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. 


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

Within two minutes or less, I have to decide with four other girls how to get one of them around the track as many times as possible with the fewest obstructions, while also fending off four opposing girls and impeding a fifth. The only means to achieving all these things are our bodies and a pair of roller skates. There is no stick, no ball, no tangible goal to aim for. There is only anticipation, strategy, teamwork, quick feet, endurance, strength… and then repeating it over and over.
Often, your own jammer must fend for herself so her blockers can focus solely on the opposing jammer.
Picture by Tracy Pierce 

Our last bout on August 21st, Cirque Du Slam, revealed a little about our progress as a team. Zdork made up a spectacular bout poster (photo by Emily Sherman), boutfits were at their shiniest, and we had a whole month to prepare. Yet… why was attendance at its lowest?

It has been a long season so far with nine bouts down and three more to go, but it has also been a giant step up from our three-bout season last summer. A leap even. We have improved greatly as a league but everything is still about trial and error, and perhaps we will try fewer bouts next year to avoid more error... Either way, the bout and some recent practices have provided a lot of feedback for me and how I could improve.

We had employed a new perspective on jammer performance at the last bout: point differentials. It is a method of instant feedback Tynamite and Zom B brought back from “This one time… at RollerCon...” Since derby is a game simultaneous offensive and defensive action, I not only need to worry about my own skating, but the skating of the other jammer as well. I could come off the track smug with my 14 point jam, but if the other jammer scores 16 points, I am technically -2 points. Sugar kept a running tally of these differentials at Cirque Du Slam, and at the half I was only +1. I had been trying hard the whole period to jam hard and play smart, but I obviously needed to step it up even more.
Photo by Emily Sherman

I have improved my footwork and agility immensely since March, but my endurance is still not at its finest. Summer’s lack of routine has helped me lose my shape, for what should have been more time to train, was instead more time to be lazy. Tynamite brought the Firefighter’s Workout to practice the other night, and my body is obviously still very ripe to be molded into an all-star skating machine, I just need to push it to that level.

Then, at an all hitting practice last week, I was reminded that I have a whole body to use in my hits,  not just my shoulders. When we had a very pleasant visit from Glitter HitHer over the summer, an Iowa City native skating for Santa Cruz, she presented a very good point. Boys have more upper body strength so hitting with their shoulders is more effective, while women have more strength in their hips and asses, so using those to our advantage would be most effective. I suppose I have assumed since my curves are in my upper body, that my lower body would have nothing to offer. On the contrary, with the right timing, I can even knock Sugar out with my hips. (which I did at the Scars and Stripes mixer…) Those are the kind of hits I need to work on more often, especially in games such as BLOOD AND THUNDER. (Knock everyone down until there are no more.)

Cathy Kovach took these awesome photos at practice the other night..
Through all the glitter and beneath the hot pants and face paint, roller derby is purely and simply, a sport. I think the idea of derby is easy to sell with all these shiny additives, making it a sparkly, sexy lure to draw people in. My only hope is that they see past the glitzy exterior and stay for the action. I’ve gotten caught up in the image of derby lately, and need to direct myself back to all the sweat and hard work that makes everything a smooth running machine.

My sore muscles today are telling me that I need to work harder to hit better, skate faster, and be stronger.
But don’t worry, derby is still a fucking riot.