Speechless in Sacto


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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15 comments on “Speechless in Sacto

  1. As always Mr. Seltzer you wrote a great article. I am always impressed how the teams show sportsmaship to one another, even if it happens to be a blowout. I will not be able to be at the championships but I will be watching online for sure. I know it will be the best derby of the year.

    • Except of course the sportsmanship that was shown to Rose City and Denver, when playing Bay Area? Signs saying “Fuck you Denver” and “Herpes still happens at Mile High”. How does that support the players and show respect? I was ashamed to ever have rooted for or wished B.A.D well, their fans and players are disrespectful and obnoxious.

      • I didn’t see that……I was referring to the sportsmanship of the players…..it certainly is not in concert what these women are doing.

  2. Good article!!! I hope you come visit Phoenix and check out the Arizona Derby Dames at the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum.. the most kick-ass place to see a derby bout.

    I do agree that something needs to be done about the lopsided scoring. (superloppers) You have a wide spectrum of teams with differing abilities. Could you imagine if a majority of NFL and MLB games had these runaway pointspreads? The game would not be as fun as there is no suspense to the outcome. The game is already decided 1/3rd into regulation time.

    Definitely, the home team bouts are much better as the teams are more equal. Look at the independent Desert Dolls Roller Derby league that game us a couple of very close finishes in their pre-season. The Arizona Conference is a competition between 8 home teams from 4 leagues to play for a state title. I feel that many of these games will be more evenly matched.

    Perhaps with the ever-increasing size of WFTDA that they look at an “upper” and “lower” division and teams would have to earn their way to the upper division (while other teams can be demoted to the lower division).

    Thanks for embracing the rollergirls (and guys, brats, etc.).

    with derby love…
    Michi-chan

    • Can you imagine if the majority of NFL and MLB teams never crossed the county line, Michi-Chan?

      Intraleague derby is kind of a vestigial tail from the pre-WFTDA days. Had everyone stuck with just that we’d all be playing a much less competitive game with far less developed rules and strategies. Because good enough to beat home team B or C is well, good enough I guess.

      I really can’t raise much interest personally in intraleague derby that happens outside of my own league. And even within my own league my main interest in watching home teams play is in watching some of those skaters gain the experience needed to raise them to the higher levels of skill and strategy that interleague derby demands.

      In baseball, the Mets vs the Phillies is more interesting to more people over a wide area than Larry’s Bar and Grill Tigers vs Tire World Spares. Or even a AA ball game between the Mets and Phillies’ farm teams.

      Home teams are generally not followed past the county line. Some of the ones in your state can do better with that, thanks to the Arizona States Conference. They (and maybe TXRD and LADD’s home teams) would be the rare exceptions.

  3. As usual, spot on in your insight of that final game. It was amazing to watch, even on DNN! It was apparent last year that Oly Rollers had raised the bar for excellence in modern roller derby, and it was really exciting to see Rocky Mountain rise to that level of play. I can’t wait to see what nationals bring!

  4. they had regional championship games at the westchester county ctr. in white plains, ny a couple weeks ago. i don’t know the outcome but the local newspaper gave them a lot of coverage the day prior to the games. i attended my first live game in the fall of 1959 at the same venue. the chiefs met the westerners led by hal janowitz and delores doss. exciting game almost 51 yrs. ago. the 59-60 season.

  5. I know Roller Derby came to Australia back in the day. Do you remember any of the venues from Down Under?
    As always – great blog, thank you Jerry.

  6. I never went to Australia with Roller Derby….that was before I took over. I have been to Sydney and Melbourne since on a great trip. The toilet water circles the wrong way and we kept walking into people who were walking the wrong side.

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  8. You know Jerry, I was at the WFTDA East Region Playoffs tournament the weekend before last at Westchester County Center in White Plains, NY.

    I was so busy teasing friends that my grandfather (who had a fairly successful business and was a Master Plumber in the union down there) and/or uncle had likely put all of the plumbing in the building “And you’re pissing all over my family’s work!” that I never considered that Suburbia Roller Derby was probably not the first league to ever host a derby event there.

    I was just on a classic derby Yahoo group and a fan mentioned having seen your league (when it was NRDL) play there in 1959-1960.

    My league used to use an old venue of yours (Main St Armory in Rochester NY) as a practice space and might have gone on to use it as a venue. But the management back in those days didn’t believe in keeping the place clean or turning on the heat or AC ever. Employees not turning up to let our skaters in for practices they’d paid for was the last straw.

    They do have new management, but it can get difficult to get folks to drive to that part of town nowadays.

    Come to think of it, this year’s Championships are bieng held at UIC Pavilion, which according to Five Strides on the Banked Track you also used in the late 1960s. Though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that today’s UIC Pavilion might be the namesake of an earlier structure your league used. I’m too lazy to check Wikipedia…

    • The UIC Pavilion was built long after the demise of the original Roller Derby. In Chicago, all of the early games were held at the Coliseum, then in our era at the International Amphitheater with the one game at White Sox Park.

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