We saw a new era in Roller Derby at the WFTDA champs, and wow!


I think everyone knows I can be cantankerous.

But the last finals I really fully enjoyed (prior to yesterday) was in Chicago 2010.

After that event, passive offense became the watchword for the game, and virtually all fell into line…..new skaters didn’t seem to know there was another way to play.

And Rose City showed it last night. Split the walls into offense and defense, actually block the other blockers during the play, and keep the pack moving during the jams without pack destruction. Yes, Virginia, the game is played on roller skates.

To me, so much excitement in the game comes when players are engaging without standing still, and boy was there a lot of it in perhaps the best modern game I have seen. The future looks bright, because everyone follows a winner and thousands were watching Portland’s tactics against what has been Derby’s gold standard for years, the Gotham Girls.

Now if anyone thinks Gotham’s days are numbered, you are wrong. They haven’t stayed atop the Derby world by standing still (no pun intended!). But what a pleasure to see two teams of superbly conditioned athletes go at each other for the duration of the game without stopping. And to have two players, Scald Eagle and Bonnie Thundeers side by side on so many of the jams! That is one advantage of the offense and defense at the same time aspect of Roller Derby; only in our sport can you see the top offensive players from the two teams on the same scoring plays!

Now about Gotham: there could be no better group of people to represent the game in America’s largest city. Their standards are incredibly high, and if you wanted to hand pick a team to represent what the sport today is all about, it is this group. I sorely missed seeing Suzy Hotrod out there, but the talent on the team was certainly equal to the task. And if I can mention, both Gotham and Rose City are clients of Brown Paper Tickets.

I have to admit I was for Portland in the game; it is my home town and that of Leo Seltzer who created the sport in 1935. And the support that the Rollers have given my niece Phyllis (Leo’s granddaughter) in her battle with cancer just signifies how they and all the leagues in WFTDA are part of their community. As for New York, it is where Roller Derby was made national in 1948 when my dad brought it there, and where we had so many sellouts at the 19,500 seat Madison Square Garden, and the skaters could really skate the game without the extra showmanship.

What a show the sport gave to the ESPN3 viewers and all of the fans. So all the leagues coaches will be going to the drawing board to figure the best way to play the “new” game brought by the team from the Northwest.

And don’t forget that the international teams are barking at their heels.

Remember in 2015 when the game took another jump forward…..tell your neighbors and friends they had better come and see what the fuss is all about.

5 comments on “We saw a new era in Roller Derby at the WFTDA champs, and wow!

  1. I have been a critic of WFTDA for awhile now mainly because of the so-called modern strategy and I agree, there is more excitement in the game when the blockers are not standing still. The backwards skating and resetting is still a bit uneasy to watch as a long time fan.

    But with all of that aside, Sunday’s ESPN3 coverage and the two bouts I watched in their entirety (the D2 bronze game and the D1 gold game) were both very exciting and commercially viable games. With the lead changes and the suspense and the bouts being decided on the final jam, they could have been filled with national spots very easily. Myself, I would change the game to quarters in order to accommodate TV. The presentation by the announcers was very well done and the game was explained to newbies as well as oldbies like me who are still pretty new to the modern strategy.

    I do think we need to start moving away from “skate names”, especially for the announcers. Seeing a skate name come up on the chyron under an announcer does look very WWE-esque and may have some difficulty getting mainstream acceptance.

    The coverage of WFTDA or USARS derby through mainstream network sources is going to have an upward battle by both the fans and the sportswriters (although more of the latter, IMHO) because of the RollerGames past. That stigma unfortunately is still out there. That was somewhat evident when ESPN put Sunday’s finals under the “Rollergames” category.

    I really hope next year, ESPN considers putting the D1 gold bout on ESPN2. I had a lot of problems watching the bouts with my Chromecast and for some, streaming is not always the answer.

    WFTDA, we don’t meet eye to eye on the game play style but we are spot on in agreement that the presentation to the mainstream audience was 4-star top-notch awesome. Congrats to WFTDA and everyone involved for a monumental day of derby. Leo would have been proud.

    • As a skater, the changes being made to rules often and the evolution of the sport has been a frustrating journey. Overall Gotham and many of the other leagues that my league look up for inspiration, made this year’s championship game heart attack inducing.
      I agree that the “stroller derby” is boring & incredibly annoying. For my league, we feel it’s the lazy way to get points. We practice what is called “f you get passed me” derby; lots of contact, offensive & defensive movement, and even backwards blocking.
      Those “skater names” are earned and joyfully celebrated! Skaters go through larges amounts of pain, tears ,and blood to earn those names! We, for most of us, are not allowed to use our names until we pass minimum skills and/or beyond. Announcers preparing prior to their calls for saying those, even then they help in the celebration.

      • Abrielle, since you pay to play, I think you have every right to choose your nomenclature. I just hope that now all leagues will take your approach, let us play the game hard and to our advantage and not copy cat others.

  2. I agree with most, Michele…..I am sure WFTDA would have like the game on one of the ESPNs on cable, but it wasn’t their choice. I still think the game was a great step forward, and yes the stopping and going backwards is confusing to say the least, but it is what they want……now if the jams were just a bit shorter….

  3. Just as an aside, I’m assuming the reason espn used a “Rollergames” category is because they had the category existing for skateboarding and other rolling sports, not because of the proto-derby game “Rollergames” from the late 80’s.

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