spread out across the continent for important regular season matchups.

Both Toronto and Tri-City had busy weekends at Fort Wayne's Spring Roll

Both Toronto and Tri-City had busy weekends at Fort Wayne’s Spring Roll

Montreal Roller Derby: New Skids on the Block

Montreal Roller Derby: New Skids on the Block

Montreal had to have hit the West Coast with high expectations, especially after Vancouver’s Terminal City was able to knock off one of their opponents, the Oly Rollers, last weekend. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Canada’s top team went 0-3 against incredibly tough competition in Rat, Rose and Oly. The losses will affect their WFTDA rankings (although they lost only 3.6 points on Flattrackstats on the weekend), but the loss to lesser ranked Rat and Oly, especially, shows that they still have a lot of work to do before season’s end to finally attain that goal of making Champs.

Montreal (12th) 124 vs. Rat City (18th) 202

Montreal 109 vs. Rose City (5th) 306

Montreal 174 vs. Oly (14th) 230

Toronto Roller Derby: CN Power

New CNP logo

Toronto entered the weekend on a massive 8-game slide, and were looking for some positives heading into a busy summer. Things started off rough on Saturday against a tough Jacksonville team whose incredibly fast and agile jammers ran roughshod over the team. However, Toronto found their form against lesser opponents as the weekend went on, handling a strong Jet City with ease before crushing Cincinnati to close out Spring Roll (it’s hard to believe this Cinci. team beat Toronto a year ago). They were confidence-boosting wins that the team needed as it looks to shore up a favourable playoff spot.

Toronto (23rd) 116 vs. Jacksonville (16th) 243

Toronto 235 vs. Jet City (36th) 86

Toronto 370 vs. Cincinnati (56th) 83

Tri-City Roller Derby: Tri-City Thunder

Tri-City Thunder Logo

The Thunder headed to Spring Roll hoping to improve their tenuous hold on a Division 1 playoff spot; unfortunately, things didn’t necessarily go as planned. Given a favourable draw for the weekend, Tri-City did go 2-2 for the tournament, but the results were not quite as expected. The wins came against a D-2 non-playoff team (Big Easy) and a D-3 team (Glasgow, though due to lack of high-level competition, Glasgow’s ranking is probably far too low), but both wins were within 40 points. The loss to Jet City, despite being ranked below the Everett-based team, was a missed opportunity to knock of a low-ranked D-1 team, and the upset loss to a determined Chicago Outfit team just trying to qualify for the D-2 playoffs had to have hurt.

Tri-City (40th) 148 vs. Jet City (36th) 178

Tri-City 190 vs. Glasgow (104th) 175

Tri-City 176 vs. Big Easy (82nd) 137

Tri-City 124 vs. Chicago Outfit (65th) 161

Division 2 and Division 3 Action

Vixens Logo

The Rideau Valley Vixens headed to the East Coast to take on Maine’s Port Authorities in a very important D-2 showdown between two teams who have made significant jumps early in 2014, and the Vixens came away with the win: another step in securing a D-2 playoff spot.

Rideau Valley (64th) 192 vs. Maine (72nd) 160

Closer to home, the GTA Rollergirls G-sTARs hosted Alliston’s Renegade Derby Dames Striking Vikings in WFTDA action. This was the second sanctioned bout for the G-sTARs after a loss to London’s Timber Rollers to kick off the season. It was the first ever sanctioned game for the Striking Vikings. It was an incredibly tight game, especially in the first half (the Vikings had a 12-point lead at the break). Some excellent half-time adjustments for the G-sTARs saw the hosts take a lead early in the second that they were able to hold onto for the remainder of the game. Neither team has yet to be ranked (they must play three sanctioned games for an initial ranking), but both will be looking to make inroads into D-3 before the season is over.

GTA (-) 144 vs. Renegade Derby Dames (-) 112

2013 WFTDA Championships Preview

Hydra 2013 WFTDA ChampsAtlanta Rollergirls (8th) vs. London Rollergirls (13th)

(Friday, 2:00 PM)

Last year’s host Atlanta heads to the 2013 WFTDA Championships on the strength of an 8-1 regular season record; however, their record was padded by wins against lesser-ranked opponents, and they recorded relatively narrow playoff wins over Toronto and Rat City before losing to the B.A.D Girls 233-106 in the Divisional final.

London Rollergirls, the first international team to ever qualify for the championship tournament, amassed a 3-3 record on limited play in the regular season, but it came against top-notch opponents (including Windy City, Rose City and the Oly Rollers). In the playoffs, a narrow win over Rose City followed by a narrow loss to Denver set up a must-win against Montreal, which they handled well, defeating their international rivals by 101 points.

SKATERS TO WATCH

Atlanta_Rollergirls_logoATLANTA:

The pack is led by former Gotham skater, Wild Cherri, a formidable, frightening blocker. But it is a pack that has a lot of depth. Other key Atlanta skaters are Queen Loseyateefa (56% playoff jam percentage: IE, she was on the track for 56% of her team’s jams), Alassin Sane (53%) and Switchblade Siousxie 53%). Siousxie though, is also potentially penalty prone (averaging 5 minutes a game in the playoffs). Siousxie somewhat makes up for this by leading her team with a +49 plus/minus.

Atlanta’s jammer rotation is led by Jammunition, who has already donned the star 40 times in the playoffs. She leads the team with a 60% playoff lead percentage, has scored 199 points and has registered an impressive +127. The rest of the rotation is filled in by Belle of the Brawl (115 points, 39% lead percentage), Merchant of Menace (89, 27%) Bruze Orman (73, 54%) and Hollicidal (69, 48%).

LONDON:

London Brawling, featuring 11 Team England skaters, helped provide a World Cup preview.Despite also being a primary jammer, the incredible Stefanie Mainey is also a key London blocker, appearing in 41% of her team’s jams. Also look out for Raw Heidi (53%), Knickerblocker Glory (62%), Olivia Coupe (59%) and Shaolynn Scarlett (55%). Raw Heidi has the highest blocker Plus minus at +108, followed closely by Scarlett’s +103.

Kamikaze Kitten has been one of the top jammers in the 2013 playoffs, putting up an impressive line of 317 points (6.6 points per jam!), 56% lead percentage, and +166, scoring an incredible 50% of her team’s points so far. While London does have a strong, four-jammer rotation, there is an intense and noticeable drop off in lead percentage among the rest: Rogue Runner (135, 21%, +27), Stefanie Mainey (97, 40%, -2), and Lexi Lightspeed (57, 23%, -27).

*Read the Derby News Network’s preview of Atlanta and London.

OPPONENTS: Texas Rollergirls  (3rd)

(Saturday, 10:00 AM)

The winner will have to face off against perennial powers, Austin’s Texacutioners. Champs at the inaugural event in 2006 and runners up in 2009, Texas Rollergirls have finished in the top four in every tournament except 2010. TXRG cruised past Terminal City and Naptown in the playoffs and held off Philly to win its divisional.

After going 5-3 in the regular season with  losses to Gotham and Bay Area (the top two teams in the league) and a narrow three-point defeat at the hands of Windy City, the sport’s most experienced league once again seems poised to make noise when it matters the most.

TXRG logoSKATERS TO WATCH

Texas takes a balanced approach with its pack, riding a core of Smarty Pants, Polly Gone, Barbara Ambush, Sarah Hippel, and Fifi Nomenon almost equally. Polly, Hippel and Ambush have all run into penalty troubles at some point during these playoffs, but nothing serious as Texas was rarely challenged in their divisional.

While Hippel and Fifi Nomenon are used as depth jammers, Texas has been running a pretty tight three-jammer rotation through the playoffs that has been fairly evenly productive. Olivia Shootin’ John leads the way with 326 points (8.6 PPJ) a 55% lead percentage and an incredible +210.  Watch also for Hauss the Boss (234, 47%, +96), and Bloody Mary (208, 45%, +114).

*Read DNN’s preview of Texas.

Rocky Mountain Rollergirls (10th) vs. Angel City Derby Girls (6th)

(Friday, 4:00 PM)

After winning the WFTDA champs in 2010 and losing in the semis the following year, Rocky Mountain has been on a rebuild since, but it’s been a quick rebuild. 9-2 in the regular season (with wins over Rat City, Kansas City and Denver), Rocky Mountain knocked off Houston and Windy City before running into Gotham in the Divisional final (losing by a respectable 216-99).

Angel City roared up the rankings this season on the strength of an 11-1 record (only loss was to Rat City), although their schedule has been criticized as being a little too soft. After crushing New Hampshire in the opening round, they were upset by Philly in the semis before handling Naptown 222-130 to secure the spot in the Championships.

SKATERS TO WATCH

rocky mountain rollergirls logoROCKY MOUNTAIN:

The key to Rocky’s rebuild is in a pack that used to be filled with skaters like Psycho Babble, Deranged and Amanda Jamitinya. Triple Shot Misto has emerged as an unbelievable presence in the pack (and can jam as well when needed) while Bob Loblaw, a veteran, has grown into a much bigger role. Also expect to see Winona Fighter, Assaultin’ Pepa and May Q Pay on the track a lot.

Rocky’s three-jammer rotation is led by Casstrator (156, 41%, +26), Sweet Mary Pain (147, 60%) and Alpha Q Up (125, 29%). Look for Toxic Taunic in relief, who managed 51 points in limited playoff action on a 47% lead percentage.

ANGEL CITY:Angel_City_Derby_Girls

Angel City has a very balanced approach to its blockers, with the impressive Soledad, Jane Wilkins, Duchess Von Damn, Laci Knight, Krissy Krash and Rachel Rotten all hovering around 50% jam percentage. Big-hitting Soledad and Laci Knight both have had penalty troubles in the playoffs. Rachel Rotten has the highest plus/minus in the playoffs at +109.

Angel City also spreads out their jammers as well, although led by a core of Chica Go Lightning (214, 59%, +110) Mickispeedia (143, 37%), and Cris Dobbins (95, 48%). Look for Ghetto Fabu-lez (70, 80%) and Tyra Shanks (36, 54%) in relief.

*Read DNN’s preview of Rocky Mountain and Angel City.

OPPONENTS: Denver Roller Dolls (4th)

(Saturday, 12:00 PM)

Denver returns to defend its third place finish at last year’s championships. They had an up and down 6-6 regular season that saw them lose twice to cross-town rivals Rocky Mountain, (potentially their quarterfinal opponent). It was a tough schedule though, and prepared them well for the Divisionals where they crushed Cincinnati, had some trouble with London and finally dispatched surprising Ohio 304-134 to win the Division.

Denver LogoSKATERS TO WATCH

Denver’s pack is led by a couple of the best blockers in the game: Tracy Akers and Shaina Serelson who finished the Divisionals with amazing plus/minuses of +396 and +359 respectively. Look for one of these skates to always be on the track. The core is also made of Jessica Rivas and Susie Long, although Rivas has run into some penalty trouble sitting for 14 minutes in the playoffs so far.

With last year’s playoff hero Sandrine Rangeon out of the lineup, Julie Adams (313 points, 68% +215) is back at the front of the rotation. There is a ton of depth though with Stacie Willhelm (229, 50%), Amanda Sharpless (142, 61%) and Krystal Sprouse (117, 38%) rounding out an impressive rotation

*Read DNN’s preview of Denver.

Ohio Rollergirls (21st) vs. Rat City Rollergirls (18th)

(Friday, 6:00 PM)

After tearing up the North Centrals last year and becoming the sweethearts of the WFTDA, in 2013 Ohio took it to the next level and have qualified for champs for the first time. One of the hardest working teams in the sport, Ohio went 15-5 in the regular season before knocking off Arch Rival and upsetting Montreal in Divisionals. They eventually  ran out of steam against Denver (304-134) in a one-sided loss in the finals.

One of the game’s original leagues, Seattle’s Rat City returns to champs for the first time since 2008! They went 4-4 in the regular season against top-notch competition, before brushing past Boston the Divisionals and losing to Atlanta in the semifinals. They handled Detroit easily, 254-129, to secure their berth in the tourney.

SKATERS TO WATCH

Ohio logoOHIO:

Ohio is led by two skaters have announced that they will be retiring at the end of the season, Pippi Ripyourstockings and Phoenix Bunz. With an incredibly short bench, look to see a ton of Pippi, Outa My Wayman, Bratislava Bruisers and Loraine Acid (who were all on the track for at least 60% of Ohio’s jams in the playoffs so far).

Phoenix Bunz, one of the game’s best all-around players, was a monster in Divisionals, basically jamming or blocking constantly, recording 211 points and recording a 50% lead percentage. The Smacktivist led the team in scoring with 243 points. Kitty Liquorbottom (72 points, 21%) rounds out the short rotation.

RAT CITY:Rat_City_Rollergirls_logo

Rat City is led by the excellent Carmen Getsome who can (and will) do it all on the track. The pack play is well balanced with only K. Beezy and Shorty Ounce playing 50% of Rat’s jams in the playoffs. Look for Full Nelson, Method of Madness and Rumble Fish as well. Method of Madness and Full Nelson recoded amazing plus/minuses (+127, +125).

While Carmen is often used as a jammer, she is also so effective in the pack that she will probably be used in relief. That leaves a majority of the work to go to Jukestapose (179 points, 47% lead percentage), Luna Negra (167, 50%), and Jalapena Business (75, 48%). Sintripetal Force provides the depth and managed an impressive 142 points in limited playoff action (she scored 110 points on 11 points per jam in the clincher against Detroit).

*Read DNN’s preview of Ohio and Rat City.

OPPONENTS: Gotham Girls Roller Derby  (1st

(Saturday, 2:00 PM)

Either Rat City (returning after a long absence) or Ohio (in their first ever appearance) will be rewarded for their win by having to play the three-time champ Gotham in the quarterfinals. Winners of the past two WFTDA championships, Gotham completed another unbeaten regular season (9-0) but did suffer a loss to MRDA champs, Your Mom’s Roller Derby to remind them what losing feels like (they hadn’t lost a game since the 2010 WFTDA semifinals). They won all of their divisional games by at least 100 points including a record-setting 545-21 victory over Oklahoma City.

Gotham logoSKATERS TO WATCH

Despite playing without perennial strengths Fisti Cuffs and Mick Swagger in Divisionals, the Gotham packs looked unbelievable. Led by Donna Matrix, Anna Bokkocks, OMG WTF, Hela Skelter and the always imposing Sexy Slaydie (who is riding a WFTDA playoff leading plus/minus of +440 so far in the playoffs), there aren’t many holes in these walls.

Led by the best jammer in the game, Bonnie Thunders (367 points, 77% lead percentage and +315 in the playoffs) the Gotham jammer rotation is frighteningly deep: Suzy Hotrod (291, 65%), Vicious Van GoGo (184, 65%), Claire D Way (157, 61%) all bring something different to the line.

*Read DNN’s preview of Gotham.

Philly Rollergirls (14th) vs. Windy City Rollers (9th)

(Friday 8:00 PM)

When Philly and Windy met in June this year, Philly snuck away with a one-point win, meaning that this game is anyone’s to call. Philly had an up-and-down year, despite a 10-3 record. They got it all together for the playoffs though, where they swept aside Kansas City and easily upset Angel City before giving Texas everything they could handle in the Divisional final (253-210).

Windy City rode a 9-2 regular season into the playoffs where they crushed another long-time WFTDA team Madison in the opening round. Despite falling in the semifinals to Rocky Mountain, they held off chief-rivals Minnesota in another nail-biting 160-154 victory to earn their spot.

SKATERS TO WATCH

Philly LogoPHILLY:

Philly has incredible depth in the pack, anchored by a core of Shenita Stretcher and Teflon Donna who have as much experience as nearly anyone in the game. In the playoffs, track time leaders have also included Castro, Persephone, Tarantula, Heavy Flo and Ginger Vitis. The pack can run into penalty troubles though, with Tarantula Persephone, and Shenita Stretcher all picking up over 10 minutes in penalties so far (jammer Devoida Mercy also has 10 minutes).

Philly boasts one of the game’s most impressive jammers in Vanessa Sites (AKA V-Diva), and she was awesome in Divisionals, scoring 328 points on a 57% lead percentage (and finishing with a +188). Devoida Mercy (162, 38%), Clam Jammer (146, 52%), and Antidote (94, 45%) round out the rotation.

WINDY:Windy City Logo

Anchored by the physically imposing Sargentina and Bork Bork Bork, the Windy pack is depth defined: Konichiwow, Moby Nipps, Ruth Enasia, Yvette Yourmaker and Hoosier Mama all put in a lot of track time in Divisionals. Bork Bork Bork finished with a +196 plus/minus, and no Windy blocker has wracked up more than 9 penalty minutes so far in the playoffs.

Prototypical double threat Jackie Daniels (101 points, 52% lead percentage) anchors a deep and talented five-jammer rotation. Ying O’Fire led the team in scoring in Divisionals (215 points) and recorded a 57% lead percentage. Killa Nois (124, 50%), Athena DeCrime (146, 58%), and veteran Varla Vendetta (59, 52%) round out a tough offense. 2012 playoff superstar Sandrine Rangeon has also joined the team: the size and success of her role remains to be seen.

*Read DNN’s preview of Philly and Windy City.

OPPONENTS: B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls (2nd)

(Saturday, 4:00 PM)

Popular thought coming into this season was that if anyone could unseat Gotham, it is the Bay Area Derby Girls. They kicked off 2013 living up to those lofty expectations winning 5 in a row. But then shocking back-to-back losses to Windy City and Denver put all of that into question. While they did follow those defeats with a win over Texas, it wasn’t until an absolutely dominant Divisional playoff where B.A.D looked like themselves again, crushing Victorian, Detroit and Atlanta to earn the first-round bye.

SKATERS TO WATCH:Bay_Area_Derby_Girls_Logo

The names of Demanda Riot and bell RIGHT hooks are enough to inspire fear in any jammer, but this deep B.A.D team also includes transfer Amanda Jamitinya (and former champ with Rocky in 2010), Dolly Rocket, Kristi Yamagotcha, Murderyn Munroe, Sherlock Homeslice and Brawllen Angel. Demanda (+374), bell (+337), and AJ (+336) all recorded monstrously high plus/minuses in Divisionals

If that’s not enough, they have an amazing, four-jammer rotation to match the deep pack. Chantilly Mace has been dominant in the playoffs, scoring 312 points and recording a 71% lead percentage. But that doesn’t mean you can overlook Bricktator (215, 50%), Lulu Lockjaw (194, 55%) or Nock Nock (166, 56%) all with at least a 50% lead percentage.

*Read DNN’s preview of the B.A.D Girls.

DON’T FORGET THE D2 TITLE!

The first ever Division 2 Championship will be settled on Sunday as well, with Sac City and Blue Ridge kicking off Sunday’s action at 12:00 PM in the D2 third place game. At 2:00 PM Jet City and Santa Cruz will contest the first ever D2 Championship.

Finally, Derby News Network also profiled the reffing crew of this year’s championships. Read it here.

*** All games will be boutcast live on WFTDA.TV.***

wftdatvlogo

Nerd Meat Part 2: After the Great Divide

Nerd Meat: The Nerd Does Derby

Part 2: After the Great Divide

On that first day, three weeks ago now, as the skaters of ToRD’s 2011 Fresh Meat crew took their first tentative laps, the fear was palpable. There were falls, there were struggles just to stand. The looks in the people’s eyes told it all. I’m sure I had it too; that wide-eyed look of fear.

In a short period of time, under the guidance of some of ToRD’s senior skaters, we’ve already come pretty far. One particular skater I’d seen struggle just to get up on that first day was now skating laps with ease. I skated next to her and complimented her on her confidence. When I asked her what had changed, she told me she’d just stopped thinking so much. Three weeks in and already thinking like an athlete. Another skater said that it helped that the first thing we learned to do was fall. Knowing how to fall (and knowing that it doesn’t hurt) helps immensely. I’m falling a lot because I’m still learning how to stop. My new mantra: “Roller skates don’t have heel stops; roller skates don’t have heel stops…”

Gore-Gore Rollergirls and the Death Track Dolls play in ToRD's 2011 home opener. (Photo by Sean Murphy)

It has been a great week for roller derby fans in Toronto. Last weekend, at the regular season opener,  the fresh meat made for a formidable volunteer crew, which was much needed on a stormy, yet still busy night. It was a successful and entertaining season opener, won by the defending champion Gore-Gore Rollergirls. But on Sunday, flat track circles were buzzing about Montreal’s exploits on a recent west coast roadtrip. Just the night before a dramatic bout had been broadcast on DNN (the Derby News Network); Montreal’s all stars, The New Skids on the Block, had fought back from an early first-half deficit against the hard-hitting Jet City Bombers to take it—rather decisively down the stretch—121-100. But even that paled in comparison to the Skids’ earlier upset over Seattle’s Rat City Rollergirls, one of the oldest, most well-known and respected flat track leagues in the world. Again, after digging a first-half 40 point hole to the 6th ranked team in the nation, the 24th ranked Skids showed their patented resilience and extraordinary conditioning in out-enduring the Seattle skaters and shocking them with a 110-103 win. I don’t think that it would be too much for me to say that it was the most important victory in Canadian flat track history (so far!). In 2010, Montreal had turned a lot of heads in WFTDA (becoming the first non-American team to qualify for regionals); it looked like 2011 could be the year they are ready to contend.

Required Reading:"#24 Montreal stuns #6 Rat City, 110-103" by Justice Feelgood Marshall of DNN (Pic: Axle Adams)

One thing that had struck me about this week was the ever-increasing media coverage of the sport (both in volume and in nature). The revival is as much about the internet as anything else: the ability to share, to correspond easily and efficiently, and to broadcast internationally without the need of massive sponsorship or any finances at all. But the nature of the traditional media coverage is also changing. In Toronto, roller derby had previously been relegated to “lifestyle” or “entertainment” coverage in the local media: covered by the kind of reporters who would ask a skater the significance of her name or the inspiration for her “costume,” as opposed to how many points she’d scored, or what strategy she’d used to break free from those tough traps. But this week City TV (a network that had successfully built itself on a willingness to journey outside the status quo), sent the sports team to cover the season opener and on Monday evening they broadcast a recap of the bout. The focus of the recap was the outcome of the game; the footage was of on-track action. I was so happy I almost cried.

Despite the necessity of the internet, traditional media has been and will continue to be an important part of the revival. It actually didn’t take long for the American media to get on board and within three years of 2003’s Great Divide, the roller derby revival had gone national. Despite being reduced to about 15 skaters, BGGW continued to strive to bring back banked track roller derby. It could be argued that things went too banked, too big, too fast, and devastating injuries on the track, coupled with bouts being played in half-empty cavernous arenas, meant that success was not immediate. The newly formed Texas Rollergirls, on the other hand, were quietly going about (literally) rewriting the rules of the sport. The commitment to the flat track meant that they could bout in much more intimate settings and took advantage of that to jam pack a roller rink full of fans.

On April 27th, 2003, The Texas Rollergirls hosted the first ever official flat track roller derby bout under what would eventually become the WFTDA rules. The modest environment allowed the crowd to feel a part of the proceedings, and fans lining the track in “suicide seating” quickly became a popular staple in flat track roller derby; the fans were on the same plane as the skaters; they were part of the action. The years 2003-2006 were truly a gestation period for the sport, a time of slow, evolutionary growth. Within a year, it was obvious that the BGGW model was not sustainable. They changed their name to The Texas Roller Derby Lonestar Rollergirls, moved into a smaller space (their practice warehouse), and, in a move of bitter irony, the She-E-Os ceded control of the league, creating a skater-run organization based on the thriving situation the flat trackers across town had created. The committee controlled, skater-run organizational model would be as successful as flattening the track in terms of accessibility: it would prove to be a model easily adapted.

Rollergirls premiered on A&E on January 2nd, 2006.

Paralleling the growing sophistication of the sport, the media coverage would grow as well. With its flashy violence, colourful drama, and direct ties to the past—and despite its early internal dramas—banked track roller derby was the obvious early star of the revival. This culminated in the 2006 A&E series Rollergirls, which set out to follow the Lonestars skaters through a full season. Big on personal drama, low on skating specifics; big on the spectacle of the banked-track events, low on analysing track strategies, Rollergirls, in its voyeuristic look at the lives of the colourful banked track skaters, was a compelling show, dramatic and easily digestible. But it was far from being a show about a sport. Indeed, it’s actually possible to watch the full series and come away with absolutely no knowledge of the sport (other than, maybe, that the girls with the stars on their helmets score points). In some ways Rollergirls could easily be looked at as a kind of sequel to Hell on Wheels. Or, at least, half a sequel, giving closure to the story of the skaters on the banked track. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Blood on the Flat Track was released on June 14th, 2007.

Far from Austin, in the Pacific Northwest, there was another film crew charting the revival as well. Lainy Bagwell and Lacey Leavitt’s Blood on the Flat Track chronicles the rise of the one of the earliest of the flat track leagues, that same team Montreal had just upset, Seattle’s Rat City Rollergirls. The documentary is no less compelling in its characterization or narrative than Rollergirls, but in its style, scope, and focus couldn’t be more different. As natural sequels to Hell on Wheels, a quick comparison of the two captures the essential differences between banked track and flat track roller derby. In terms of the sport, A&E’s series was all style over substance, while Blood on the Flat Track created its narrative around the growth and development of the sport and Rat City’s emergence as one of Seattle’s most important (and popular) sports organizations. It also focused on the creation of the travelling All Star teams and the preparation for the first ever national flat track roller derby tournament. While Rollergirls told the story of an insular, (virtually) single-league sport, Blood on the Flat Track gloriously captured the early days of a national, and eventually international, revolution.

In February 2006, Tucson Roller Derby hosted The Dust Devil Invitational (now also known as the 2006 WFTDA Nationals) a national tournament featuring 20 of the first flat track roller derby leagues on the planet, won, not surprisingly, by the TXRG Texecutioners. With this tournament, the flat track incarnation of the revival had officially gone national and set off a wave of global influence that spreads to this day.

In March of that same year, less than a month later, in a twist of peculiarly coincidental timing, A&E announced the cancellation of Rollergirls.

At fresh meat, I finally managed a crossover on the quads; was finally able to extend my leg over the knee pads and get those four wheels down (overconfident, my first attempts had been disastrous). The look of wide-eyed fear was gone from most of the women, replaced by a glitter of excitement, those first hints of confidence. A new sort of wide-eyed wonderment.

The animosity between the banked trackers and the flat trackers no longer exists. Banked track roller derby is still played in the states, and there is even a national championship. But it is flat track roller derby that has caught on and has spread from deep in the American south all the way to the slick floors of a Hangar in Toronto.

Essential Viewing Essential Viewing
Rollergirls The 2006 A&E series that chronicles one full season of the TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls, Austin’s banked track roller derby league. An in-depth look at the strong and fascinating personalities that made up the early banked track league. Blood on the Flattrack: The Rise of the Rat City Rollers.Chronicling the dramatic early evolution of flat track roller derby through one of its greatest (and most successful leagues). Indirectly shows the national growth of the sport too, as Rat City prepares for the first national championship.

Nerd Meat Archives.

Nerd Meat: Part 1

Nerd Meat: The Nerd Does Derby

Part 1: Putting the Flat in WFTDA

On of my favourite shots of The Hangar (CN Power vs. New Skids on the Block at QCC '10)

On Sunday, January 30, I approached the doors of ToRD’s Hangar with a bag of gear slung over my shoulder. I don’t know how many times I’d approached that entrance, and I’d even done it with a bag or two of some skater’s gear on my shoulder. I may not remember every time, but I certainly remember that first time: Canada Day 2009, a full day of free, open-door scrimmages. It was a remarkable change from watching hockey-arena derby with vision obscuring glass, netting placed in inopportune places, and that cold separation of fan and track. I also felt, at that moment, that ToRD was embarking on a new period of growth and was easing itself into the mainstream of roller derby (IE: the WFTDA stream). Even being at a hangar was somewhat symbolic of this shift as some of the most venerable roller derby leagues (in Seattle for example) had cut their teeth in abandoned hangars. Toronto Roller Derby had found its home, and perhaps, its identity.

Despite being two years into the Hangar experience and having stepped over that threshold many times before, this temperate day in January 2011 was noticeably different. I wasn’t entering as a spectator or as a writer or commentator. And that gear wasn’t another skater’s; it was mine.

The popularity and exposure of roller derby has been growing steadily since its resurgence in the early-mid ‘00s, and this Fresh Meat intake was a result of that; over 80 women had signed on and had shown up. It was equal to the total number of skaters currently playing on ToRD’s hometeams. And momentarily—with everyone hanging around the bleachers chatting and putting on gear—it looked like an actual roller derby league. Women of every size, shape, colour, age and ability pulled on gear that, in most cases, looked shiny and unworn. It was a group that defied easy definition in every way except that they all wanted to skate.

One brave woman who sat next to me had never even seen a bout. She asked me which taped lines on the floor represented the track and I pointed them out. It struck me almost immediately that this woman—who’d never seen a bout, never roller skated—summed up perfectly the rapid growth of modern roller derby, the sport played under WFTDA rules. Roller Derby had failed so spectacularly (and publicly) in the past, yet now there were hundreds of leagues and thousands of women playing at various levels in increasingly far-flung locales on the planet. With a quick glimpse of those in attendance I realized that there was one main reason why 80 women felt they could come out and take-part in this physically and mentally demanding sport. They felt they could be there lacing up skates (many for the first time) for the same reason that I felt so confident about lacing up skates for the first time: The track was flat.

It might seem remarkable, but it’s actually possible to pin-point the exact moment in history that roller derby changed forever and began the series of events that led directly to that evening in ToRD’s Hangar when 80+ women gathered to learn to skate. It all began with a contentious moment around a backyard campfire in Austin, Texas, when a group of fed-up women stood up in a sign of solidarity and took matters into their own hands. It was early spring 2003, and the difficult decisions made that night would end up directly shaping the lives of countless women all over the world.

The documentary that captured the conception of 21st Century roller derby.

The fact that this divide was so well documented in the 2007 documentary Hell on Wheels actually arose serendipitously itself, and is a story well known in roller derby circles. Documentarian Bob Ray, fully-funded and ready to record, lost his initial subject on the eve of a shoot but had heard of a group of women involved in a roller derby revival. He turned his camera on the four women who were the self proclaimed “She-E-Os” of Bad Girl, Good Woman Productions—the company leading the revival. Over a few years the women refined their vision picking up a lot of rollergirls along the way and played a few “campy” bouts in an attempt to raise the considerable amount of money needed to buy the banked track. In the spring of 2003, increasingly dissatisfied with the tight-fisted control maintained by the She-E-Os, a few of the women gave an ultimatum. The She-E-Os would not relent. And then, at a full-league, backyard meeting, three quarters of the skaters stood up and walked away from the corporate model laid out by BGGW Productions forever altering the nature of the sport.

It is an awkward moment in the film, as the initial protagonists of the story became the antagonists in such a sudden, dramatic fashion. Those skaters who stood up and walked away would not abandon the sport and community they’d all grown to love, but instead they would collectively form the Texas Rollergirls, a DIY, committee-run, skater-owned league comprised of four hometeams and, of course, the mighty Texecutioners travel team. Perhaps even more importantly, these were the women who would eventually be instrumental in creating the United Leagues Coalition (ULC), the precursor to what we now know as the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA).

WFTDA arose out of the the United Leagues Coalition (ULC)

Although “The Great Divide” initially had nothing to do with the literal direction of the sport, the philosophical differences that led to the split would be reflected in the changes of the “new” roller derby: While BGGW continued to work toward becoming an old-school, banked track league (now known as The TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls), the Texas Rollergirls decided to drop the track and keep it flat, which created a dramatic shift in the way the sport could, and had to be played. It’s pretty easy to argue that the banked track was a big part of why roller derby had always faded away.

As a spectacle, banked track roller derby favoured speed over strategy, drama over competition, and the banked track easily became a platform for the kind of staged, sports entertainment that typified early roller derby. The initial incarnation was also, essentially, a single league (Bay City Bombers not withstanding), owned by one person, that travelled around the country, remaining a once-or-twice-a-year spectacle to be watched passively by spectators. There were no local leagues, no one ever played or got to watch it on a regular enough basis to understand the rules (which were vague anyway, and only marginally followed at best).

An intimate look at "The Great Divide."

Dropping the track changed everything; it  required a different sort of athleticism, and slowed the game down to the point where the traditional “hit-and-run strategy” would not be the only (or even the best) way to play. But the most important thing it changed, and the fundamental reason that roller derby is finally here to stay, was accessibility. It’s the accessibility that has inspired the hundreds of leagues in North America and the world, the increasing number of junior leagues, and the thousands of fans watching on a regular basis. It’s the accessibility that is slowly, but quite steadily, laying a foundation for the future of the sport. Only a decade in and there are already separations in level of play; there are recreation leagues, low contact leagues, and even within WFTDA there is a wide disparity between the top and bottom ranked teams (I can see, very soon, a division system being implemented to avoid the disparity that exists in the Association right now). And the rules have finally been refined to a point where alterations and corrections are becoming rare, and the evolution of the game has slowed enough that it is now possible to see the direction it is headed in.

Just as the league model had become one of a community instead of a corporation and the sport was watched by fans instead of spectators, roller derby on the track had become a sport instead of a spectacle.

So when I was at the Hangar on that Sunday afternoon in Toronto in 2011, skating my first few laps with ToRD’s latest diverse fresh meat intake, I was thinking about how important a single moment around a campfire eight years before was for me and for so many others, and how amazing it was that the simple decision to lower the angle of a sports surface could have such a profound effect on so many lives.

Essential Viewing Required Reading
Hell on Wheels Released in 2007, this documentary charts the earliest days of the revival, right up to The Great Divide between the flat trackers and the banked trackers. A fascinating, well-made documentary in its own right, complex in its characterization and despite unexpected twists, balanced in its view. Rollergirl: Totally True Tales from the Track by Melissa Joulwan The inside story of the creation and rise of flat track roller derby by Texas Rollergirl, Melicious, who was a leading voice in the Divide. From the split through to the ground-breaking first WFTDA Championship in 2006. Includes player and team profiles.

* Next Week: First bout with the new fresh meat group; the early evolution of the sport on the track and in the media.

* Read The Prelude.