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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This time it is staying around

Paris Rollergirls’ Practice.  Photo by Carole Dodeman.

I think the photo says it all about the state of Roller Derby today.  You can tell people there are 1472  leagues, 1-100,000 women skating in 41 countries , men now skating, junior Roller Derby etc, but it really hits you when you see the Paris Rollergirls’ practicing at the Eiffel Tower.  This is the fastest growing sport in the World!

We could also see them in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Bogota,London, Sao Paulo, Toronto, Montreal, Antwerp, Berlin and every major US city.  The women just form their leagues, pay to play, buy their own skates and uniforms, and commit an enormous time to volunteer not just for their leagues, but to help out in their communities and donate to charities.

There was no master plan that made this happen;  there is no super league or highly paid commissioner (I volunteer for that job!); there is the WFTDA, USARS, TXRD, etc, the Australian rules committee, UK and others who set up standards for training, skating and scheduling.  For the first time this year when the WFTDA  eastern regional championships are held there will be an international team.

Seattle’s Rat City with record attendance of approx 6700 people. Photo by Axle Adams

The Rollercon in Las Vegas had over 2000 participants from all over the world who came to skate, learn from others, attend seminars and have a great party time with each other.  There are publications like Five on Five that sell out every issue, a new beautiful magazine from Australia (Hit and Miss), Derby News Network to live stream the games, Derby Radio, I can go on and on. And there is even Roller Derby the Musical, which will soon be playing a city near you.

How can this remain “underground” and is that even important.  My dream is to see these wonderful participants in the Olympics and as a professional sport also, fully legitimate as it is now.  How can you say it can’t happen when it has already.  Many thousands attend the games, with fans following them on the social networks and on the other media I mentioned.  Anything in Sports Illustrated or ESPN the magazine? Of course not.  But you don’t need that anymore with almost a millions “friends” on facebook and other networks.  The WFTDA has almost 23,000 “liking” their Facebook page.  And if you go to www.derbyroster.com you can check out each league in each city and go to their pages.

There has never been anything like it.  And what do you see on the sports channels?  Poker, lingerie football, paintball, and all kinds of junk.  And the Derby like crabgrass just keeps growing.  By next year, probably 10 more countries (Japan, Mexico and more).

And that is why I am saying it won’t go away.  The players are not demanding huge salaries – in fact not any, although it creates hardship on many.  And if attendance keeps growing (crowds of 4000 to 7000 are not unusual, at prices from $15 to $40), many of the leagues can become extremely solvent.

Where are the big moneyed people who bring in another unneeded pro football league, or basketball, or soccer?  This is the game of the present and future.  The structure is already there.

And why are the participants willing to work so hard to make it happen?  Here are some excerpts from my informal “research”:

Hayley – I was unfit, boring, now confident and have approval and friends.

Angela – It is an addiction….I have to skate.

Tami – An abused wife, Derby built the confidence and balls.  No one will every beat me up again.

Leann- It’s unexplainable – like being in a family of endorphin junkies.

Mark – An addiction from the start…once you skate Derby, you will always be with Derby.

Kristin – All I needed to hear was they were gonna let me skate and hit people – so I showed up.

Cori – Strangers recognizing me, people asking for autographs, I was even on a billboard and am kind of famous.

Lauren – It made it OK for me to enjoy feeling sexy and being a woman – with the empowerment of the Derby women it made me enjoy womanhood.

Jessy – As an 8-year old I wanted to be a Roller Derby Queen.  I found a league, I am not a queen or a star, but my 10-year old daughter wants to be a professional skater when she grows up.

Carrie- – Derby for me has offered me an extended family.

Corinna – There is a new found confidence in every aspect of my life – nothing like it!

Just like the spoiled athletes you read or hear about every day (Where is Lebron going and who gives a crap).

And there is this extraordinary relationship amongst all the skaters and leagues….one team can demolish another, and they go party afterwards….they really are an extended family, all around the world.

No network can cancel them, no league owner can shut them down;  what they have created is truly unprecedented, and I am so glad that I have lived long enough to see it happen.  Stay tuned, because no fat lady is going to sing.

Do you know how hard it is for a man my age to meet women?

Photo by Dibbs

O Town in Denver Photo by Mike Wilson

Rocky Mountain Roller Girls- Fight Club

Photo from Jane Philip

Tahoe Bout Rollercon Photo by Angelena C. Delucia

Rocky Mountain Roller Girls

Silicon Valley Roller Girls

O Town Derby Dames Photo by Julie A Moser Lee

Rollercon 2007 Photo by Pioneer Valley Roller Derby

Rollercon Photo by Donna "Pushy Willow" Capossela

Juicy K Tore and Pia Mess Photo by Pia Mess

Jessica Mj da Silva 2008


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Phoenix in Las Vegas

Rollercon-Suzy Hotrod

Rollercon 2010

Rollercon El Paso, Tx- Girls of Devo

I returned from Rollercon on Saturday.  The annual meeting, skatefest, partying etc was overpowering this year.  I believe there were somewhere near 2500 in attendance but don’t really know.  There were participants from all over the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK, Germany and more, including South America.

There is a difference.  Amongst all the fun more women (and now men) are becoming even more serious athletes.  Many of the leagues are tightening up on fundamentals and other aspects.  Chicago, for example, has a Haymarket league for those who aren’t quite good enough to be in the Windy City Rollers.  They skate an additional 18-week program to see if they will qualify.  And there are an additional 150 (!) skaters who are in preliminary training (called “fresh meat”).

One reason this fastest growing women’s sport in the world has remained a subculture is that all leagues are owned by the participants and are independent.  Over 70 of the 570 leagues are affiliated with the WFTDA for rules and other standards.  There is also an organization for one aspect of banked track skating, and another for old style banked track skating.  There are organizations in the UK, Canada, Australia, etc.  And this is all about a fully legitimate competitive game that grows in popularity.

I cannot generalize on the players.  I met a wonderful woman from Bremen, Germany, who had a bit of an Ingrid Bergman look who is an air controller (“I was off during the first volcano explosion in Iceland, but was on hand for the second).  There were teachers, pathologists, copy editors (“I make certain Roller Derby gets coverage in my newspaper”), and you name it.  There were mothers and daughters, grandmothers, students all of whom were so interesting.  I had a little problem with all the tattoos (not on everyone), but that is me and my generation.

There was constant training and skating scrimmages so the different areas and styles all meshed.  I headed a seminar on how to promote and “grow” the sport, but couldn’t have done it without the help of Val Capone, Mildred Fierce, and others.  I probably learned as much as they did.

More people than not didn’t know that Roller Derby has such a rich history.  Most thought the game started when the Roller Girls started and were shocked to hear that it is approaching its 75th anniversary.  Also, a great number of the new leagues starting up do not know how to promote or present their events and that’s where I think the seminars were helpful.  I hope if anyone took notes during mine will post them to facebook (Mine had the largest attendance of any at Rollercon, so there).

The growth will not stop and I will be working with a number of the cities and personnel to see how the game can go to the next level for those who want to participate.  Several are being approached now to go into larger venues and the next logical step is a super leagues of the existing leagues.  I suggested and Grace Killy, the president of the WFTDA agreed, that regions should form their teams into a league, so that when they play each other they can post league standings and scores….each game now just stands on its own except for the national rankings of the WFTDA.

What makes it difficult is there is no super governing body or organization that can negotiate in terms of national advertising, television, merchandise and more for the benefit and revenue of all the leagues.  I don’t think anyone is aware of the sacrifices these women make in training to skate, volunteering for their matches and community events, and yet having to pay a fee every month to belong.

There were approximately 30 booths of merchandise at the main hall at the Las Vegas Sports Center, which shows that those who have chosen to affiliate with Roller Derby realize the revenue that can be achieved.

I would like to work in the future with these wonderful women in creating a national revenue stream that will allow the sport its natural progression without the heavy burden on the wives, mothers, students, and others who have made this unbelievable phoenix rise from the ashes of its almost 40-year demise.

God Bless them all.

This is on July 22, 2012.  in a day and a half we are driving to Las Vegas to the Riviera…..see us in the GoMerch/seltzer brand  booth #61…..to get a preview, go to http://www.seltzerbrand.com.