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…