Continental Divide and Conquer

Because apparently, with teams like the London Rollergirls and Toronto Roller Derby, you’re not supposed to call it “nationals” anymore.

So this weekend, the final brackets for the WFTDA Championship Tournament were released, and they look a lil somethin’ like this:




Click for larger, printable PDF version.

Overall, it is clearly going to be a very, very good month for WFTDA fans. Let’s get right to it.

Game 1 – Minnesota vs. Charm City
I don’t think anyone would pick Minnesota over Charm City, particularly since the latter enjoys a 3 ranking in the East division (right behind ridiculous powerhouses Gotham and Philly), and I’m not, either. Minnesota has certainly earned their place at nationals this year (after a Cinderella season in 2010), but they can’t stand up to this. Charm City by 120 pts.

Game 2 – Rocky Mountain vs. Nashville
By far the ugliest game of the tournament, nothing else to be said. Rocky Mountain by triple-digits, easy. I don’t even want to speculate on the point spread.

Game 3 – Kansas City vs. Rose City
I may get skewered for this, but I cannot, in good conscience, slate my home team for elimination in the first round. Rose City may be ranked 4th in the super-powerful West, but I’m picking Kansas City to edge them out by no more than 20. This one could be brutal. Both teams will come away crying for mommy.

Game 4 – Philly vs. Naptown
No contest here, 2E Philly will crush Naptown early and often. By at least 100.

Game 5 – Charm City vs. Texas
Texas may still be riding high from their upset over KC at the Show-Me Der-B-Q two weekends ago, but it won’t be enough to take out Charm City. Baltimore by 40.

Game 6 – Rocky Mountain vs. Gotham
I absolutely cannot wait for this one. Here you’ve got two of the toughest, most iron-clad leagues in all of women’s flat track, Rocky Mountain having taken the Hydra last season and Gotham winning their 2011 sanctioned bouts by an average of 173 points. Assuming the 1STBANK Center is still standing at the end of this one, I’m going to say Gotham by no more than 30, and possibly quite a bit less.

Game 7 – Kansas City vs. Windy City
Let’s face it, the North Central Region isn’t underestimated, they just don’t have the muscle, at least right now, that the other divisions do. Windy City‘s no pushover, but I’m picking Kansas City by 50.

Game 8 – Philly vs. Oly Rollers
Quite a match-up, this one, but I’m going with the obvious choice. Oly by 30.

Game 9 – Gotham vs. Charm City
Charm City‘s luck officially runs out in Game 9 — not that they got here on luck, mind you, they got here on sheer bad-assery. Gotham is just too much, though, they’ll win by 50.

Game 10 – Oly vs. Kansas City
These two titans met earlier in the season, and KC put up a strong showing against #1 ranked Oly, but the end result will be the same here. Oly by 70, or more if KC can’t keep their lady-asses out of the box.

Championship Game: Gotham vs. Oly
This is as it should be — the two best teams in the nation going head-to-head for the WFTDA Championship, and it couldn’t happen to a more talented buncha ladies. I’m going to say Gotham by no more than 20, possibly way less. In fact, if we’re lucky, this one could come down to the final jam.

Post your picks in the comments section, or if you’re too lazy to fill out the whole bracket, just let us know who you think is going to be the WFTDA 2011 Champion.

4 Ridiculous Things You Probably Believe About Roller Derby

Who among us has been to a WFTDA or OSDA bout and didn’t love absolutely every moment of it? And for those who raised their hands, how many of you also delight in the deaths of puppies and baby woodland animals?

Roller derby is one of the few sports that just about anyone can enjoy. It’s fast-paced, exciting, easy to follow once you’ve learned a few basics (just like any other sport), and it is, in my opinion, one of the most affordable sporting experiences available today, dollar-for-dollar. That’s referring to tickets, mind you; by the time the bouts are over, you’ll want so many t-shirts, stickers, patches, hoodies, caps, and key chains that you’ll probably wonder where the “affordable” part went.

But it’s also one of the least-understood sports in the country, and given the flamboyant history of roller derby dating back to the wild and crazy 70s, it’s no wonder. Those who were around then can remember the spectacle, and even those who weren’t have probably seen the footage. Here, then, are four of the silliest misconceptions making the rounds today about women’s flat track roller derby.


Myth #1: The games are staged, and the outcomes are pre-determined.

The reality:
The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association is nothing like the roller derby of the 70s, when Raquel Welch dazzled us in Kansas City Bomber. Obvious differences aside — like the presence of a flat track instead of the banked track Welch skated on — the games (and fights) actually were staged back then and the outcomes decided in advance, much like present-day professional wrestling. But those days are long gone.


Yeah, no.

Likewise, the Old School Derby Association (OSDA) skates under a slightly different set of rules, but the parallels remain: even though there is an element of spectacle and the skaters adopt tough, almost cartoonish monikers under which they compete, the fact remains that the roller derby of today is a real sport.

The official WFTDA rule book is a quarter-inch thick (and costs eight dollars to buy), complete with penalties, parameters for ejection, and “zones of engagement,” which I still haven’t figured out. It can take years of experience to really grasp the minutiae of the game, and by then, the rules have been revised slightly and there’s more to learn. But the point is, anyone who’s afraid they’re in for a WWE-style fake-fest is in for a shock, because there are games to be won — and believe me, these girls are in it to win it. Best get out the way.


Myth #2: The players make good money doing this.

The reality:
Actually, it’s quite the opposite.

The WFTDA is a not-for-profit international governing body of women’s flat track roller derby; none of the skaters get paid for their participation. Players must pay for their own equipment, medical treatment (when necessary), travel expenses, and all incidentals related thereto including meals, hotels, and so forth. They pay monthly dues to the league and are required to participate in committees that organize fundraisers, event planning, rulebook changes, marketing, and merchandising — all without a paycheck. It can (and often does) amount to an enormous time commitment, but there’s hardly a one in the bunch who would say it isn’t worth it.

The women who participate have full-time jobs, families, spouses/partners, children, and bills to pay just like all of us. The fact that they’re infinitely more bad ass than we are doesn’t mean the electric company just looks the other way. Although I would, if I worked there. Who wants to incur the wrath of a derby girl?


Go ahead and count me out.


Myth #3: It’s basically a fight on wheels.

The reality:
Did I mention there’s an actual game being played? As rough as the game of roller derby can be, some of you would be positively shocked by the kinds of physical contact they can’t make: elbows, punching, tripping, kicking, even shoving. All of the above would likely result in an ejection from the game on the basis of gross misconduct. The rulebook is very specific on the kinds of blocking allowed, the body parts players can block with, and the legal target zones, i.e. the parts of opposing players’ bodies you can hit. If you’re still stuck on the similarities between roller derby and pro wrestling, you may just want to get it out of your system now:

Now that you’ve seen that (fun) mess, go to our YouTube page at www.youtube.com/kcderbydigest and compare it to any one of our game videos. Except that you can’t, because there is no comparison.

The level of sportsmanship displayed by players in the WFTDA is unparalleled. I’ve seen fights in baseball, basketball, football, hockey, soccer, and even tennis, but I have never, ever seen a fight at a WFTDA bout — and I’ve seen bouts in Kansas City, Los Angeles, Omaha, Des Moines, and Houston. That kind of sportsmanship is pretty extraordinary when you consider the level of physical contact and competition these ladies experience on the track. Unsportsmanlike conduct that leads to violence is so rare in this particular league that when it does happen, fans give it a name like “The Punch Heard ‘Round the Derby World,” or something equally cheesy. Because it just doesn’t happen.


Myth #4: It’s a low-class, lowbrow game for tattooed bikers and bull dykes.

The reality:
First of all, I’d mind my pints and quarts, if I were you, about assuming all tattooed bikers and bull dykes are low-class. Even if you believe it, seems like saying so could be hazardous to your health.

But social stereotypes aside, if you go to a game sometime, what you’ll quickly realize is that you meet all kinds. Roller derby appeals to people across the social spectrum, and that’s really the beauty of the sport. Football is marketed toward the blue-collar good ol’ boys cookin’ up barbecue, tailgatin’ in the parking lot with coolers fulla Schlitz, and baseball is typically the sport of choice when your Chairman/CEO drops by and mentions he’s not using the company box seats that weekend, so who’d like to see the Yanks take on the Red Sox? Roller derby, in actuality, defies all barriers. You will see plenty of tattoos at the games (and maybe a mohawk or two, if you’re lucky), and you’ll also see lots of button-down shirts and even a pocket protector here and there.


Just browsin’ for a new tattoo.

If you’re still not convinced, look at some of the companies that sponsor your local league. Here in Kansas City, the businesses that sponsor KCRW and Dead Girl Derby run the gamut. They include roofing contractors, sign/print companies, restaurants, apartment and housing complexes, attorneys at law, professional photographers, and yes, tattoo shops. Likewise, the jobs and careers the skaters hold down when they’re not on the track would surprise you, if you’re still in the “derby is low-class” camp.

Take your pick:

And so on. And so on. On top of everything else, every event is billed “family-friendly,” and I regularly see kids of every age at the games. If that doesn’t change your mind, we probably can’t help you anyway.

Some parting thoughts on the Show-me Der-B-Q

Having attended 15 of the 17 games at this weekend’s Show-Me Der-B-Q at Municipal Auditorium (and only missing the two because of a death in the family), I came away with several impressions I’d like to share, both of the bouts themselves and of the dominant teams in the South Central Region. It was a fantastic weekend of derby, some games were much more intense than others, and I have to say, I learned quite a bit myself.


1. Competition really exists at the top.


First, and this is bound to be disputed by some, I was shocked by how few national-caliber teams there appear to be this season in the South Central Region. If you look at this weekend’s tournament results, the list of teams capable of competing on the national level appears to be exactly two names deep:  (#1)Kansas City and (#2)Texas. Any seeds lower than that, and it will only be a shootout when they’re playing each other. For instance, the game between (#2)Texas and (#3)Nashville on Saturday was billed as the game of the day; it was bound to be a clash of the titans once teams seeded that high got around to playing each other, right?

Except that Nashville got squashed, as did (#4)Atlanta when they played (#1)Kansas City later that day. And that seemed to be the theme that ran through most of the tournament: when the lower seeds meet, you might see some close games and a few upsets, but once you start climbing the ranks into the higher seeds, more and more blowouts begin to ensue.

Hell, even the game between (#3)Nashville and (#4)Atlanta on the final day of the tournament was a snoozer. Nashville thrashed Atlanta by 175 points and held them to only 1 point in the entire second half. Clearly, there’s a gulf that exists even amongst some of the higher-ranked teams in the region, and it’s no wonder people are left with impressions like this:

“I’m really proud of our team and our region. I think a lot of people underestimate the North and South Central Regions, but we’re really coming up. I’m so proud to be going to Championships with Kansas City and Nashville.”
— Texas co-captain Bloody Mary

(quote courtesy of WFTDA.com)

The problem with this statement is that no one appears to be underestimating anything. Kansas City and Texas mow everyone down, and the lower seeds are left to squabble over the sandbox. I certainly don’t intend to insult anyone’s efforts or competitive spirit, but when you start looking at teams on the national level (Gotham, Oly, Rocky Mountain, Kansas City), a person really has to wonder how long a team like Nashville would even last in next month’s championship tournament — and they were seeded third. Anytime the third seed gets pummeled so handily by a team one seed higher, you can pretty well forget anyone seeded below them, particularly from a national perspective.

Hopefully, in the seasons to come, the regional bracket won’t be dominated over (and entirely decided by) what kind of day the top seeds are having. Ideally, I’d love to see a tournament in which any one of the ten teams could compete on the national level — but I realize that’s “ideally.”


2. My love for the Omaha Rollergirls is only limited by my love for Kansas City.


Take a look at this…

… and tell me you don’t absolutely love the Omaha Rollergirls. To begin with, that’s Auntie Embolism on the left, formerly of the Kansas City Black Eye Susans (the greatest of the KC house teams, win-loss record be damned). On the right, that’s Anna Maniac, star jammer for Omaha and possibly the most underrated player in the division. She is to the Omaha Rollergirls as Mike Sweeney was to the Kansas City Royals — a star player on a middle-of-the-road team who would stand out wherever she went, but who may never get the recognition she deserves simply due to geographic location.

More importantly than any of this, though… just look at ’em. When this photo was taken, the Omaha Rollergirls hadn’t won a damn game all weekend. [Editor’s note: they would lose their remaining game as well.] But their team pride and their competitive spirits hadn’t diminished one little bit, and my friends, that is what roller derby is really about. The true spirit of the WFTDA lives in many cities, and Omaha is by no means the least of them.


3. The Kansas City-Texas game was closer than the score reflects.


The Texas Rollergirls wound up winning the South Central Region title by 40 points, and that’s not a huge margin, but it still doesn’t accurately reflect the intensity of the game on a whole.

When the tournament began on Friday, Texas left me with the impression that they were a one- or two-trick pony — they relied extremely heavily on star jammer Olivia Shootin’ John to the exclusion of nearly every other jammer on the team, with the possible exception of Vicious van GoGo, who saw more and more action as the tournament progressed. But given the team’s over-use of John, particularly in the second game against Nashville on Saturday, one wonders where they would be if she were to be injured and Texas had only GoGo and their stellar defense to guide them. I dare say they would not have defeated Kansas City, and indeed, Nashville would have been a much bigger problem, even taking into account the 143-point victory that Texas eventually celebrated over them.

Kansas City, on the other hand, has a stellar defense as well, but they also boast an impressive array of jammers whose varying styles of play can only serve to confuse opponents. Hall Balls, clearly the best of the bunch, sports a quiet, understated, graceful style of ass-kicking that simply doesn’t alert the opposing team to the threat they face. Up-and-coming jammer Jade Lightning also seems to have adopted this approach and will likely achieve a similar level of success with the proper experience. By contrast, dynamic jammers Track Rat and Kelley Young are like a rain of fire, storming the pack and breaking through like the Kool-Aid man whether anyone’s thirsty or not.


Drink up, bitches.

Strong, lanky jammer Case Closed seems to be the most versatile of the bunch, capable of catching opposing blockers completely off guard with her unpredictable skating style and her ability to switch from Track Rat to Jade Lightning in the blink of an eye.

Facing down Kansas City, though, and working to their obvious disadvantage, was the penalty trouble that is the result of their naturally aggressive style of play. Too often, jams began with only two Kansas City defenders and sometimes no jammer, the missing skaters relegated to the box after much back-blocking and track-cutting ensued. At no point did Texas suffer from any comparable defensive disadvantage, and they enjoyed many more power jams than they should have as a result.

And while the two teams’ defensive strategies are similar, Kansas City’s jammers experienced an inexplicable difficulty breaking through the pack that Texas simply did not, by and large, and between that and the penalty trouble, it was just too much for the Wolfpack to overcome. They did surprisingly well in the face of all this, and their extremely sportsmanlike conduct on the track after the game was inspiring on a level that I have never witnessed in any other sport, professional or otherwise.

Kansas City, Texas, and Nashville move on to the WFTDA Championship Tournament next month in Denver, and I’m picking Gotham to win it all.

All that's fit to digest from the world of Kansas City roller derby!