Yesterday was the final day of the Western Regional Championships in Sacramento for the WFTDA.
To make it extremely deja vu-ish is that it was held at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, a venue that we used for Roller Derby some 50 years ago! There are two other arenas the Derby Girls use that I know we skated in: The Coliseum in Phoenix and the Gardens in Cincinnati, but I haven’t seen any of those matches yet – there are some 400 or so leagues in the US alone and I don’t think I can make all of them.
Anyway, many of the games I had seen in the last few years were definitely one-sided – some with scores like 230 to 87. At the regionals you get the best teams in the region and they have all been seeded, so yesterday’s two final games were four teams competing for three places at the WFTDA National finals in Chicago in November. The Bay Area Derby girls won the third place game against Portland, so in the final match of the tournament the undefeated Oly rollers (22 straight wins) against the second seeded Rocky Mountain Roller Girls from Denver.
Roller Derby has a simple premise: two teams of 5 skaters compete against each other; the object is for the jammer(s) to break away from the “pack”, circle the track and for each member of the opposing team she (or he) passes, she is awarded a point. Two teams may jam at the same time so you have to play offense and defense on the same play. Currently, there is a two-minute time limit on the jam. They play two halves of 30 minutes to comprise a game.
Several things were apparent that I had not seen before: the conditioning of the athletes, the legal viciousness of the blocking, and the complete comprehension of the complexities of the game (say that fast!). If you think it is easy to try to block the opposing jammer from getting out of the pack while blocking the other team’s blockers who are trying to keep your jammer from flying out while you each are trying to open holes in the pack, you should just try a little Roller Derby.
And both teams did it play after play, knocking each other to the floor, bouncing back up, punishing the jammers when they broke loose and when they hit the pack from behind; it went on for the entire sixty minutes. And these were women who were playing this so very difficult and bruising game. No dull spots, no backing down, very few very high point jams and the players had to always be aware of the other skaters and to call off the plays almost immediately after coming into the pack; more placing hands on the hips (signal from lead jammer to end the play) with no score or just 1 point than in any match I had seen.
Obviously the players got tired, but they didn’t complain – not did they yell and scream at the tremendous amount of penalties that often change the flow of the game. And when the game was over and Rocky Mountain had ended the 22-game win streak, there was no sulking by the losers. I watched carefully as they congratulated the winning team and showed such amazing sportsmanship.
At this point I had so many different thoughts: I wished my father had been able to see this amazing match and how his dream of legitimacy in Roller Derby had proved itself. I was so proud that I had been invited and was handling out the medals to the participants.
It is so tough to judge the different teams in the different regions……whether the New York Gotham Girls or a team from the Southeast or Texas or anywhere else will be able to beat either of these teams. The important thing is how the game has progressed. There was no criticism of the skating outfits (nice uniforms) or of any of the things that old time Roller Derby fans complain about.
These are serious athletes whose time has come. Watch out America and the world. It is not important if you take them seriously or not, I repeat: they are not going away. I hope those of you who can will show up at the University of Illinois Chicago Pavilion in November to see the most exciting women’s sport there is as the top teams in the WFTDA compete for the National Championship. And it happens to be in the city the sport was born three-quarters of a century ago. I will be there.
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