Sunday, December 26, 2010

Stuck Between College and a Job Place.

1 of 12 portraits I drew of my college roommate
for a class at the U of I.
‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ is a question posed to children probably every year after they start their educational career. The answers go through phases of reality. First are the imaginative princesses and cowboys, then the lofty presidents or rock stars and finally the more obtainable veterinarians, teachers or firefighters. By the time I wanted to be a vet, I was probably in fifth grade and that decision was based on the fact that I liked animals. Then I realized what vets really did and quickly changed my mind.

At a certain point, enough people praised me for being artistic and I liked to draw so… that was it. I was to be an artist. Later I also thought I would become a writer. Or a psychologist. Oh, maybe a journalist! My focus kept coming back to and remaining loosely on art so I started at community college to “figure it out” before I made it to a larger university. I apathetically took a variety of classes and left with an AA degree and still no concrete plan. I chose the University of Iowa next because Iowa State was too design oriented and I wanted to get into a “real" art program. My next grand idea was to become a photographer because that could have both practical and artistic futures. So I took a class but decided photo majors took themselves too seriously. As filler, I had taken an Intermedia class which I ended up liking and graduated Iowa with a BFA in.

I’m all “grown up” now and it has gotten me zero job and plenty of debt. I went through the cycle of school with just enough planning to keep me moving to the next thing, but then school ran out and I’m left wondering “what’s next?” That has since then snowballed into a deeper thought process about life. Thinking of it on a purely primitive level, we are created to procreate and raise a family. The cycle of life goes on and on, but that can’t be the point of it all, can it? The typical American values are kind of lost on me, marriage and kids, and working a 9-5. This typical mainstream livelihood just depresses me, especially when I’m constantly being surrounded with examples of marriages that don’t stick and seeing people whose personal problems stem from their parents. So my conclusion is that the point of life is to create a place in this world just for me and my happiness.

So what makes me happy? Currently I make coffee for minimum wage and never fill a forty hour workweek. It’s easy and flexible, but I struggle to make ends meet and let’s not think about the debts I need to pay off. It’s depressing and frustrating and hopeless, but I survive because I also play roller derby in the meantime.
I don't know how they put up with me, really.
Ah, roller derby. It’s starting to become a cliché it seems, that “roller derby saved my life!” But I know without it I would be completely lost and alone. Everyone I know, hang out with, and even live with is someone from my derby world. It gives me something to think about, plan for, and create for. I never wanted to be a teacher or anything that required me to interact with lots of people. I didn’t want anything to do with commercial art because I thought it was too technical. I was always told I was artistic and creative but never fully believed in it, so I never pushed myself to really become an “artist.” Now derby has dumped all my absolutes at the door, and left me wondering what I really want to do with my life.
Creating some of the posters for the
team has made me want to take some
design classes.

I went through seventeen years of school and never fully committed to anything I wanted to be, and then in two years of roller derby I’ve come to a few conclusions:
I enjoy a full contact sport. 
I would be in heaven if I could wear only leggings the rest of my life.
I actually can get along with women. 
I like design, networking and advertising after all.

I can only play a bone breaking sport for so long, but now I have a better idea of what else I can be passionate about. It has led me to think about taking some more classes and striving for a practical job that I actually want. I've just been doing things to do things and when I pictured myself at thirty recently, it was blank. It’s kind of nice to live day to day and do only enough to get by, but I like the idea of living above the surface instead of floundering below it.

 I also became one of the coaches for our fresh crop of new skaters. It’s not a position I had pictured myself doing, as it falls into the category of teaching and that was something I had crossed off my list long ago. The opportunity presented itself and I found myself really wanting to do it. The whole teacher thing finally clicked with me, that when it’s something you are passionate about, you want to share with other aspiring people the knowledge you have.
Running some dryland footwork drills with the fresh meat.
I have always had ideas about life… goals and aspirations, but they never really seemed to make it out of my head. It seems that in this recent assessment of my life, the whole world has opened up. I realize that all I have been doing is bitching and moaning and suggesting to myself how life should be instead of taking action to achieve it. I have got to take a cue from Left 4 Deadwards and just dive into the rest of my life head first. I know I have the potential to do everything I want, I just need to shut up and do it.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Roller Derby (R)evolution.

When I tell people I play roller derby I often get a range of confused reactions. There’s the “Really?? You get to elbow girls and stuff?” or the “Wow, that’s so cool! Do people get hurt a lot?” and you can’t forget the blank stare “What’s that?” In the last year though, I’m more likely to get a “Oh! Like in Whip It?” At first I would just kind of nod my head but explain that we play flat track and it’s a bit different, and plus that movie didn’t really highlight the …well never mind. Eventually I just started saying “Yeah! Like the movie...”

I know I have turned into a bit of a derby snob and am just a wee bit tired of answering the same uninformed answers again and again, but I have to remind myself that the general public just doesn’t know any better. Roller derby is so new (I feel like I say this every post) that the small percent who may know what it is, may not know everything about it or even that there are multiple organized versions of modern derby. I didn’t even know this until recently and it kind of gives some insight into how the prevalent form, flat track roller derby, got to where it is today.

First let me give a brief history lesson that I learned from my derby bible, (Down and Derby) and set up the scene for modern roller derby. It was first trademarked by Leo Seltzer in 1935 when he combined dance marathons and roller skating and came up with a marathon roller race. Within the Chicago Coliseum people would skate the distance between New York and LA through laps on a banked track. By using both male and female competitors, he hoped to draw in more of a crowd, but it was seen more as a show instead of a sport. Add a little contact and a dramatic storyline and it was perfect for television starting in ’48. Leo passed the business to his son, Jerry, in 1959 and after a few rises and falls, it died in 1973.

Spandex. Blades. Elbows.
Welcome to RollerJam.
Enter the 80s. TV revived roller derby once again with an awkward love child of professional wrestling and American Gladiators, on skates. Rock-n-Roller Games was pure kitschy entertainment again with co-ed competitors and a banked style track and… an alligator pit? (Still can’t wrap my mind around that one.) That didn’t last long and then it popped up again in the 90s, but this time on rollerblades. RollerJam was seen more as sports entertainment, but still heavily scripted and corny.

All of these early versions of derby were motivated with the goal to sell a new version of entertainment and was often reliant on fickle television viewers. In the end, the melodrama outweighed the skill and people got over it quickly.

Finally in 2001 the beginnings of flat track roller derby began as some girls in Texas threw together a rough version of the game. Looking to the past they collaged together an all girl roller derby team that played on quad skates and a flat track. As a skater run endeavor, there was no third party to front the money to play or sign a television contract, the girls had only themselves to pull it off. Since a banked track is costly, time intensive to set up and needs to be stored, they adjusted the game to a flat track so they could play virtually anytime on any smooth, open surface.

After a few years of fine-tuning what began as a sport with a hint of sexy entertainment, roller derby began streamlining into the athletic version that is most practiced today. In 2004, with about 20 teams on the scene, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association formed, and girls everywhere had a support system to look to when starting a team. 2005 began the first official set of WFTDA rules for flat track roller derby and has been updated every year to maintain a safe and fair skating environment as the sport evolves. To date there are 105 full member leagues and 46 apprentice leagues throughout the states, Canada and Europe as well as hundreds of WFTDA aspiring leagues all over the globe.

Anything goes in Renegade derby.
The first variant form of derby since the turn of the century would be Renegade leagues. In 2004, members of one of the earliest flat track teams, the Arizona Roller Derby, broke off to form the Renegade Rollergirls. This version essentially skates by no rules except for an aggressive Golden Rule standard and an “any surface anytime” motto. It was created with the desire for a fast paced game that wasn’t weighed down by penalties and highlighted the skaters’ skills. Three points are scored per lap, all sorts of blocks are allowed and refs aren’t needed. It results in a less complicated version of the game with an all out brutal twist. As of 2009 there are seven renegade teams.

In an effort to incorporate the older style of roller derby, the Old School Derby Association was formed in 2007 by the Penn Jersey She Devils. Combining older banked track with today’s flat track, they also aspire to have a less complicated game at high speeds, with aggressive action. OSDA developed a rule set in 2008, and can be played by men, women, and co-ed teams on banked or flat track.

The basic idea of the game is similar but the roles of jammer and pivot becomes a bit more interchangeable. After the first lap through the pack the jammer becomes “active” and can begin scoring points. Lead jammer status can change throughout the jam as it goes to which ever jammer is physically in the lead at the time. The pivot may take off and become jammer at anytime, especially if their jammer is in the box, but only one person may be scoring points at a time. The old school twist allows for triceps to be used in blocks, spin whips, and pivot blocks. (I still haven’t really figured out what the latter two really are…) Cutting the track, high/low blocks, tripping, and out of play penalties are all considered minors and result in one minute in the box. Things like deliberately pulling skaters down, fighting, biting, choking and kicking are majors and put a skater in the box for two minutes. An accumulation of eight penalty minutes ejects a player from the game. Currently eight leagues take part in the OSDA derby style.

Around that same time, Pioneer Valley’s Dirty Dozen, the New York Shock Exchange and Harm City Homicide, three men’s leagues, started the Men’s Derby Coalition to aid the interest men had in the flat track world. They don’t claim themselves to be a governing body yet, or associated directly with OSDA or WFTDA but do train and play by WFTDA standards. They started out playing alongside women, in exhibitions bouts at women’s bouts and scrimmaging against women, until they finally began holding their own double headers and tournaments. With about 11 MDC affiliated leagues they have their own tournaments and rankings within their growing support system.

This Is How I Roll - Working Trailer from Kat Vecchio on Vimeo.

A trailer for a documentary on men's derby and the opposition they face.

When Texas gave birth to modern roller derby, she really had two children. A split in the original revival resulted in two teams; the Texas Rollergirls, who remained flat track and the Texas Lonestar Rollergirls, who progressed as banked track team. Since then, a few more banked teams have popped up, but that trend remains slow and steady. The effort and space required for having and maintaining a banked track looks time intensive, and these teams often start as flat track teams until they have the means to switch to banked track. A recent visitor to our practice, Emma Grenade, came from the Arizona Derby Dames who recently made that switch. Her first time practicing flat track must have been quite the experience on our super slick floor, but the transition wasn’t too difficult for her. The World Organization of Roller Derby designed their banked track rules to be compatible with WFTDA rules so that skaters and refs may participate in either without being bogged down with too many differences. They play one minute jams, use their tricep to block, and skaters don’t visit the penalty box until after the jam ends. They also aren’t allowed to stop or skate backwards on the track for all you fans who are offended by “slow derby”…
Whip It featured banked track derby.

Some leagues like the San Diego Derby Dolls play both flat and banked, while others like the LA Derby Dolls play purely banked track. Episode #31 of the Derby Deeds podcast had a conversation with the Tilted Thunder Railbirds from Seattle about their recently acquired banked track. Through lots of research and hard work they began their team with a strong base of organization and planning, added LOTS of fundraising, and then finally built their very own banked track. From what I understood, they did not have flat track beginnings, but knew that they wanted banked track and did everything they could to make that possible. 

The evolution of roller derby throughout the years has affected all of the versions played today. Some people had looked back nostalgically and incorporated practices of what was. Others looked forward in an effort to emphasis the athleticism of women and how a made up game can be improved. It's truly amazing what people all over have created with their own hands, and I think that is the true spirit of every kind of roller derby that lives on today.


Edit: Well, this post prompted more discovery! There is also "Derby Lite". A non contact version of women's derby that focuses on fitness. Check out this video to see more...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Slow Derby Sucks?

Attending the 2010 WFTDA Championships in person was an overwhelming and exciting experience. Some of the best teams from around the country had gathered to battle it out. Teams whose athletes had worked tirelessly on their own time to build endurance, agility, and explosive muscular strength so they could compete, on wheels, for an hour of full contact chaos. I was thrilled to enjoy a whole weekend of derby up close and watched in awe as skaters I aspired to be took each other on, and they were getting… booed?

As the weekend went on, “Slow Derby Sucks” t-shirts started circulating through the UIC Pavillion and people had signs that either stated the same, or demanded skaters to skate fast. Anytime there was stalled, stopped or slow action on the track, the crowd went crazy, heckling and booing the skaters. Crowds can be very fickle depending on where their loyalties lie, and booing is usually reserved for the referees. I couldn’t understand why the crowd had become so antagonistic towards the skaters in general.

My first frustration with this aggressive attack on a style of play is that it is a generalization of action on the track. My assumption then is that perhaps most people booing may not even know the thought process behind some of these strategies. What is “slow derby” anyway? The website behind the crowd's response, states: "Slow derby is when skaters slow down, completely stop on the track, or skate backwards or clockwise (in the opposite direction)."  Queen of the Rink recently posted about the website and a comment to the post had it right in saying there should be “three separate conversations about three discrete tactics:
1. Delaying the Jam Start.
2. Pushing a skater out, then skating clockwise to force her to come in behind you
3. Generally keeping a slow pace for the pack.”
(A thanks goes to “Ryan” for bringing up this great point.)

Delaying the jam start is when the whistle blows, yet all of the defined pack does not cross the pivot line, thus delaying the jammer’s whistle and wasting the clock. A team may do this because they have the lead and want to burn the minutes that the other team could spend scoring points. They could also do this if they have a blocker, or worse yet a jammer, in the box and want to stall so that their teammate can finish her penalty and join them on the track. It could also be a ploy to confuse or disrupt the other team in order to establish position and control the pack.
Gotham tried skating backwards to create no pack but
Philly moved with them to keep stalling the whistle.
A player may not re-enter the track in front of a skater who knocks her out of bounds, so often the initiator may slow down or stop to slow the movement of the out of bounds skater, forcing her to come in play directly behind her. This has been a common sense strategic move for awhile, but the first time I saw someone skate backwards to force the other skater back further had me nearly peeing my pants. It is such a satisfying maneuver to execute and works especially well against the opposing jammer. The whole point of defense in roller derby is to stop the other jammer from scoring points, and this tactic keeps them out of the pack longer, thus scoring no points. A blocker has to exercise precise movements in order to not fall out of bounds herself, while also keeping an eye on the pack because she must stay in play in order to contain the opposing skater.
A Charm City girl knocked the Minnesota jammer
to the inside and slows down.
Keeping a slow pace in the pack throughout a jam is often reserved for power jams. When the opposing jammer is called off the track, you would want to trap one of their blockers (called a goat) and slow them down to force the rest of the pack to slow down as well. If they don’t they will become out of play and if there is no goat and the two teams split, there is no pack. Slowing the pace allows for your own jammer to make as many five point passes as she can (a grandslam), and leaves the other team scrambling to regain control. There is also a flip side to this strategy. If your own jammer gets sent to the box, you would want to immediately speed up the pack so that the jammer can barely make it through the pack, or not at all. In this fast pack situation there may be little to no hitting or action because the opposing team is just working on trying to catch up. 
Philly traps a Kansas City Roller to help their jammer score points.

The main argument puts forth is that “slow derby” is lazy. To me, as a skater, slowed action intensifies the game. The explosive muscles and agility of starting and stopping and avoiding skaters is at its height more than it ever is in a fast pack situation. A jammer has to be decisive in order to not backblock and blockers are straining to hold position or lean another player out. They also have to keep mental notes of where the pack is, what direction they are skating when they engage, where the jammers are, or if they are keeping a solid wall. To slow or stop and confront the opposing players instead of just skating away from them takes a lot of precise skating and judgment. There is definitely a subtly to this kind of action but I would not call it lazy.

Roller derby is still in its infancy and is growing and evolving all the time. Since the first shared rule set in 2005, derby has gone through many growing pains and revisions. In its fifth edition I believe it has finally developed into a concise yet detailed guideline for the game and will only require small tweaks from here on. The lure of roller derby has always been short skirts, fishnets and hard hits, but as these women cultivate the sport, it becomes more and more purely an athletic endeavor with a feminine shell. Those things all still exist in derby, but the boutfits I saw at Championships were more uniform and streamlined. Skaters still have some of their own certain flair, but most teams just looked solid and well put together on the track.
Gotham looks like a well-oiled machine in just their warm ups.
The game itself has even streamlined and become more about how the game is played and not just the show. Dive bomb hits and explosive take outs have been traded in for booty blocks and effective leans. Skaters are realizing that it does their team no good if they take themselves out with the opposing skater. It is becoming about position on the track and a balancing act of offense and defense, not just an all out war. Big hits are becoming equal to the slam dunk in basketball; it’s a crowd pleaser, but not necessary to the game. Are fans going to stand up in outrage because skaters are using more positional blocking then all out hits?

It’s not that I am advocating that roller derby should become all about slow play, but there’s just something that rubs me the wrong way about this aggressive response and being demanded to play derby a certain way. I get that watching girls standing on the track may be boring or frustrating to watch, but I also get the strategy behind it. There are times that it be used excessively but I feel that as teams experiment with these tactics more and more, they will figure out what works and what is worth it to their game. There were many times I saw it used effectively at Championships and the skaters switched so quickly between tactics that no one hardly noticed. There were also times when it ultimately failed and a team wasted thirty seconds for nothing. The skaters will either become more effective with their use of these strategies, or drop them all together.

The Mad Rollin' Dolls all take a knee to keep
Philly from stalling on the line.

The only change I could see happening would be something equivalent to a shot clock on the start lines. A team could potentially stall a jam for a whole two minutes, which would be ridiculous, but the rules wouldn’t stop them. Stalling for ten seconds to gain another player or jammer on the track seems reasonable, but anything much longer seems a bit excessive. Skaters are already figuring out how to counter act this ploy by kneeling on the line before the jam even starts. If they do it before the whistle there is no pack and no penalties issued, and the jam whistles sounds right away. 

The rest of it is just smart derby. Most of the fans who watch derby are new to the sport and don’t understand all the rules or action on the track. There are lots of die-hard derby fans as well who have been following the sport and are frustrated with these trends in the strategy.  I hope as the sport moves forward, the fans will be patient as it evolves, and have a deeper understanding of what they are watching and be just as passionate.

Playing to the crowd is a double edged sword. Yes, their support helps us keep our DIY system going, and bouts scheduled, but when it comes down to it skaters aren’t being paid. They are there because they want to play and they are in love with the sport of derby. If there were no fans that would not necessarily kill the game for us. I would still strap on skates and find a gym and scrimmage with my teammates for as long as my would muscles would allow. Derby still runs a fine line between being seen as a sports endeavor and as mere entertainment. (Check which section your local newspaper puts the story about your team in; was it the sports or the arts & culture? Kudos to Animal for pointing that out.)

I'm glad fans are taking roller derby so seriously, but it just seems like a selfish argument and I don’t like being told how to play the game. I think the best solution would be to start a discussion, not a petition. The whole campaign of just screams propaganda and feels too political by forcing people to “choose sides” or act outrageously. Roller derby today has democratic principles that propel the mantra of “by the skaters for the skaters,” and it will be the skaters who have the final say. I think the more knowledge and discussion the better, get the conversation started.


*Speical thanks to everyone I've chatted with in the last few weeks about this, you helped form these thoughts. Keep on talking.

Monday, November 15, 2010

"It Ain't Like Being There!"

As a newly inducted apprentice league, getting a glimpse last weekend at the WFTDA Championships was inspiring to say the least. I have watched some of those same teams play on DNN boutcasts, but as their slogan goes, “it ain’t like being there!” Seeing all sorts of different teams, vendors and fans was overwhelming and exciting; so many people brought together for the love of derby. I realized how small our team is in the derby world, but also that there are no limitations but the ones you set yourself.

The Hydra, Championship Trophy
named after a founding member of WFTDA
The twelve teams I saw play in three days in Chicago all average about five years of bouting experience and represent all areas and styles of play around the country. Finishing our first full season, and second year of bouting means potentially in three years we could be on the track with some of these teams. Every year derby seems to keep evolving and teams all over are pushing the game harder. The Hydra went to Rocky Mountain this year, with the previous champions, Oly taking second, and Gotham, the 2008 champions, taking third.

Since the recent epidemic of roller derby began in Texas and spread to the coasts, it seems like the middle of the country is still at a lower level of playing. Watching Gotham and Oly play was like watching majestical creatures glide smoothly across the track, and weave effortlessly through the pack. The 2 and 3 seed teams seemed a bit more awkward in comparison, but any WFTDA team seems to be leagues ahead of any team we see here in Iowa. Since derby is still so new, the level of skill varies because teams have to discover on their own time how to excel and improve. I knew Minnesota, Madison and Nashville would probably not make it past Friday, but their tenacity and determination did surprise me. Although they each lost by over 100 points, they were there to prove they wanted it, and were not going to give up without a fight.
Hugs all around after the Minnesota vs Charm City bout. 
We got to the UIC Pavillion a little late Friday and missed the first team to be eliminated, the B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls, who played the Texas Rollergirls. It sounded like a good match up after seeing the low score of 72 to 59, a win for Texas, but I was most excited to see our Minnesota friends play next. They started out strong, but struggled with Charm’s solid control of the pack. MNRG’s Psycho Novia had insane footwork, as she seemed just cut through the pack like butter. I was surprised they didn’t jam Jukebox more, and didn’t realize until later that Vuedoo wasn’t playing due to injury. The floor also looked pretty slick, and after skating on Minneasota’s sticky home turf at bootcamp, I bet they were thrown off by the surface. They ended up losing 119 to 249. The other two bouts were kind of blow outs after the first half; Philly 213 to Mad 53 and Oly 214 to Nashville 53. (And very oddly similar in scores.)

Suzy Hotrod at full go.
The second day was a full day of derby with six bouts that upped the intensity. The Gotham Girls beat out Texas 151 to 52 with a very fast paced and skillful game. There were few penalties and both teams played very smart. I haven’t really seen Texas play much, so I mostly paid attention to Gotham, and of course Bonnie Thunders and Suzy Hotrod. Their jamming style is breathtaking and I hope I absorbed their skills through my eyes.

I was excited for the Rocky Mountain vs Charm City bout which upped the intensity even more. I have had my eye on Rocky since the Western Regionals where they upset Oly’s 22 straight win record, taking first place. They have a sassy sort of playing style, which also leads them to be prone to more penalties. A jaw dropping YouTube video of Urrk’n Jerk’n has me swooning over her sweet jamming skills and Amanda Jamitinya gets my love for her blocking (and her name). Charm’s tight pack control couldn’t reign in Rocky, and they lost 103 to 165. It was this bout that we saw our first ejected player of the weekend, Dolly Rocket from Charm.

Philly played Kansas next, which I was curious to watch since apparently I know nothing about Kansas, or any other South Central team. I believe it was this bout we saw a lot more of the kneeling on the line to counter act slow pack. If it is done before the whistle there is no pack, and no one receives a penalty as the jammers are then released right away. It also gives less time to gain control of the pack, but I could go on all day about the variables that apply to strategy. This bout also was high in penalties as I saw both teams’ jammers go to the box twice in one jam. It ended with Philly on top, 147 to 126.

The Oly Rollers were up next to play Windy City on their home track. Day two of the tournament resulted in a much more packed Pavillion since it was a Saturday, and a majority of those seats sounded like they were filled by Windy fans and they were very vocal with their support. This was another fast game and after Windy gave it all they had, they lost to Oly 76 to 178.
There wasn't a bad view in the whole UIC Pavillion.

I was looking forward to the next bout which put Gotham against Rocky, and it didn’t disappoint. My assumption was that Rocky would give Gotham a run for their money, but would still not overcome the seemingly untouchable New York team. That was not the case. Rocky dominated the first half but started to lose their lead to penalties in the second. The Rocky jammers had a hard time since they could only keep two blockers on the track at a time, which also didn’t provide help against the quick feet of Suzy and Bonnie. They started to look frustrated but pulled themselves together long enough to skate away with their second win, 113 to 79. The last bout had Oly vs Philly and as the previous year’s Champions, I was correct in assuming Oly would come out on top, 106 to 81.

After such an exciting Saturday, it was kind of sad to only have two bouts to look forward to on Sunday. Gotham went up against Philly for third place in a battle of Eastern teams. The first half kept it pretty close but Gotham’s fast game seemed to win it out in the end. Philly seemed to utilize the slow starts a little more which epically failed at one point. Their pivot was in the box and they managed to stall the line for about thirty seconds to get her back in. She then failed to re-enter the pack from the back and was sent back to the box for an illegal procedure. After wasting the clock and lots of booing, they didn’t even accomplish their goal. Philly just couldn’t keep their blockers together and lost 51 to 162.

Now the whole weekend had come down to Rocky Mountain vs Oly, a battle of the West. I think most people assumed Oly would win it all for the second year in a row, but Rocky was the only team they lost to in Western Regionals (86 to 127), so it appeared to be an exciting rematch. That would be an understatement.

I apparently took no notes of this bout because I gave it my full attention. Rocky started out dominating the pack, but lost their lead again due to penalties and not being able to keep a full pack on the track. When playing a team of speed skaters, that is not a situation you want to be in. I was nearly convinced they had already lost it, but they managed to bring themselves back into the lead late in the game.

Everyone is on their feet for the last jam of the weekend. 
What seemed to be the last jam of the night, started with Tannibal Lector from Oly on the jam line by herself. She made grand slam after grand slam, and pulled their score ahead of a scrambling Rocky. Although, by the end of the jam, Tannibal back blocked, sending her to the box as Frida Beater snuck back on the track to score a few points for Rocky. With only 20 seconds left on the clock, Rocky called a timeout in order to fit another jam in. (Another strategy of trickery.)

Now the tables had turned and Rocky was setup for a power jam with only two blockers from each team in the pack, and Frida lining up to jam again. She got through as lead, and came back around for her first grand slam as blockers from the penalty box started to return to the track. She barely made it through another time and looked up at her jam ref, and then the scoreboard… Rocky pulled ahead by ONE point. She called it off and the place was at full roar as we all stared down the scoreboard to make sure the score was official.

Rocky won it 147-146.

Go Go Berserk from the Quad City Rollers caught the last two jams on video so you can relive the insanity...


Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Going to the WFTDA 2010 Championship tournament was insane to say the least, and an experience well worth emptying my bank account... Here are a few of the interesting things I discovered or saw for the first time in person:

Flat Track Revolution is an online store that I had seen ads for recently. They have some rad designs and one of a kind t-shirt dresses that I couldn't take my eyes off. Skater owned and operated out of Portland, OR.

There were  oodles of Derby Skinz in numerous colors and designs to dig through. I finally picked up a pair I had eyed at boot camp that I call the "Lisa Frank" style. Don't think these are reserved for girls, Dumptruck knows how to rock a good pair of Skinz... Based out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, they also make helmet panties and jerseys. SO&O out of Harrisburg, PA

 Fast Girl Skates is a derby store started by two Rat City girls with all sorts of gear and apparel. They strive to teach new skaters about equipiment so they can make an educated decision when opening their wallets. This was the booth that renewed my feelings about the Vanilla boot, and the girl I talked to offered me socks to try on her own pair of skates. SO&O out of Seattle, WA

Wicked Skatewear was a must to stop by. They have a great cardigan I can't stop eying, and of course the coloring contest that I can't forget to do. They also had some high waisted hot shorts that I hadn't seen before that would probably look hotcakes on Animal but not me... SO&O by the infamous B-Train out of Huntington Beach, CA

In the same corner was Scarred Derby Designs that had some funny shirts and tanks and the word socks that have become quite the hit. I bought the Whiskey ones for Animal. SO&O out of Salt Lake City, UT

As one of the official WFTDA sponsors, Dr. Hauschka had a booth and was handing out free buttons and samples of their Ouch! Aids. Definitely something I'll keep in mind if I get more waffle rink rash.

Roller Derby Quilt
Something I've thought about taking part of for awhile now is the Roller Derby Quilt. I saw it in person this weekend, and it's obvious a lot of creative souls play derby. OCCRG should definitely do a square. Stitched together by Dreadnought out of Boston, MA.

There was also a table for Down and Derby: The Insider's Guide to Roller Derby, a book Zom B had brought back from Rollercon and I immediately purchased. Written by Kasey Bomber and Axles of Evil, it's a very all around, informative book about roller derby, with lots of skater profiles and pictures. As a skater it can either be beneficial, or repetitive depending on your knowledge of roller derby.

I collected a lot of buttons this weekend, and free buttons are always the best. Someone gave me one from Roller Derby Inside Track, a blog I had discovered recently that is pretty informative. It seems like more of a straight forward news and sports writing site about derby.

They also had Jam City Rollergirls for the Wii available to try out. Should be released next year.

From above, I noticed with jealousy all the photographers and videographers who got to take in the bouts up close, or from the taped off box in the center of the track. I spotted Axle Adams and Joe Rollerfan, two derby photographers of note. I also saw a low to the ground wheely video camera contraption and I think I've discovered the owner of that, Sam R. eye. He has an awesome style and already has a video up from day one of Championals.

Jerry Seltzer sitting with OCCRG!
A person I often saw around, chatting with everyone was Jerry Seltzer. Son of Leo Seltzer who started a version of Roller Derby in 1935, Jerry inherited the business until it ended in the 70s. His happy and open demeanor shows he's excited about where derby is today. Bat R Up, Toxic Sugar, Tynamite and Ophelia Fracture even sat with him in the VIP section!

Something Tynamite happened upon was a flyer for Roller Derby World Cup. Organized by Blood & Thunder Magazine, they are hoping to gather skaters to form teams all over the world to compete against each other in 2011. Hosted by Toronto Roller Derby in December of next year, I feel like its a hefty project to take on, so I'm interested to see how it pans out. Roller Derby has really started to pop up all over the globe and I hope this will maybe inspire roller derby at the Olympics.

The very last thing I walked away from Championals with was Hellarad. As the crowd was exiting the Pavillion, a girl in gold handed Fast Bettie what I came to discover as a zine. Once I saw the centerfold insert of Dumptruck and Valcapone, I ran back to find the girl and get one for myself. It's a hilariously snarky compilation of musings, opinions, jokes, and other tidbits written mostly by B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls. As issue number seven, the authors note states that it just upgraded to InDesign and left the old school style of zine, which seems like a poor choice to me. Shouldn't DIY derby have a DIY zine? Well, don't think you won't fall victim to their judgement. The internet is a small place and they will find you.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Frenemies 'til the End.

Ophelia Fracture and Sugar & Slice lineup.
I think at the beginning of Monster’s Brawl last Saturday, we were still riding our high from beating the Cedar Rapids Rollergirls the week prior. We were entering the track with the Quad City Rollers, a team we had played four times previously, skating away with three wins, so we walked into this one pretty confident. Speaking for myself, my head wasn’t in the game right away from the first whistle and I’m not quite sure why. I started in the second lineup jamming against Lady Gotcha and we were being chatty on the line until the whistle. Maybe we have just gotten too comfortable with our QC friends so our mental game wasn’t quite there at the beginning. Whatever it was, I sat down after the first jam feeling shaken and unsure.

A few jams later, and after the first of many official time outs, our score went down a few points and we watched the score climb for the QC Rollers, putting them in the lead. The next few jams went on like this, a little scattered on our part, and they kept control of the pack by getting lead jammer repeatedly. Recently I’ve realized the importance of the first pass, and strategizing within the pack to get your jammer through first. Once your jammer has lead, the pack can focus more on the opposing jammer and if yours is in trouble, she can just call it off.

About half way through the first half, I think we finally got our minds reset on the strategy and skills that we had practiced all month. The numerous time outs probably allowed for our brains to relax and finally sync up with each other. Since the bout was so messy, penalties were being called left and right, some of which were contested or required further discussion amongst the refs. We had done a good job of staying out of the box in Cedar Rapids, but it was not the case this time.

Animal Mother and Triple D. Zaster hold the jammer at the front as Bat R Up helps GLADi8HER through the pack.
In the last eight minutes of the first half we gained control of the pack and began working together more fluidly. I think the greatest accomplishment we have achieved out of our second season is our teamwork on the track. The most beneficial thing a team can do for itself is practice together and often. The more intimately you know everyone’s skating style, voice, derby stank and ability, the more your game comes second nature during a bout.

At half time we were feeling the surge of our comeback, but were still keeping our heads on and discussed what we could do better. It had become quite chaotic, but we knew we just had to keep our minds focused and not let certain ref calls or penalties on the track get to us. We like to pride ourselves on being an even-tempered team, so the all we could do was continue to play our best and fair game.

Captains Sugar and Animal talk to head ref D'shiz.
With the score at 105 to 51, we had pushed ahead into a comfortable lead, yet the bout was still leaving a sour taste in my mouth. The mood of the whole thing was weird and there were lots of timeouts and penalties that were just upsetting the flow of the bout. The excitement that roller derby gets from a crowd is the fast paced action, not the zebra huddle. (Although that does add breaks for dancing on the line.) I have to say Animal Mother deserves a pat on the back for all her work as an Alternate Captain for this bout. If a team has any qualms with a certain call or any general concerns, the Captain and Alternate Captains are the only ones who may address the refs. Bat R Up was often in the box for official reviews, requiring Animal to be assertive and decisive in between jams.

The second half began, and it was immediately evident that black was back, and dominating in the pack. I think we all saw Gigahurtz (who arrived bout day as an alternate and got put in last minute) kick in to gear with some explosive hits and smart skating in the pack. Zom B Blokr brought all our strategy practice to fruition by taking directing the control of the pack for a whole jam as she managed to put nearly all the QC blockers in the penalty box and stopped the pack to a crawl for a successful power jam. I also saw Benzo Bang execute two amazing hits in a row, rivaling the impact Bat R Up leaves on the memories of most skaters. I could care less when I was on the bench because watching the beautiful teamwork of my fellow skaters on the track left me ecstatic.

As we got deeper in the second half and our score began to jump, I could feel the skating on the track become a bit scrambled. QC was giving everything that had to try and rein us in, but we still kept our control and didn’t let up. I have to say, it wasn’t quite the bout I was expecting to wrap up the year with, as three of the Quad City girls and one of our own did not get to see the end of the bout due to ejection. In the recent version of the WFTDA rules, penalties carry over the half and you are only allowed seven total, whereas before you could receive five major penalties per period for a total of ten. After receiving your seventh penalty the head ref will ask that you leave the track and return to the locker room. That, along with gross misconduct ejects a player from the bout in order to keep the skating fair and safe. If you are coming to bouts expecting an all out brawl, you are mistaken; trips to the box, egregious acts and fighting is not tolerated.

Gigahurtz guards the line as Bat R Up takes out Sugar & Slice.
With three of Quad City’s heavy hitters gone, their pack was left weakened and their jammers tired. Our pack control and smart skating finished the bout 225-104. We may not have ended the year “undefeated,” but a 9-2 record for our second season is definitely something to write home about. Besides any numbers or stats, just watching us play is evidence enough of our progress as a team. My concept of roller derby and how the game is played has broadened extensively, enhancing my skill level all around. Seeing some of our fresher skaters finally click and become vital assets to the team is reassuring that we’re doing something right. It’s obvious that from here we have the potential to get even better as our team expands with recruitment and move forward with our apprenticeship.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Skating History

Us as babies.

There are some internet how-to guides and discussion forums that may answer some questions that new roller derby teams have, but there’s no mainstream precedent for derby teams to model themselves after. Growing up, everyone has some inkling of how basketball is played, or has seen a football game without really trying. All these “whatever”ball sports pervade almost every American home and are as basic as apple pie. When it comes to roller derby, either no one has ever heard of it, or it is that thing they watched on TV when they were younger. (Or my favorite: “Oh, like the movie Whip It!?”) You have to search pretty hard for any sort of guide to running a derby team, and after that add a bunch of blood, sweat, and maybe a few broken bones before you really get what it is all about.

Fonda Cuffs and myself smooshing Sugar N Slice.
This Saturday is the second annual Monster’s Brawl, marking the one year anniversary of our first home bout. Thinking back to our first year as a team we had to learn quite a bit on the fly as we figured out what works and what fails miserably as an organized group of women. Whether we bickered about uniforms, searched for a bouting and practice place to call our home, or figured out the best way to organize the business structure of our team, it all took compromise, trial and error, patience, hard work and ultimately just lots of experience.

I hadn’t really realized how far we had come, until Animal Mother, GLADi8HER and I traveled 3 ½ hours to Humboldt, Iowa to practice with a brand new team that calls themselves the Dakota City Demolition Crew. (Dakota City being where their home rink is.) Their leader, Siren, had pervious derby experience and ran her team through some familiar drills. There were about eight girls skating that night and we were told about a total of twelve who come regularly after six weeks of practice. Most of them were fairly steady on their skates, but it was evident they hadn’t looked at the rules, or knew much of how it was played. That didn’t look like it was going to stop them though; their excitement and audacity seemed like it would be enough fuel for awhile.
Hanging with the Humboldt girls, and Kip!
Derby in Iowa as a whole this last year shows that where there’s a will there’s a way. The Des Moines Derby Dames formed a little over a year ago and began bouting in the spring with a fairly full first season. I thought it was too soon for them, but about 6 months later they’re sharing a short list of WFTDA apprentice leagues with the four year-old Mid Iowa Rollers and OCCRG in our second year. Also rapidly progressing since my last blog assessment of the Iowa roller derby scene are the Eastern Iowa Outlaws, Mahaksa Mayhem and the Cedar Valley Derby Divas.

One of the best parts of roller derby is that not only do you now share your life with everyone in your league, but you enter the greater roller derby community. Thriving in its DIY spirit, you begin making connections with teams and skaters all over the country or even the world. No matter who you are or what your background is, you find a common bond with women and men all over the world who are passionate about the sport. It becomes a culture you read about, you skate against, and you just can’t get enough of. Finding these new teams on their freshly created fanpages, you see the faces of all types of women in gym shorts and t-shirts. As time goes on, you see them grow through your facebook feed as you place derby names with faces, and they start adapting their practice wardrobe to these new confident, sexy identities.

The hardest part is getting this tight knit community to infiltrate the masses. As much as we would all love to just play derby for derby’s sake, we require an audience to feed us.  I see it growing online and in these small town Iowa teams, but people who are outsiders to derby don’t get it unless someone invites them in or they stumble head on into it. I figured in our small-ish college town the word of derby would spread like wildfire, but reaching the student population is our toughest market yet.

Uproar on the Lakeshore. Nov 5-7
Next week I will travel to Chicago to witness some of the top teams in North America at WFTDA Championships. It will be exciting to see and meet so many people who love derby as much as I do. I will see athletes that I have only read about and teams I have only seen boutcasts of. The magical thing is that these superstars are just like you or me; anyone can push themselves to the same level without a multi-million dollar contract or strict athletic standards. The only stipulation is that you have to get the sweaty before you get the shiny.

Roller derby is cementing itself in society as a full-fledged sport now, and has obviously become more than a passing fad as it had in the past. Even though this reincarnated version of derby has been around for nearly a decade, it is still in its infancy. Every girl who straps on a pair of skates, every team that pushes themselves harder, and every online forum abuzz about roller derby is helping cultivate the future of the sport itself. We are the living, breathing, skating history of derby.

Let's do the time warp again?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Adapt and Overcome

Last summer we played Cedar Rapids in our second bout ever. Last night we played them again in our second to last bout of this season. Boy, have we come a long way.

The last few weeks all we have talked is strategy, strategy, strategy. The Minnesota Rollergirls taught us a lot at their bootcamp, and BatR, Animal and I are trying our best to relay all that information to our fellow skaters. It came in handy last night when we were faced with issues in pack speed. (I believe there were some kittens and perhaps a basket out there…) I know we all know what to do in most situations now, but I feel like it was not all coming together as tightly as it should have. We seemed to have been successful on multiple levels, but we struggled to keep consistent control of the pack. 
Holding a solid red wall, Glad only has one obstacle. Pics by Joyful Pain
One reason we may have been having a hard time was that the Cell Center floor was stickier than we had anticipated. You see, by practicing on the slickest floor ever, anything else is like glue in comparison. We often play the Quad Cities who have a similar floor to us, and the Mid Iowa Rollers also play on a cement floor so we had not run into it too often this season, besides the Dame’s altered floor. It reminded me to practice what I preach, and be prepared for all situations when it comes to derby. I do not have a variety of wheels in my possession yet, but luckily Glad gave me some harder wheels after I was not feeling too hot in warm ups.

I could hop like a fricken grasshopper around the track, but stopping was another story. On a slick floor my skating style is a very forgiving, sliding-juke kind of jamming, but last night I had to be able to change directions quickly since I could not slam on the brakes as I would have liked. My other option was just to out-skate their blockers, which either worked super well or not at all. I think the floor was great for Ophelia Fracture who has a very quick-step skating style, and was a good boost to Glad’s already high speeds as she returned to the track after a four month hiatus.
Sneakin' through on the inside.
The first half we started strong, building walls and playing smart, and immediately shot into a huge lead. Cedar Rapids worked like wrecking balls, and they knew exactly when their jammer was coming up to create blocking distractions. Our jammers pulled through first, more often than not though, and we kept control with strategic lead jamming. We played pretty clean and stayed out the box while CR often had one or two in. At the half we had the lead, 107 to 39.

In the locker room it was nothing but excitement. It felt amazing to be doing this well, and for those of us who were around last summer, it was just a huge sigh of relief to see how much we have improved in a year.

In the second half, we knew that Cedar Rapids was going to come back kicking and screaming and we had to keep it cool and not let it get us riled up. At first it did not seem like much had changed, but then CR kept starting slow off the line. Now we were faced with exactly the same situation we had yelled at the computer for while watching the regionals a month ago. I did not feel it was really helping CR that much, since they were just wasting time their jammer could be scoring, but it did give them control of the pack from the start. We struggled with this at first, shooting off the line and then having to regain position quickly before the jammers came flying through, losing our focus. Their blockers held a solid three wall which our jammers had to move quickly to get around. Our blockers were often at the front which caught their jammer, but then we would let her push us out of play and we had to let her go.

This went on for a few jams, and then we decided to become the wrecking balls. We would try to pick off their blockers on the line so that they were disrupted when the jammers came through and we could help ours get around. All this chaos led to a full CR penalty box a time or two and a few games of musical jammers. Roller derby is such a fluid sport, and you have to constantly keep check of what nine other girls are doing at all times. If you turn your head to the outside to look for the jammer, you might have Mary Jane Mustang from the inside taking you out. While you are keeping an eye on the pack and what is happening with the blockers, AJ Renegade might be sneaking through on the line. Animal went to the box, now we have to skate with three, what do we do? Their jammer is in the box, how do we get our jammer through as many times as possible for her power jam? There are lots and lots of thoughts to process all at once and make quick decisions on how to react.

I think last night was a testament on how our understanding of the game is improving immensely, but practice makes perfect. We have to tighten some things up since we’ll have to play WFTDA sanctioned bouts next season, because you know, we are a WFTDA Apprentice league now… 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I wore this everywhere I went.
What I learned from my weekend watching the North Central Regionals…

-Drinking leads to hangovers…

During the Thunda on the Tundra bouts, the teams were extremely good at controlling the pace of the pack, and to EXCESSIVE extents. This is often a productive technique mid-jam, usually by trapping a player from the other team so that the rest of the opposing players could potentially fall out of play if they speed away or slow down.

At regionals… ugh. As soon as the first whistle blew, one team would take it upon themselves not to budge from the line, trapping the other team behind them. The jammer whistle cannot sound until the pack passes the pivot line, leaving the jammers waiting helplessly at the back, with the clock running down. I can see where this technique could be a handy tool to keep in your tool box, but to pull it out EVERY SINGLE JAM, got to be quite obnoxious. It only seemed good for wasting the clock, which one team successfully burned a whole minute doing.  The one way out of this was if the trapped team could not get around the stalled blockers, they could scoot backwards towards the jam line until there is “no pack,” and then the jam whistle would sound.

Picture from a June bout, Denver vs Rat City, illustrating the chaos of a pack.
I understand strategy, I understand plans to control the pack, but it seemed to be an unsettling trend of rule manipulation; instead of just playing the game, they were using the game against each other. I would say most of the time it did not even work in their favor. As a jammer, stationary objects are a lot easier to avoid than moving obstacles. They often just sped around the blockers like rocks in the road since rocks have no momentum to positionally block.
Suzy Hotrod (sigh) pushes past a blocker
from a 2008 WFTDA nationals bout.

This was only when the teams were successful. It can be exhaustingly hard to get four girls to work together, especially when four other girls are disrupting you. The minute you lose that control, the whole pack shifts and you have to move on a dime to either regain control or reset and try something new. Roller derby is very fluid and you can plan out exactly what you want to do, but the jam will go however the jam goes.
Most of my bout viewing was focused on the jammers though, and trying to see what they did to slide through the pack. It is hard to really pinpoint a particular move or strategy, so it seems the best I can do is soak up their strides and movements and try to imitate them on the track. I have improved my stepping from watching the Gotham vs Rat City bout last month and focusing on Suzy Hotrod (sigh).

Random interwebs picture.. proof that nothing can stop the ambitious jammer... from trying.
During Thunda it was evident that jammers may actually be the strongest players on the track. Not only are they spending all their energy GO-GO-GO-ing, speeding through numerous laps, but they have to move side to side while doing it, pushing by blockers and taking hard hits. For me, all is well in the GO-GO-Going department, it is the minute someone gets in my way that I lose all momentum and fail. These WFTDA girls are able to just push through their obstacles, and legally! It is about finding the smallest hole, wedging a shoulder or a leg through, and then pushing a blocker away as you move past. It is such an insane power to witness that I start to feel like such a weak skater in comparison. I know I can maneuver and change directions in a split second, but I often chicken out and just try to go around all the obstacles instead of through them. The quickest way from point A to point B is straight ahead…

A week from Saturday a few of us from OCCRG are heading up to visit our mentors, (and #2 North Central Regional champs!) at the Minnesota Roller Girl’s bootcamp. We have been warned to begin hydrating now for the dry land drills… I am beginning to anticipate what kind of pain I will be in, and I can’t wait.  

What was the third thing I learned? Hmm, I forget. My memory is kind of fuzzy…


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bring the Thunda.

Anyone can essentially start a roller derby team. Nothing is officially structured until you begin your journey on becoming a WFTDA certified team. It is this ultimate goal for most teams which keeps them following the rules, training hard to improve their skills, and working hard at being a skater run, community based entity.

The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) is like the NBA/NFL/MLB, what have you, of roller derby. I have mentioned it briefly before but would like to focus on it again since the WFTDA regional tournaments are beginning this weekend with the North Central leagues, annnnnnd about a month ago the Old Capitol City Roller Girls applied to the apprentice program.

Apprentice leagues can add the green badge to their names, and they become pink once they're officially WFTDA.
The only pink thing I'm looking forward to wearing.
To be declared WFTDA certified, a league must first apply to become an apprentice league. Taking up to a year, this is a period of mentorship, training and orientation in the ways of WFTDA. Any leagues that are 51% skater owned, with all women skaters on quads, who use democratic practices and principles, and managed by at least 67% league skaters can apply. With their application they must submit league name with a roster of at least five girls who train two or more hours a week, a mission statement, a description of the league, an essay on why they aspire to become certified, and a letter of eligibility from an established WFTDA league.

Too me this seems too simple and that anyone who has the desire and ambition to push themselves above a merely amateur status could probably pass the apprentice application. With a recommendation from the Minnesota Roller Girls, we hope to become the first apprentice, and eventually WFTDA team, in Iowa.

Becoming a WFTDA certified league would mean many things for us. It offers a higher level of communication with other established leagues, a hand in shaping the future of roller derby, and playing in sanctioned bouts and tournaments. Nine leagues were just added to WFTDA this month, with a total of 98. This covers more than a national scale; Canada has gained a huge presence of derby and soon will have its own separate WFTDA region. So the final tournaments aren't called 'nationals' anymore, it is the 'championship,' which I will be watching live. 

"Thunda on the Tundra" is the North Central Regionals beginning friday.
For us, this is an extremely exciting possibility to one day be playing with the already 27 certified teams in our North Central Region. The tournaments for this region begin Friday at 10 am and last all weekend. As soon as I’m off work at 12:30 that day, you can bet I will be bunkered down for three days watching the live boutcasts that Derby News Network so fantastically offers. It will be a good glimpse of the level of derby we will hopefully be playing at in the next year or so.