Texas Rollergirls

When the World Caught Up: Gotham looks (almost) beatable in winning fourth Hydra

Gotham won its fourth WFTDA title, but their opponents stole the show.

Gotham won its fourth WFTDA title, but its opponents stole the show.

Sometimes when you give performers a stage larger than any other that they have ever been on, they wilt under the spotlight. But sometimes they also rise up to meet that grandeur of that stage and give the performance of their life. At this weekend’s WFTDA Championship not one, but two teams were placed under the glaring light of that spotlight and were inspired to give the kinds of performances that will go down in history.

At the 9th Women’s Flattrack Derby Association championship, Gotham Girls Roller Derby, the sport’s greatest team thus far, won its fourth championship and third in a row, continuing an unprecedented run that had up until this weekend been defined by its dominance. Having won more than 40 games in a row over three years, with the final 22 of them having been by more than 100 points, the defending champs entered the weekend seeming very much like a monolith of dominance. And while they maintained their streak and proved—definitively once more—that they are the best there is, it was the opposition that stole the show.

Read Ogden Smash's Gotham vs. B.A.D. recap for Derby News Network (featuring photography by Danforth Johnson)

Read Ogden Smash’s Gotham vs. B.A.D. recap for Derby News Network (featuring photography by Danforth Johnson)

In its first championship, Ohio offered little resistance to Gotham in the quarterfinals (although they narrowly managed to avoid being part of a record-setting defeat with a comparatively strong second half in the 509-64 loss), and while everyone expected the Bay Area Derby Girls to do considerably better, no one in Milwaukee’s US Cellular Arena gave them much of a shot. Down 22-2 after three jams, things seemed to be unfolding as expected for Bay Area: Mighty Gotham once again tightening the noose early. But then something interesting happened: The B.A.D. Girls wouldn’t go away. Only a late 20-point power jam kept Gotham ahead by a significant amount (102-47 at half). The second half was much the same, with Bay Area winning over the hearts of the crowd and keeping pace with their opponents before succumbing to the champs 174-125, which was, impressively, the tightest margin Gotham had won by since June 2012.

The Texas Rollergirls Texacutioners, the grandmothers of our modern game, were apparently watching that semifinal (they’d already handily dispatched Denver in their semifinal 298-129) and must have drawn confidence from it; nonetheless, there were few, if any, who gave the skaters from Austin much of a chance in the final—indeed word around the track was that the B.A.D. vs. Gotham semi had essentially been the championship game. (Bay Area went on to finish third, handling Denver 224-174).

Gotham and Texas have a history that dates back all the way to the first WFTDA championship in 2006, where Texas defeated Gotham 32-16 in a ten-minute round robin seeding-game. Since then, they have met six times in sanctioned bouts with Gotham winning them all by increasingly larger margins culminating in Gotham’s 247 point victory (313-66) just six months ago at ECDX. With similar rosters and not much time between games, who would have expected anything different?

Read Justice Feelgood Marshall's Gotham vs. Texas recap for DNN (featuring the photography of Danforth Johnson)

Read Justice Feelgood Marshall’s Gotham vs. Texas recap for DNN (featuring the photography of Danforth Johnson)

Unlike the Bay Area showdown though, Gotham was unable to even pull ahead early with Texas leading 23-14 after four jams. Indeed, the two teams would trade leads throughout and only a very late 25-3 run over three jams would allow Gotham to pull away and successfully defend its Hydra with a narrow 199-173 win. In the pack, Smarty Pants, Polly Gone and Fifi Nomenon cemented their status as superstars, and while tournament MVP Bloody Mary led the way with the star, it was Hauss the Boss who would be the shocker in the final, pirouetting and leaping her way around Gotham packs and not looking out of place at all on the game’s grandest stage.

Beyond the shocker of those two games, the 2013 tournament was the best yet, and displayed an incredible growth of the game from a strategic and athletic point of view. Friday’s first-round matchups provided one of the greatest days of derby in tournament history, with an average margin of victory in the 20s. And while the quarterfinals didn’t quite provide the same level of intensity, there were moments of brilliance: for example in the Texas vs. Atlanta quarterfinal there was a jam that began as a tightly knit scrum start that didn’t break apart as it approached and then moved beyond turn one; then turn two. As the amoebic-like mass of bodies churned and grinded its way around the track, the crowd slowly began to clap, then cheer, then stand to applaud the gritty, sticky brilliance of the defensive derby on display: it was flat track roller derby at its very best.

The WFTDA ruleset has taken a lot of criticism, with many saying that the game is too slow, but there was little of those kinds of discussions this weekend, and one can expect that there won’t be many more to come. As slow as the slowest moments in the games were, there were breathtaking bursts of speed—the fastest roller derby ever seen. And this is the beauty of the WFTDA ruleset: that contrast between grinding slowness and blazing speed that can be achieved. And while the rules are still in relative infancy and will continue to evolve (for example, there are still too many no-impact penalties called in the game, and there is still some discomfort over allowing a pack speed of absolute 0), but the quibbles of the recent years seem fairly insignificant after the display of the potential for the game seen this weekend. That Texas vs. Gotham final was as good a game of roller derby that has ever been played, with a level of intensity and excitement worthy of any sport at any level.

And not to be overlooked, the first ever Division 2 final between Santa Cruz and Jet City was just as exciting as its D1 counterpart; a last-jam one-point thriller (195-194 for Jet City) capping off a successful D2 experiment that is providing a massive competitive platform for the next generation of Ohios and Angel Citys and Atlantas—teams that could crack the top of the WFTDA list some day.

As hard as it is to walk away from another season, a brilliant season that saw international teams compete at an increasingly higher level (hello London, welcome to champs, and Melbourne, Toronto, Vancouver welcome to the party), that saw the sport reach new heights of competitive parity–as hard as it is to walk away, we can all take comfort in knowing how strong the future of flat track really is.

**A special thanks (and congrats) to the Brew City Bruisers for hosting such a fantastic tournament.

**All games were boutcast live and will be archived on WFTDA.TV.

Hydra 2013 WFTDA Champs

Terminal City Climbs Three Spots in Second WFTDA Divisional Playoff

Texas, Philly and Angel City are heading to Milwaukee.

Texas, Philly and Angel City are heading to Milwaukee.

The second Canadian and third international team in WFTDA playoff history, acquitted itself well this weekend in Richmond, Virginia, at the second Divisional tournament in the WFTDA 2013 Big Five season. Scoring an upset in their Friday night opener to book a bout against the historic Texas Rollergirls in the quarter finals (one of their stated goals of the weekend), Vancouver’s Terminal City All Stars went 1 – 1 in the consolation round to jump three spots, finishing 7th in the Division.

Read the blow-by-blow recap by Ogden Smash on Derby News Network (featuring the photography of Jennifer M. Ramos)

Read the blow-by-blow recap of Terminal City vs. Tampa by Ogden Smash on Derby News Network. (Featuring the photography of Jennifer M. Ramos)

Terminal City laid its cards on the table on the opening jam of their first game, using their vaunted star-pass strategy to ensure no more than a four-point pick up for Tampa, who took the first lead of the game. Unfazed, Terminal City quickly jumped back in front, gaining a lead that they would not relent, yet they would never really be able to put away a scrappy Tampa team either as they would be virtually tied in second half scoring, with Terminal City holding on for the 180-154 upset. Vancouver stuck with a strict lineup all weekend, using a four-jammer rotation of Kim Janna, Evada Peron, Bobbi Barbarich and luludemon. The consistency and variety of their jammers allowed them to provide a varied offense that kept defenses guessing.

While they were clearly overmatched against Texas, they nonetheless put in an outstanding effort and found significant success offensively, able to score 125 points against the perennial powerhouses and founders of the modern, flat track version of the sport. While Terminal City’s lines were fairly consistent on the weekend (and the bench kept fairly short), pack penalties—particularly against Texas—kept things varied. Pivots Buffy Sainte Fury, Scarlett Bloodbath and Kim Mackenzie were excellent all weekend: always hyper aware of what was shaping up and quick to grab the star when necessary. They also got very consistent pack work from Lisa Suggitt, Jocelyn Ingram, Flower Plow’her and Megan Griffith.

Read the blow-by-blow recap by Justice Feelgood Marshall for Derby News Network.

Read the blow-by-blow recap of Terminal City vs. Jacksonville by Justice Feelgood Marshall for Derby News Network.

The first consolation round showdown with Jacksonville was a fast-paced and fairly even bout that Jacksonville took control of early. Despite playing their cleanest game of the weekend, Terminal City could not catch Jacksonville after they took an early lead. Trading jams back and forth throughout and staying relatively clean, the teams put on a show that concluded as one of the best games of the weekend, with Jacksonville winning narrowly 162-127.

And finally, after a slow start against New Hampshire in the 7th place game, Terminal City turned it around to dominate. The jammers had a rough go at it in the early going, facing tough New Hampshire defensive walls. Both luludemon and Kim Janna had tough times penetrating, while Evada was able to juke around the strong formations. Eventually, Terminal City was able to capitalize on New Hampshire mistakes and began to draw penalties (and were dominant on power jams). Fantastically played back-to-back power jams late in the 1st period (the second of which featured luludemon scoring 29 points while Suggitt, Plow’her, Scarlett Bloodbath and Ash Richardson decimated the New Hampshire pack by dominating pack definition and sending all four opposing blockers to the box), put the game away (they’d run away with a 250-154 win).

Read the blow-by-blow recap of Terminal City vs. New Hampshire by Danger (ismymiddlename) on Derby News Network. (Featuring photography by Tom Klubens)

Read the blow-by-blow recap of Terminal City vs. New Hampshire by Danger (ismymiddlename) on Derby News Network. (Featuring photography by Tom Klubens)

While their consistent pack work was huge in their success, the varied offense was key to their game. Each of the four primary jammers had moments to excel, and each had moments when her particular skill set shone. For example, luludemon, who struggled against Texas and even Tampa, was dominant against New Hampshire (76 points) and Jacksonville (58). While Evada Peron found her jukey style better suited against the impenetrable TXRG defense (she led with 41 points) and Tampa (where she dominated with 83 points, a +76 jammer plus/minus, and a 90% lead percentage). The powerful Barbarich and athletic Janna, despite never leading the team in scoring, may have provided the most consistent performances of the weekend, with both managing above 30% lead percentages against Texas, and Janna scoring 50 points on a 60% lead percentage in the opener against Tampa, and Barbarich providing an outstanding well-rounded performance against New Hampshire in the placement clincher (72 points on 80% lead percentage).

It was an impressive WFTDA playoff debut for Terminal City, a performance that will propel them even higher up the rankings than they have already climbed this season (these games count toward next season’s rankings, and because they are playoff games, have a greater weight). If they hadn’t already made a names for themselves, Vancouver’s Terminal City All Stars certainly have now.

**Catch all the games archived at WFTDA.TV.

**Read full game recaps on the Derby News Network.

Canada Day USA: Montreal and Toronto Upset Southern Neighbours at ECDX

With both teams displaying excellent first-year players and deep benches, Montreal’s New Skids on the Block and Toronto’s CN Power scored hard-earned victories in exciting games against Charm City (153-131) and Maine (148-120) respectively on Saturday at Philly’s East Coast Derby Extravaganza. Montreal finished the tournament 1-1 including a 197-55 loss on Friday night to the South Central powerhouse Texas Rollergirls Texacutioners, while Toronto went 2-0, coupling their victory over Maine with a 375-60 victory over Harrisburg Area Roller Derby’s Nuclear Knockouts in a chippy, penalty filled bout.

Montreal increased its record to 7-5 in WFTDA games on the season and despite the loss to Texas on Friday night may have done enough to find themselves ranked as high as 3rd or 4th for the Eastern Regionals. Veteran Montreal blocker Lil’ Mama said that they were hoping to go at least 1-1 in the tournament, and that despite their narrow victory over Texas in 2011, they were still heading into that one very open-minded and hoping for a positive learning experience but remaining optimistic as well: “We went into (last year’s) game with no expectations either and it just turned out like that (a Montreal upset), so we knew they were coming for vengeance,” she said. But despite the loss to Texas (who are ranked #1 in WFTDA’s South Central Region and 5th on DNN), the victory over Eastern rivals Charm City made this weekend a massive success.

Last year when Charm and Montreal met at Anarchy in the UK, high hopes were met with great disappointment for the Skids when Charm took advantage of a short-handed Montreal team to blow them out 207-85. Charm was on a role this season as well, having won five in a row including a narrow victory over Minnesota who had themselves scored a narrow victory over Montreal recently. Skids’ rookie jammer Apocalipstick was ecstatic after the game, admitting that they “never expected (the win), so it’s even better.”  And Montreal seems to be rounding into form at just the right time with a recent victory over Steel City meaning that they have now recorded back-to-back victories over rivals ranked above them (4th and 3rd to Montreal’s 6th), leaving only (the virtually inactive–two games against unranked European teams) London Rollergirls in the way of a Top 3 ranking for Regionals.

Read Justice Feelgood Marshall’s blow-by-blow recap of Toronto vs. Maine on Derby News Network. (Photo by Dave Wood for Derby News Network)

Toronto’s CN Power entered the weekend with an almost absurd amount of injuries to starting players, making an already tough matchup against Maine (higher ranked, on the cusp of a playoff spot) suddenly seem overwhelmingly daunting.

“We were obviously hoping to go 2-0, yeah,” said Toronto blocker Mega Bouche at the end of the tournament.” But expecting? Not really.” The veteran skater explained that they actually used the lowered expectations as motivation (the whole team also wrote Tara Part’s #L7 on their legs in honour of their injured pivot who’d undergone surgery the week before). Complaining about the amount of “chatter” around their injuries, Mega said that on Saturday morning the team came together and “we just said ‘nope’: we can’t do this to ourselves…we can’t let (missing players) affect how we play together on the track as a team… We knew that (we were down players), but we are a strong blocking team, so we just wanted to prove that we could do this with or without these awesome players that we were missing.” And although they took a lot of time to adjust to the roster changes (they were behind until the very last jam of the first half), they stuck together and were relentless in their pursuit of the victory, even falling behind by 30 points again in the second half until they wore down Maine enough to start forcing mistakes late.

“Everyone just played together really strongly,” CN Power rookie jammer Kookie Doe said of the Maine victory. “We just remained calm and worked at it piece by piece.” Although she travelled to Brewhaha and got some late-game action in a loss to Ohio earlier this season, this weekend marked a breakout moment for Kookie, who scored a remarkable 171 points in the blowout win on Sunday against an overmatched Harrisburg Area Roller Derby. “I was really nervous,” she admitted about the increased workload, “but we have a great team of blockers and everyone is so supportive; I rely on them.”

When asked if she’d stepped up her game, she modestly deflected.  “Maybe (I’ve stepped up)…one thing I’ve realized is I feel like I can really trust my blockers…it was beautiful. When I approach the pack, I feel like they are there telling me (where to go).” But Mega Bouche chimed in at this point, a little more blunt in her assessment of the rookie’s big weekend: “(She was) so fucking awesome today.”

Read Justice Feelgood Marshall’s blow-by-blow recap of the Charm vs. Montreal game on DNN. (Photo by Dave Wood for DNN)

Montreal is not playing with a full roster this weekend either and also gave a ton of track time to rookie skaters and new comers. Apocalipstick was one of those skaters who found herself skating every third jam against one of the top teams in the game (Charm). “It was amazing; I had no expectations because I had nothing to compare it to…it was just one jam at a time.” But she is also quick to point out those missing players (superstar jammer Iron Wench [Team Canada MVP 2011 World Cup] and triple threat Smack Daddy [Tournament MVP 2011 World Cup]), and looking forward, knows that when they return, the depth that the team has developed will serve them well. “We’re not putting any numbers on what we’re going to do at Regionals,” she said. “We just want to go out there really strong.” That being said, Lil’ Mama feels the team has done enough to garner a coveted 3rd place ranking for the playoffs: “We’re hoping (for third), that’s our goal. We’ve been playing some hard teams (in) heavy hitting games so that we could learn.”

Despite going 9-1 in WFTDA bouts this season, Toronto is a little more realistic about their chances of a playoff birth. The win over Maine at least opens up the possibility of a Top 10 position, but the WFTDA rankings have not been kind to Toronto this year and the CN Power skaters may have to shift their focus to next year’s Regionals. “Absolutely,” Mega said confidently when asked about at least advancing to next year’s playoffs, but admits that “the (100-point loss) to Ohio stung,” and probably had a big impact on their chances at making Regionals.  But the North Central’s 9-15 positions are a tight mess right now, and who knows how it will all pan out.

There was a huge Canadian cheering section on hand for every one of Montreal and Toronto’s games, in large part due to the busload of Montrealers that followed the Skids to Philly. Once known for their after-party antics more than their on-track awesomeness, the Skids may not themselves be the partiers they once were, but still wanted to make sure they represented, “Why do you think we brought 80 people?” Lil Mama points out. But in the midst of an American roller derby tradition, the loud fans spurred on both Canadian teams, symbolic of the heightened performances by both teams. “The cheering was incredible,” said Apocalipstick. “I really felt like I was being lifted by everyone while I was playing.”

CANADIAN ECDX RESULTS:

Montreal New Skids on the Block (6E) 55 vs. Texas Texacutioners (1SE) 197 (read Justice Feelgood Marshall’s DNN recap)

Montreal (6E) 153 vs. Charm City (3E) 131 (read Justice Feelgood Marshall’s DNN recap)

Toronto CN Power (15NC) 148 vs. Maine Port Authorities (11E) 120 (read Justice Feelgood Marshall’s DNN recap)

Toronto (15NC) 375 vs. Harrisburg Nuclear Knockouts (23E) 60 (read Justice Feelgood Marshall’s DNN recap)

***The interviews with the Montreal and Toronto skaters will appear in their entirety on this week’s Derby Deeds Done Dirt Cheap podcast, so tune in!

Canada heads to ECDX

Battered, beaten and bruised, Toronto Roller Derby’s CN Power is one of two Canadian teams heading to the East Coast Derby Extravaganza this weekend, joining Montreal’s New Skids on the Block in the popular Philadelphia tournament. What started as a promising season for Toronto has tailed off as of late due to a spate of injuries that has decimated the roster. So while the WFTDA playoffs may be out of reach this season, this tournament will represent a big stepping stone for Toronto’s visibility in WFTDA and a nice launching pad for a regrouped, refocused–not to mention more experienced–CN Power in 2013.

The New Skids, on the other hand, enter the tournament finding themselves in one of their most secure positions ever in terms of WFTDA standings. Locked into a playoff spot, this will be Montreal’s third season competing in the Eastern Championships and the second season they will (presumably) enter as one of the top six seeds (thus earning a direct path to the quarterfinals). What does remain to be seen is where in the top six they fall, this weekend’s games will very much impact that.

While Toronto (15th NC) is coming off of a successful  Midwest Brewhaha in which they demolished Fox Cityz (25th NC) by 400 points and held off Burning River (16th NC) 158-125 to pull to 7-1 on the WFTDA season, an injury bug that began to affect them before the tournament has run rampant over the roster. Missing four key jammers and a top pivot (to name a few) CN Power will have a far different look in their ECDX games. They kick things off in a tough contest against Maine Roller Derby’s Port Authorities (11th E) who are in the midst of a dog fight for a playoff spot that has slipped from their grasp this season. Maine has been inconsistent this season never winning more than one in a row (though they haven’t lost two in a row either) and enter the tournament having held off Suburbia (14th E) in a 227-199 victory and then falling to Boston (7th E) by a respectable 63 points.

On Sunday morning, Toronto should have a slightly easier time as they face off against Harrisburg’s Nuclear Knockouts (23rd E). After a 2011 season that saw Harrisburg win three of its final four games, 2012 hasn’t been kind to the team so far. 0-3 so far this season, they are coming off of 365 and 188 point losses to Providence (12th E) and Dominion (16th E) respectively.

Montreal’s New Skids on the Block have a chance to improve their Eastern Region playoff seeding this weekend.

Montreal (6th E) has a much stiffer test this weekend. Kicking things off with the marquee Friday night matchup, Montreal will take on the Texas Rollergirls Texacutioners (1st SC). Montreal is 6-4 this season, with losses coming to tough competition in Philly (2nd E), Naptown (3rd NC), Kansas City (2nd SC) and Minnesota (2nd NC).  Texas remains a juggernaut in the South Central and have been dominant this season once again compiling a 5-1 record with their single loss being a 149-117 loss to Rose City (3rd W). Montreal has the most to gain out of this matchup; coming off of a minor upset win against Steel City (4th E), a chance to score a victory over a highly ranked opponent could help them squeeze their way up another rung in the Eastern Region ladder. Montreal actually defeated the Texacutioners in 2011, beating them 104-88 during the Austin team’s early season slump.

Things don’t get any easier for the New Skids on the Block on Saturday with a matchup against regional rivals, Charm City (3rd E). Despite losses to a few key players, Charm has been dominant in 2012 brushing aside good teams in Queen City (13th E), Nashville (3rd SC) and the Chicago Outfit (5th NC), before finally being challenged by Windy City (1st NC) and Minnesota (2nd NC). On top of this, they also proved to be bi-trackually solid after winning the second Pro Roller Derby Invitational in Glendale (a banked-track tournament). Charm City and Montreal met at last year’s Anarchy in the UK, where Charm dominated 207-85.

CANADIAN ECDX SCHEDULE

Friday, June 22, 7:30 PM:  Montreal vs. Texas

Saturday, June 23rd, 2:30 PM: Toronto vs. Maine

Saturday, June 23rd, 6:30 PM: Montreal vs. Charm City

Sunday, June 24th, 11:00 AM: Toronto vs. Harrisburg

The 2012 ECDX will be boutcast live on WFTDA.TV.

Word on the Track (Rankings Update Part 1: WFTDA)

WFTDA UPDATE

The first quarter WFTDA rankings have now been released, and already the playoff races are starting to take shape.  While a lot of the top teams in each region are just starting to play, the fight to reach the top 10 is well under way. For complete rankings, visit the WFTDA Rankings.

North Central:

1.  Windy City Rollers (1)

2. Minnesota RollerGirls (2)

3. Naptown Roller Girls (3)

4. Detroit Derby Girls (4)

5. The Chicago Outfit (5)

6. Brewcity Bruisers (7)

7. Ohio Roller Girls (9)

8. Arch Rival Roller Girls (6)

9. Cincinnati Rollergirls (8)

10. Mad Rollin’ Dolls (10)

**15. Toronto Roller Derby (17)

**17. Tri-City Roller Girls (16)

While the teams in the North Central’s Top 10 stay the same, the order has been shaken up. 1-5 remain unchanged with the two Chicago teams sandwiching Minnesota (who are 5-0 on the season including a huge 155 point victory over 9th ranked Cincinnati), Naptown (5-2, whose only losses this season have come to the two teams ahead of them in the North Central), and Detroit  (yet to play in 2012). After this, things get interesting.

One of the busiest teams in the WFTDA (9-1), Ohio has made the biggest  jump moving from 9th to 7th based, especially, on a 53-point victory over Arch Rival (4-1) who has the biggest drop from 6th to 8th. For Canadian derby fans, Toronto’s CN Power, on the strength of their 5-0 record, leaps two spots to 15th just behind Fort Wayne (1-3) despite defeating that team in their season opener. The Tri-City Thunder  (2-1) drop one spot after losing to CN Power at this year’s Quad City Chaos. The playoffs are still in reach for these two teams, but they will both need to pull off major upsets over Ohio this month (May 19th, and 20th) and hope for 10th ranked Mad Rollin Dolls (0-2) to continue their losing streak if either hopes to sneak in.

East:

1. Gotham Girls Roller Derby (1)

2. Philly Roller Girls (2)

3. Charm City Roller Girls (3)

4. Steel City Derby Demons (4)

5. London Rollergirls (5)

6. Montreal Roller Derby (6)

7. Boston Derby Dames (7)

8. Carolina Rollergirls (8)

9. Dutchland Derby Rollers (9)

10. DC Rollergirls (11)

Remarkably, only one change so far in the Eastern Region: DC Rollergirls spent all of last season on the fringe unable to break into the top 10. Determined to do so, they have embarked on an ambitious 2012 schedule so far, travelling coast to coast and compiling a 6-3 record.  But their biggest victory came just last month when they defeated Maine (3-3), the formerly 10th ranked team in the region, 197-131, as part of their current four game winning streak that has vaulted them into the top 10. For the most part, things are just getting underway in the East with Gotham recently getting rolling (they’ve outscored their opposition 1135-84 in only two games) and Charm City winning a banked track tournament. Montreal has been the busiest of the top 6 teams so far, but has stumbled to a 4-4 record (with those losses coming against stiff competition from Naptown, Minnesota, Kansas City and Philly), and have unable to make up any ground on the teams ahead of them.

South Central:

1. Texas Rollergirls (1)

2. Kansas City Roller Warriors (2)

3. Nashville Rollergirls (3)

4. Houston Roller Derby (5)

5. Atlanta Rollergirls (4)

6. Tampa Roller Derby (8)

7. Omaha Rollergirls (10)

8. No Coast Derby Girls (6)

9. Jacksonville Rollergirls (11)

10. Tallahassee Rollergirls (15)

Things start to get interesting in the South Central with some massive changes from last year’s final quarterly rankings.  Out of the top 10 are Green Country (who had occupied 7th spot but are 1-6 in 2012 including 5 losses to teams ranked below them) and Gold Coast (9th with a very similar 1-5 record in 2012) who represent some big swings in placement in this region. Even the top 5 saw a switch up between Atlanta (now 5th) and Houston (4th). Houston had been, and still is, one of the hotter teams in the Region and kicked off the year on a 6-0 run including a dominant tournament win at the 2012 Clover Cup. That streak came to an end last week with a 139 point loss to North Central powerhouse Windy City.

This shake up at the bottom of the top 10 has allowed Omaha to jump three spots to 7th. Omaha has worked hard for the placement, compiling an 8-3 record  that includes a 3rd place finish at the Clover Cup. Jacksonville at 9th (from 11th after a 5th place finish at the Clover Cup and wins over Green Country and Gold Coast) and Tallahassee 10th (who makes one of the biggest jumps of the quarter from 15th) now have a spot to hold for Regionals. Since 2009, Tallahassee has never been ranked higher than 13th, so this represents a big step for the team.

West:

1. Oly Rollers (1)

2. Rocky Mountain Rollergirls (2)

3. Rose City Rollers (3)

4. Denver Roller Dolls (5)

5. Rat City Rollergirls (4)

6. B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls (6)

7. Sacred City Derby Girls (7)

8. Angel City Derby Girls (9)

9. Jet City Rollergirls (8)

10. Arizona Roller Derby (13)

**16. Terminal City Roller Girls (23)

The West is about to get wild.

Although the first quarterly rankings show very little change, the small changes show hints of things to come. Starting at the top: the Oly Rollers, who have had a firm grip on this Region since 2009, have suffered some major losses to the lineup and with only one game played in 2012 (a victory over the so-far inconsistent Jet City), it remains to be seen the impact that this will have. Rocky Mountain has also suffered a shake up at the core, but looked like they were weathering those losses after winning the Dust Devil 2012 until losing to 6th ranked B.A.D. Girls last week 160-113. Denver, slipping up to 4th, also looks to be gearing up for a big 2012 as well, as they kicked off their season with a convincing 235-97 victory over the B.A.D. Girls.

Historic Tucson Roller Derby wasn’t able to hold its spot against another historic team that is surging: Arizona. Arizona’s Tent City Terrors are back in the mix with a new-look lineup featuring game-changing transfers in Joy Collision from Charm City along with Hockey Honey and Atomatrix from Oly.  While Arizona is one of the original WFTDA leagues, it has never had much success, winning only five of its first 18 games between 2005 and 2009. Since 2009, the team has never climbed higher than 12th in the region. But the team is off to a 3-1 start so far in 2012, with its only loss coming in an 11-point game against Rocky Mountain at the Dust Devil.

For Canadian fans, Terminal City is the talk of the West, leaping an amazing seven places in the standing from 23rd to 16th. They have been extremely busy as well, tearing through the Western Region and gong 9-2 in WFTDA action this year already (not to mention another 2-1 record in unsanctioned games). Their only losses were to playoff team Jet City and Santa Cruz, whom they turned around and beat in a rematch ensuring their 16th place spot. An upcoming showdown with 5th ranked Rat City could have a lot to say about their chances of making the West Region playoffs.

Conquered but not Divided: Gotham Becomes First Two-time WFTDA Champ

You’ve just walked into the 1st Bank Center on the outskirts of Denver, Colorado. It’s the third game of the 2011 WFTDA Championship and the first thing you hear is the roar of a crowd; then the already ragged voice of an over-excited track-side announcer calling a “grand slam.” You rush along the crowded concourse passing derby vendors and over-priced beer hawkers until finally finding an opening. You rush up a set of stairs and for a brief moment, as you gaze out over the thousands for that first glimpse of big-stadium derby, the track looking impossibly larger and smaller than anything you’ve seen before because of the scope of the game and the grandness of the stage, your breath is taken away. So taken by the sight are you that it takes a moment to gather yourself, to look about for a place to sit. You feel like you’ve somehow stumbled onto an oracle summoning the future of flat track roller derby; until, of course, you manage to sit and gather yourself, take a deep breath and realise: the future is now.

*

For the second year in a row the extraordinarily talented Oly Rollers lost in the WFTDA Championship bout to a team that played a more sophisticated game; a grittier, slower, more nuanced version of the sport, one that has evolved on the flat track and that each year looks a little more different from the banked track game that preceded it. And that could be at the heart of Oly’s inability to hold their position at the top of the heap: in many ways they still play a banked track version of the sport on a flat surface, what has on the digital pages of this site been referred to as “hit and run” roller derby.

Oly and Gotham in the 2011 final.

Oly is, without a doubt, a team of immensely proficient skaters, and one-on-one, a player such as the magnificent Sassy is still able to mesmerize with her timing and instinct, and so good are they—so mind-bogglingly talented are they—that they are still able to dominate pretty much any team on the planet that is playing the game. While last year, it took late-game heroics for Rocky Mountain to foil Oly’s attempt to defend the title, this year in the final they often looked perplexed against Gotham. Stunned at times in the second half of their surprisingly undisciplined 140-97 loss, for here was a team that embraced the tactics emerging organically from playing the game on a flat surface, but here also was a team that could skate. They could hit, they had the footwork, the endurance and raw skill. In the final of the 2011 WFTDA Championship Gotham Girls Roller Derby may have emerged as the first perfect flat track team. Not just a perfect roller derby team, but a perfect flat track one. In a sport as young and as “unfinished” as this one is, we may finally have ourselves a model off which to base the future.

While there was still some resistance to change at this year’s championship, there wasn’t as much of the cynicism that sometimes marred the experience of last year’s tournament (the insulting and narrow-minded “Slow Derby Sucks” movement, for example, that among other things, called for boycotts of particular teams in propaganda-ish flyers). And while boos did reign down when things didn’t get moving at the start line (hopefully for the teams that allowed it to happen and not those who were taking advantage of the teams who didn’t know what to do, or didn’t realize it was to their detriment), there was less meanness behind it, and the signs in the crowd that insulted teams last year were replaced in 2011 by more good-natured, even playful ones like “Occupy The Pivot Line,” or “The Pivot Line Needs Love Too.”

Minnesota All Stars were a much different team from the one that lost in the first round in 2010.

While a lot of the fans have certainly embraced the multi-speed nature of the flat track game (remember, as recently as 2009 fans were still booing trapping tactics on power jams), it seems that all of the top teams have come around as well. The Minnesota Girls All Stars are probably the best example of a league and a team that has finally come to embrace the flat track game. Although one of the oldest leagues in flat track history, only one year ago, at last year’s championship, it looked as though the sport had passed them by. They seemed reluctant to play the slow-game tactics that had come to define flat track, and relied on traditional hit and run strategies. They were destroyed in the opening round by the multi-speed, multi-strategy Charm City Roller Girls 249-118.

What a difference a year makes.

After a thrilling run at the North Central Regionals that came up just short, Minnesota was drawn in the first round against Charm City once again. While it was a similar Charm team to last year’s, Minnesota could not have been more different, or more prepared. They played a slower, more patient game, and the bout was full of nerdy derby as nearly every jam began with what is coming to be called a “rugby” or “scrum” start. Minnesota, looking like a revitalized team, got their revenge, 160-121.

Kansas City, champions in 2007, was the breakout team of the 2011 tournament.

As exciting as it was to see an original WFTDA team buy into the more contemporary version of the sport, as fitting as it seemed that Texas returned (after only one year’s absence) to the final four, and as thrilling as it was to see WFTDA crown its first two-time champion, this was a tournament of breakouts. While Sassy may still be the smartest and best one-on-one blocker in the game, her teammate, Hockey Honey (a Jet City transfer), looks to be a super-blocker in training and needs to add just a bit of control to her game to become considered one of the best there is. And finally, surprising tournament MVP and super-breakout player Kelly Young (along with her big-time blocker teammate Eclipse) led the breakout team of the tournament, Kansas City Roller Warriors, all the way to a surprising birth in the final four (they seemed to run out of steam against Texas in the third place bout leading early on before fading in the end and falling 136-112). Though it should be noted that Kelley Young has had a storied career in the sport, this was the year her name finally lit up the marquee and the larger flat track community took notice. Finally, Gotham, who seemed a top player or two on the depth chart away from competing last year, was pushed over the edge by transfer skaters Sexy Slaydie (a monster in the pack from Nashville) and Wild Cherri (Tampa Bay) who finally gave the team a consistent and formidable three-jammer rotation that was untouchable in the tournament and was a huge factor in their championship victory.

*

As you follow the stream of spent fans exiting 1st Bank Centre, your head humming, the roar of the crowd still echoing, you come to the realization that with each passing WFTDA Championship, that with each passing season, the game continues to find itself; this year it seemed more stable in its identity, more confident in what it has become. Born from a game of speed and agility on a banked surface, it has evolved into its own species: a game of pace and stability on a flat track that looks less and less like the sport that parented it less than a decade ago. And as you pull out of Denver, the sounds of the games still ringing in your ears, the city rising up among the mountains that fall away as your plane ascends, you think to yourself, contentedly, that the sport of flat track roller derby has finally become what it will be.

**For complete game-by-game recaps, visit DNN

Divide and Conquer: A Preview of the 2011 WFTDA Championships

Continental Divide and Conquer: The 2011 WFTDA Championships (Denver, Colorado; November 11-13)

For fans of flat track roller derby there is no more exciting weekend than the annual WFTDA Championships. It represents the pinnacle of the young sport, and each year provides a canvas upon which the newest strategies, the latest skill developments, and the increased athleticism that the sport requires are painted. Due to the young age of the sport and the accelerated pace at which it is growing, it is possible to say that each year, the WFTDA Championships has provided the best flat track roller derby ever played. And this year will undoubtedly prove to be the best yet.

The first WFTDA champs, the Texas Rollergirls, join every other previous champ at this year's tournament.

Since the Texas Rollergirls Texecutioners won the inaugural championship in 2006 and catapulted the young sport into the North American sports and pop culture consciousness, there have been four other champions crowned: Kansas City Roller Warriors (2007), Gotham Girls Roller Derby (2008), Oly Rollers (2009), and Rocky Mountain Rollergirls (2010). They will all be present at the 2011 WFTDA championships. While WFTDA has never crowned a two-time champion, this seems like the best chance for that to happen.

But considering the young age of the sport, this tournament has been more about developing the game than anything. In 2006 when virtually every flat track league on the planet (there were only 20 leagues in 2005, the year that the United Leagues Coalition—soon to be the WFDTA—was formed) converged on Tucson, it was an opportunity for all the leagues from the disparate corners of the United States to get together and share in the development and help nudge along the evolution of the sport.  From those early rules-refining days in 2006/2007 to Duke City and eventually Denver’s isolation and trapping revolution in 2008/2009, every major change and growth in the sport has been disseminated through the championship tournament.

2009 champs Oly Rollers were the first team to appear in back-to-back championship games.

THE CHAMPIONSHIP CURSE??

While the Texacutioners became the first team to make two championship finals (2006 and 2009), last year the Oly Rollers became the first team to qualify for two consecutive finals. Despite the fact that the Oly juggernaut could very easily make it a third straight trip to the final in 2011, traditionally defending champs have not fared well in this tournament. After Texas dominated in 2006 and defeated Tucson 129-96 in the final, it seemed as if the god mothers of the sport would never be beaten, but they did finally lose the following year and ended up getting knocked out in the 2007 semifinals to Rat City. Rat couldn’t parlay that historic victory into a championship though and fell in the first WFTDA champs classic 89-85 to Kansas City. Although Kansas would win their first three in a row in 2008, their streak would come to an emphatic end when Windy City rolled over them 155-39 on the eve of the 2008 championship (where Kansas City would stumble further, finishing out of the top four).

By that 2008 tournament, Gotham had replaced Texas as the dominant force in the sport and after crushing Duke City and Philly in the early rounds would put an end to Windy City’s amazing season with a 134-66 trouncing in the final. Gotham would then cruise through the 2009 season undefeated only to be upset by Philly in the Eastern final by 1 point (ending a remarkable 18 game winning streak). Continuing the trend of defending champs falling hard, they would be eliminated by Oly in the 2009 quarterfinals to finish out of the top four.

By the end of the 2009 tournament, where Oly defeated the historic Texacutioners 178-100, it was clear that the Oly Rollers Cosa Nostra Donnas were the new leaders in flat track. From their entry into the WFTDA in January 2009 to their eventual loss to Rocky Mountain in the western final in October 2010, they put together the greatest run in the sport’s early history, winning 22 straight bouts. But even the mighty Oly suffered the curse of the championship and although they became the first team to return to defend their title, they fell in a one-point heartbreaker (147-146) to Rocky Mountain in last year’s championship.

The defending champion Rocky Mountain Rollergirls have not been as dominant in 2011.

The defending champion Rocky Mountain Rollergirls have continued the dubious trend. Despite starting 2011 strong with big wins over Philly and Rose City, they have faded this season. A tight win against Bay Area in May was followed by the team’s first back-to-back losses since 2009 (to Charm and Oly). In this year’s Western Regionals they were only able to scrape by Rat City in the semis (117-107) before losing to Oly in the West final (143-106). While they remain favourites heading into the tournament, they do not look like the terrifying machine that rolled into the Championships in Chicago last year.

THE PARTICIPANTS

Only two of the teams enter this tournament with undefeated records in 2011 WFTDA play: Gotham (10-0) and Oly (12-0).  At the other end of the spectrum, a number of teams enter the tournament with just over a .500 record: Philly Roller Girls Liberty Belles (11-8), Charm City All Stars (9-7), and Nashville‘s Music City All Stars (7-5). The rest of the teams settle somewhere in the middle. The opening round features the “bottom eight” teams vying for a spot in the quarterfinals with the four regional winners. While Rocky Mountain (2nd West) should roll over Nashville (3rd South Central) and Philly (2nd East) should ring Naptown’s (3rd North Central) bell, look for a Charm City (3rd E) minor upset over Minnesota (2nd NC) and a similar Rose City (3rd W) upset over Kansas City (2nd SC). (It should be noted that Rose City and Naptown are the only two teams making their Championships debut). This chain of events would set up for some intriguing quarterfinal matchups, none more so than the potential Gotham vs. Rocky Mountain showdown that could occur Saturday morning.

Gotham Girls Roller Derby looks poised to win their second WFTDA championship.

Gotham has been absolutely dominant this season winning their bouts with an average margin of victory of 185 points (Rose City and Denver were the only teams to give them “trouble”: holding them to 68 and 71 point victories respectively). On top of that, Gotham seemed to improve as the season went on: they beat Steel City in April by 244 points; by the time of the Eastern Regionals (when both teams were peaking) they managed to increase that margin to an astonishing 374 points (the 404-30 semifinal victory was one of, if not the, most dominant performance in tournament history). As good as Rocky Mountain was, their performances this year (particularly that stunning July loss to Charm) has not been as confidence inducing. Call it the championship hangover, but it is highly conceivable that once again, the defending champs will make an early exit and finish out of the top four.

Naptown joins Rose City as they only first timers in the 2011 WFTDA Championship.

If any team can compete with Gotham this season, it is the Oly Rollers. While the two teams do have common opponents this year (Montreal, Denver and Rose City) it is difficult to compare the two records because of the markedly different styles they play. Gotham has seemingly mastered “bispeedual” derby: IE: they can skate with the best of them, but certainly don’t mind mucking it up in a slow, gritty game as well (they’ve embraced all isolation strategies and other evolutions of the sport including the walled and/or slow starts that are the latest trend). All along Oly has maintained their very simple game and are the masters of traditional “hit and run” derby. They are phenomenal skaters with otherworldly endurance and have shown that they can run opposition ragged. So while it is easy to see Oly advancing to their third straight final, it is much more difficult to see them defeating Gotham’s complete-game roller derby. Gotham, who has moved to the top of DNN’s Power Rankings and also the top of flattrackstats.com’s stats-based rankings, seems to be on the verge of reclaiming the Hydra Trophy that they last held in 2008.

As with last year, it could very well be an all East-West final four (Gotham, Oly, Rose and Charm), although Texas (who made up for a mediocre season with an amazing run at the South Central Regionals) seems in the best position to spoil the party given their potential quarterfinal showdown with Charm City (they met in May with Texas squeaking by in a 6 point victory).

So, is this the year that a two-time WFTDA champion is finally crowned? Will the coasts continue their derby dominance? Will the progenitors of flat track, the Texacutioners, return  to their final-four form? Thankfully, we won’t have to wait much longer for the answers.

2011 WFTDA Champs Participants (2011 Records / DNN Power Ranking)

East:

1. Gotham Girls Roller Derby All Stars (10-0 / #1)

2. Philly Roller Girls Liberty Belles (11-8 / #11)

3. Charm City Roller Girls All Stars (9-7 / # 12)

West:

1. Oly Rollers Cosa Nostra Donnas (12-0 / #2)

2. Rocky Mountain Rollergirls 5280 Fight Club (7-2 / #3)

3. Rose City Rollers Wheels of Justice (9-5 / #4)

South Central:

1. Texas Rollergirls Texacutioners (12-8 / #8)

2. Kansas City Roller Warriors All Stars (10-2 / #9)

3. Nashville Rollergirls Music City All Stars (7-5 / #19)

North Central

1. Windy City Rollers All-Stars (13-2 / #10)

2. Minnesota Roller Girls All Stars (9-3 / #13)

3. Naptown Roller Girls Tornado Sirens (12-3 / #14)

The bracket for the 2011 WFTDA Championships in Denver, Colorado (November 11-13). (Click to enlarge)

**** Read DNN’s team-by-team preview here. Tune in to all the action live on WFTDA.com.****

The Nerd’s thoughts on the playoffs so far:

Pondering the Playoffs 1: Eastern Regionals

Pondering the Playoffs 2: Western Regionals

Pondering the Playoffs 3: South Central Regionals

Pondering the Playoffs 4: North Central Regionals

Ponderin the Playoffs 3: WFTDA’s South Central Region

Kansas City hosted this year's South Central Regionals.

Last year, after losing in the South Central final to Kansas City, the Texas Rollergirls staggered into the WFTDA Championships. They had to crawl their way through a defensive battle against the BAD Girls in the opening round only to be crushed by Gotham in the quarterfinals. With an unofficial eighth place finish, Texas had, remarkably, finished out of the final four for the first time in the young history of WFTDA. For the progenitors of flat track roller derby it was a shocking reminder that the sport was no longer theirs and theirs alone. The game had gone global; the upper level had been raised. And they weren’t keeping up.

At the 2011 South Central Regionals the Texas Rollergirls announced that they are back.

The Texas Rollergirls are back on top in the South Central.

The Texacutioners took back the South Central championship on the weekend in a rematch of last year’s regional championship against the Kansas City Roller Warriors, and I don’t think I’d be stirring anything up if I said it was a surprise. Texas has had anything but a consistent WFTDA season. They kicked off 2011 with a seven-game winning streak including huge victories over inexperienced competition (Big Easy by 377, Green Country by 219) and experienced competition alike (Houston by 126). Then a few tough road trips to both the east (Philly and Charm) and west coasts (Rat City and Oly) sent the team into a tail spin that saw them close out the 2011 regular season with only two wins in their final ten games; a streak that included a huge loss to the BAD Girls (185-59), the team they had eliminated from the Championships only nine months before. So to come into the tournament and not only win, but to dominate right through the seminfinals (a 218-75 victory over third place Nashville) was an impressive turnaround: a case of a team bringing it together at just right the time.

In 2006 the Texacutioners won the first ever national flat track championship.

It’s been fascinating to watch the Texas Rollergirls’ role in the sport change. Only five years ago, at the 2006 Dust Devil National Championship, they were still very much the teachers, still populated by the original flat trackers who’d written down and then disseminated the rules. By 2010 they’d experienced their first losing season ever (7-8 overall) after virtually dominating the sport for three years (though they were only able to capture that lone ’06 WFTDA championship, they were always in the discussion and had lost to Oly in the 2009 championship game). Obviously, in the midst of a 12-8 2011 that has seen them face off against some of the top teams in the game and win a regional championship, the Texacutioners are showing that they are still very much a relevant team in this sport.

While there is obvious disparity in all the regions (and still more obvious “talent groupings”), the divisions are more top-heavy and less consistent in the South Central. Texas and Kansas City absolutely dominated the tournament winning their semi-final and quarterfinals matches by combined scores of 352 and 362 points respectively. Nashville, though crushed by Texas in the semifinal, outclassed Atlanta in the third place bout (213-38) to definitively claim their spot at the Championship tournament (for the second straight year). After that, from Atlanta (fourth) at least through to Tampa Bay (ninth) there is very little separating the teams.

But despite the two impressive histories of the top seeds (Kansas City won the 2007 WFTDA Championship), nothing that I saw this weekend leads me to believe that they have a chance against the powerhouses from the coasts. While this tournament produced some fantastic and competitive bouts (more so at the lower rankings than in the other regions), the play lacked a certain sophistication that was evident in the East and West Regionals. I still have yet to see a team put together a game to match either of Gotham’s from this year’s Eastern Regionals (I’m still shocked when I think about their absolute dismantling of a very good Steel City team in the semifinal).

Team Canada's Windigo was a standout for Houston (#1491, left).

One story from this championship that shouldn’t go overlooked for Canadian roller derby fans was the outstanding play from Team Canada member Windigo, who was a standout pack player for Houston this weekend (and even showed her versatility by donning the star on occasion). She’s going to be a key component to Canada’s team at the upcoming World Cup and so far has confidently displayed an ability to step up on the big stage.

 

WFTDA CHAMPS PARTICIPANTS (2011 records/DNN ranking in parentheses):

East:

1. Gotham Girls Roller Derby All Stars (10-0 / #2)

2. Philly Roller Girls Liberty Belles (11-8 / #11)

3. Charm City Roller Girls All Stars (9-7 / # 12)

West:

1. Oly Rollers Cosa Nostra Donnas (12-0 / #1)

2. Rocky Mountain Rollergirls 5280 Fight Club (7-2 / #3)

3. Rose City Rollers Wheels of Justice (9-5 / #5)

South Central:

1. Texas Rollergirls Texacutioners (12-8 / #10)

2. Kansas City Roller Warriors All Stars (10-2 / #7)

3. Nashville Rollergirls Music City All Stars (7-5 / #19)

Nerd Meat Part 7: Leaps and Bounds

Nerd Meat: The Nerd Does Derby

Part 7: Leaps and Bounds

Now that the weather is starting its slow ascent into summer, I’ve been starting to skate outside. Equipped with some outdoor-appropriate wheels by wheel-hoarding rollergirl partner (are all rollergirls, by nature, wheel hoarders?), the first experience on concrete was not at all as frightening as I’d initially anticipated. There’s a school near us and surrounding the soccer field behind it is a full-size, smoothly paved track. Running drills, playing cat and mouse, I was reminded of that first time my partner and I went skating outside. We were still in Montreal at the time, and had just watched the 2008 MTLRD championship bout (the “Celery Championship,” won by La Racaille—picture flailing stalks of celery replacing the traditional white towel at hockey games and you get the idea), and my partner had finally gotten to the point where she was no longer content to sit in the suicide seats and watch anymore. She wanted to get out there and play. Only problem: She couldn’t skate.

Slaughter Lauder, jamming for the Betties in ’09, was the last ToRD skater to don artisitic skates in bouts. (photo by Kevin Konnyu)

Her first skates were those old-school, white artistic skates (last worn in ToRD during the 2009 season by Slaughter Lauder), bought for a few bucks at the Salvation Army on Rue Notre-Dame, just a block or two north of the Lachine Canal and the recreation trail that follows its coasts. She was committed enough even then to try to skate home and so we began a slow, laborious stutter-stepping march along the smooth trails next to the Canal.

2008 was a strange season for eastern Canadian roller derby: there was a sense of “settling” going on. The rush and adrenaline of the first seasons had passed, leaving leagues to deal with what they’d created. In Montreal, that meant a unified, highly competitive home league of three teams; in Hammer City, it meant the continued focus on the development of the Eh! Team and traveling far and wide; in Toronto, it meant a struggle to maintain control of the largest flat track roller derby league in the world. Perhaps most importantly, 2008 would see the creation of the New Skids on the Block and CN Power, the travel teams in Montreal and Toronto: the first forays into the larger world of flat track roller derby for these two leagues (this would be mirrored out west as well, in Edmonton and Vancouver among others). There was still a sense that things were settling: it was definitely still an era of change and foundation building.

The Eh! Teams takes on Texas’s Hot Rod Honeys in 2008. (photo by Derek Lang)

The development of roller derby in this country continued to be led by Hammer City. That year the Eh! Team would have the pleasure of heading right into the primordial ooze of flat track roller derby by taking on a Texas Rollergirls’ hometeam; they would also strike up a long standing cross-border feud with Killamazoo that continues to this day. And of course, they would continue to blaze a trail into big-tournament participation by continuing to take part in Fall Brawl (where they would finish 2nd in the non-WFTDA bracket).

But growth in the sport certainly wasn’t limited to Hammer City. In Vancouver, Terminal City was setting the pace out west, and in August of that year would host Derby Night in Canada, where the TCRG All Stars would defeat Montreal’s newly formed, suddenly continent hopping New Skids on the Block 66-48 in the final. But Canada would also have a hand in spreading the derby word internationally as well when in June, Team Canada, a conglomerate of 4 different Canadian leagues (stretching from as far east as Toronto and as far west as Vancouver), headed to the United Kingdom to take on Glasgow (a 102-41 win) and then London Brawling (won by the hosts 128-45). This would mark the first international flat track roller derby bouts played between intercontinental teams.

Hammer City’s Eh! Team and ToRD’s CN Power, first met in June, 2008. (photo by Derek Lang)

But as much as there was growth, there was also change. One of Canada’s first teams, the Steel Town Tank Girls would not survive the season (though the gap would be filled by a third Hammer City team, the Death Row Dames), and ToRD was struggling through its second season, attempting to maintain some sort of control over a sprawling, six-team league. While the CN Power travel team would be formed, the league focus on internal politics and attempts to placate the differing directional opinions (not to mention trying to maintain ToRD’s steadily growing popularity in the city) would mean that it would be largely overmatched by, in particular, the Eh! Team (they would first meet on June 21 at the George Bell arena in Toronto’s west end). ToRD’s six-team league would not survive 2008 with both the D-VAS and eventually the Bay Street Bruisers contracting (though the Bruisers would actually have one last hurrah at the BOE ’09, and the D-VAS would be reborn as a farm team).

MTLRD’s New Skids on the Block became the first Canadian team to defeat the Eh! Team in July 2008. (photo by Susan Moss)

But the biggest change in the sport in Canada would actually not fully come yet, but be hinted at in a July bout at Arena St. Louis in Montreal. Hammer City’s far more experienced Eh! Team would head north to take on the upstart New Skids on the Block, a rag-tag looking squad of Montreal all stars decked out in the now ubiquitous neon. Only the hometeams had faced each other to this point with HCRG taking almost all of those match ups, with only La Racaille managing a slim (32-30) victory over Steel Town at the BOE 2008. That would all change during that Saturday night in July, when the Skids would ride the momentum caused by an intense, ever-intelligent home town crowd to a historic 58-48 victory, marking the beginning of a shift in power in Canadian derby that would take almost another year to fully play out.

I was there at that bout, in my customary spot in the suicide seats, cheering wildly and probably a little belligerently (funny how when I knew the rules less, I actually used to yell at the refs more). While I was already completely enamored with the sport at that point, I was only just beginning to get a sense of the larger world of derby, and the greater significance of that Skids’ victory was lost on me at the time. Upon retrospect, it’s clear to see now that it was the first step in a complete recalibration of the sport in this country, led by a Montreal machine that would help expand the borders of the game.

The D-VAS (in black) last played as a ToRD hometeam in 2008. They now serve as a farm team for the league. (photo by Kevin Konnyu)

It’s remarkable how quickly flat track roller derby is evolving, how that bout was only three years ago but seems like a different era all together. My partner was able to go from absolutely no skating ability to being rostered in a single year. Now, with 90 new recruits, the gap between the skaters who will be ready for drafting by the end of the program and those who won’t be, will be significant. The sport also requires a new level of athletic and strategic commitment as well, and the isolation and pace strategies that fresh meat are now learning at an early stage of training, didn’t even exist in 2008. Here in Toronto, players aren’t even necessarily drafted to teams upon completion of the fresh meat program anymore; instead, they will hone their skills playing for the resurrected D-VAS, which now serves as a league-wide farm team, allowing skaters to be drafted at a significantly higher level. Now, before a skater plays a bout with a ToRD hometeam, she will have the experience of being part of a team, attending regular practices, and most importantly, bouting. All before she’s even drafted.

And this is just the beginning of another massive evolution that will truly change the nature of the sport; as right now, hundreds of young girls are playing in junior roller derby leagues all across North America (including here in Toronto), learning the fundamentals of the game at a mind-bogglingly young age. When these kids start reaching playing age and a wave of junior-trained skaters starts being drafted into leagues (some who will have been skating for up to nine years at that point), it will signify a massive leap forward and the sport will change once again.

Nerd Meat Part 4: Coming to Canada

Nerd Meat: The Nerd Does Derby

Part 4: Coming to Canada

I had a breakthrough at fresh meat. While stopping in any traditional sense is still a work in progress, we’ve finished learning all the falls, and I’ve come to realize that when great speeds are attained, falling to one’s knees is the quickest way to stop. My confidence shot through the roof. Then, this past week we scrimmaged. While it was exhilarating to say the least, my body has a long way to go to catch up to my mind: Even though I feel I know exactly what I should be doing, that doesn’t mean I can actually do it.

ToRDs Zebra Mafia prepare for a 2010 bout. (photo by Joe Mac)

I’ve been really interested in what drew these various women to ToRD’s fresh meat program, but as the weeks go by, it is becoming obvious that they are probably just as interested in what I’m doing there. I’m not the only guy, there are two others, both of whom are doing fresh meat alongside the referee training, but we stand out. I’ve got a stock answer set to respond to the inquiry: I write about roller derby and feel like I’m at that stage where I need to know it from the inside out. And that was the motivation. I have an extraordinary amount of respect for roller derby referees. The men and women in stripes who police this sport—as with other sports—don’t get a lot of respect. They get ridiculed by the crowd, harassed by the skaters. In the states, Queen of the Rink recently released a blog post called “How referees are killing flat track roller derby,” which argued for a reorganization of officiating in flat track roller derby. While I do think the sport is going through some growing pains (it is only 8 years old, don’t forget) and should be constantly refined, for the most part the refs want to do their best, and, I think, succeed just as much as the players do. And of course, without them, there wouldn’t be a game.

That being said, I’m not particularly interested in refereeing. That’s not the relationship I want to have with this sport.

Another thing that comes up (from freshies and skaters alike) is the possibility of starting a “merby” league. While I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I’d never thought about playing in a bout, I’m still not sure about my relationship with men’s roller derby. Although a few years ago it would have been absurd to think of men playing this sport on any scale of note, it’s a reality now that can’t be ignored. From all-men or co-ed scrimmages at Roller Con to the ever burgeoning Men’s Roller Derby Association (formerly the Men’s Derby Coalition), men’s roller derby is coming and it is coming fast.

The Mens Roller Derby Association was formerly known as the Mens Derby Coalition.

The Men’s Derby Coalition formed out of that same initial explosion of North American roller derby in 2007. In 2006, it was actually fairly easy to count the number of women’s leagues playing flat track roller derby (there were about 30); by the summer of 2007 the sport had spread considerably and had grown beyond its American roots. By 2007 roller derby had come to Canada.

If you talk to anyone who was inspired to begin playing or forming roller derby leagues in those days, they all cite the same influence: the A&E series Rollergirls. The skaters of the Lonestar Rollergirls were a diverse bunch from a variety of fields who shared similar, attractive features: fiercely independent, athletic and strong, but also unabashedly feminine. Rollergirls presented more than a sport, it presented an attitude, a way of life.

That the show was remarkably appealing to a 21st century woman should not be a surprise, and it probably shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that it influenced scores of women to follow suit. Playing banked track roller derby was a pipe dream for most, if not all, who were inspired by the sport. So when those first wannabe skaters began to research the possibility of playing, they inevitably encountered what was still known as the United Leagues Coalition (and later WFTDA), and the other girls in Austin, the flat-track playing Texas Rollergirls.

The show aired in Canada as well, and the same wave of formation followed. Out west Edmonton’s first league, the Oil City Derby Girls was forming, while in British Columbia the skaters who would form the Terminal City Rollergirls were beginning to organize in Vancouver, and a group of women in Victoria were coming together as the Eves of Destruction. Back east, in Hamilton, Toronto and Montreal, like-minded women were finding each other all with the same idea: to start a roller derby league.

The first organized league bout in Canadian flat track history was played by the Hammer City Rollergirls in 2006.

On July 22nd, 2006, the newly formed Hammer City Roller Girls played the first official organized flat track roller derby bout in Canada when their Steel Town Tank Girls took on the Hamilton Harlots in Burlington, Ontario. While the importance of this date in Canadian flat track lore is undeniable, it could be the events in Toronto less than a month later that may have had the greater influence.

Toronto Roller Derby formed out of a merger and reorganization of two independent teams, the Toronto Terrors and the Smoke City Betties. To facilitate the development of a league (and to help with the growth and understanding of the sport in wider circles) the Smoke City Betties organized the Betties’  D-Day, the first ever inter-league roller derby event to be held in Canada. On August 19, 2006, Hammer City, Montreal, and five of the six original ToRD teams were all present to play in a series of mini-bouts. While loosely set up as a tournament, the event would prove to be more important as a networking and training event. The Hamilton Harlots (as they would in most cases in those early days) dominated the day, defeating the Death Track Dolls, the Steel Town Tanks Girls, and Montreal in the mini-bout portion of the tournament, before taking down the host Smoke City Betties (79-57) in the main event.

This Betties D-Day was a taking-off point for eastern Canadian roller derby. Hammer City would form Canada’s first travel team (the Eh! Team), Montreal would head back to Quebec and form their first home teams (Les Contrabanditas and Les Filles du Roi), Toronto would add the Gore-Gore Rollergirls to form what, at the time, was the largest flat track roller derby league in the world. By the beginning of 2007 all three leagues would be fully organized and in full swing, opening the doors to the public and beginning their first seasons of roller derby. Others in Ottawa, the GTA and London had taken notice and were following suit.

Betties D-Day, held in August 2006, was a seminal event in Canadian roller derby history.

Roller Derby folk like to toss around the word “revolution” when they talk about their sport (half ironically, of course), but in many ways the quick growth of flat track roller derby really does fit the definition. An entirely new sport created for women, by women that would feature women. Nothing like it had happened before. Over the 20th century women had become increasingly involved in pre-existing men’s sports, but with flat track roller derby, they’d created their own.

It is perhaps because all of this that I am uncomfortable playing men’s roller derby. I still can’t help but think of roller derby spaces as women’s spaces, the sport itself as a women’s sport (and I mean that politically, not physically). But even on this point, I am heavily conflicted, and my opinion is slowly changing, as are the opinions of many in the sport. When I first discovered roller derby, I wholeheartedly bought into the idea of it being an extension of the riot grrrl/third wave feminism movements that had swept through North America at the end of the 20th century, and it certainly was a major influence (Steel Town Tank Girls!). But as time passes and as the sport evolves, this categorization seems awfully limited, dated even, of another era: The sport has transcended such classification. I just don’t see that reactionary anger in roller derby; I don’t see skaters out there trying to undermine any pre-existing paradigms; I don’t see women who feel the need to fight for something (respect, recognition, whatever) that they feel they deserve. And while I think all skaters demand that their sport be viewed as a serious, physical, athletic endeavour, I don’t think many are too concerned with falling into the rigid parameters we have set for what has traditionally been called a “sport.”And that is probably what sets roller derby apart from the too easily defined feminist movements of the 1990s; skaters are too focused on developing their game to be engaged in some last-century battle for acceptance.

The 21st century rollergirl doesn’t fight for equality, she expects it.