WFTDA Championships

I’ve already run down my picks in this weekend’s Continental Divide and Conquer tournament, but thanks to, you can go in and set your brackets in stone, baby.

And there they are. I’ve got KCRW squeaking past Rose City in the controversial first round and not stopping until they meet Oly in the semi-finals, finally coming to rest in fourth place behind juggernauts Gotham, Oly, and Charm City.

It’s going to be a very interesting weekend for roller derby fans, and I can’t wait to see how things pan out. Above all, I couldn’t be prouder of the Wolfpack for making it to the championships yet again this year. You just can’t keep those Kansas City girls down. Of course, we’ll be posting the relevant results here as soon as we’re able, and keep an eye on our Twitter page too.

Draft Day

As you may have seen from any number of breathless Facebook and Twitter posts in the last 24 hours, last night was the annual Dead Girl Derby draft party, and while full rosters and photos aren’t available just yet, KC Derby Digest has noticed a bit of a shake-up within the ranks.

Relax, it’s not a bad thing. If anything at all, it will only make 2012 even more interesting.

Most noteworthy in this faux-journalist’s opinion is the defection of Poison Evie (top scorer in the league) to the Deadly Sirens and Dir-T Diana (2011 Royal Pains team captain) to the Shotgun Sheilas. Both of these DGD superstars leave a Royal Pains team that went 1-6 in 2011, and if we’re being honest, even a superfan like KC Carr might wonder where this leaves Their Highnesses for the upcoming season.

Well, there’s good news. The Royal Pains have proudly announced nine very promising new recruits for the 2012 season, not the least of whom is Mel Breakdown, referee-turned-track-scrapper who, as of 10:30 last night, was already painting her nails purple. New recruits will be announced by their derby names once they (the names) are approved and everything is in place, but suffice it to say that things look very, very good for 2012.

Yes, that good.

Also of note: High D. Flys has transplanted from the Deadly Sirens to the Shotgun Sheilas along with Pixie Smash, whose history is so varied I remember seeing her in stripes as well as the black and yellow of KCRW.

Ever-curious about a shake-up like this one, I contacted Dixie Danger, head of PR for the Dead Girls’ league, who had this to say:

“We are all a family. Just because someone goes to another color does not mean they no longer like that team — hell, a good portion of the girls have tattoos to show their love of their team — [but] some people want change. Each team plays differently, skates differently, and works differently. I think the move is to try something new and the opportunity to skate with those you once skated against. I think it will be an entirely new experience to skate against someone you once skated with. There are advantages of knowing their skill and how they work, but it will be interesting to see how they skate with a different group of women.”

Dixie Danger of Dead Girl Derby

Congratulations to all the new recruits, and good luck to all four Dead Girl Derby teams in 2012.

Mel Breakdown Explains All

You might never guess that one of Dead Girl Derby‘s most accomplished skater-athletes has not, up to this point in time, played on a team at all. To Dead Girl Derby, she’s Mel Breakdown, one of a handful of Stripes who circles the outer track, keeping things in order, ever-watchful for the odd backblock or stray track-cut.

To her friends and family, she’s Kelly Von Lunen, self-described DINK, culinary enthusiast, founder of the blog Cooking on Skates, and full-time writer for VFW magazine based at the National Headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri.

To the fans, she’s That Hot Referee Nobody Messes With Because They Know Better. (I may have made that up.)

And I may not have.

What you may not know is that Von Lunen is also hard of hearing with what’s categorized as moderately severe hearing loss. Just don’t try telling this scrapper on eight wheels that she can’t compete in the sport of her choice, because as you’ll soon see, not only is it not very smart, it’s also quite wrong. KC Derby Digest recently had the privilege of sitting down to pick the brain of this very accomplished athletic and culinary talent to dish about her derby experiences, her culinary (mis)adventures, and what it’s like for a hard of hearing athlete competing on a variety of tracks and fields.

Disclaimer: all photos featured herein were stolen directly from Cooking on Skates or Mel Breakdown‘s Facebook page. KC Derby Digest claims no ownership pertaining thereto.

On Dead Girl Derby…

KC Derby Digest: First and foremost, how did you come to try out for Dead Girl Derby? What aroused your interest in it, and what was the process like?

Mel Breakdown:

“Like so many people that it’s probably cliche by now, I first considered playing roller derby when I watched Whip It. By the end of the movie, I was thinking, “I should do that!” and felt kind of silly. The next day, I looked up the Kansas City Roller Warriors to see if maybe I could try out for them. My impression from the recruiting section of KCRW‘s web site was that they were quite competitive and looking for seasoned skaters. As my only experience skating was rollerblading as a kid, I abandoned hope.

Then a couple months later, I was at Good JuJu on a Friday lunch break and saw a pair of Roller Derby brand white high-top roller skates in exactly my size for something like $12. I took it as a sign and bought them but didn’t know where to go from there. Not long after, I saw a story about Dead Girl Derby in Ink or The Pitch and looked the league up online. I wasn’t sure how to approach it, but I emailed Stormy Trooper, who told me I could come to practice.

I showed up to my first practice with a pair of old figure skates, no gear, and maybe three open skate sessions under my belt. After one practice, I was sore but hooked. A week later, I tried to join an endurance drill, decided halfway through that I couldn’t keep up, tried to come out, skated into a wall, jacked up my knee (tore my ACL and MCL, strained the patellar tendon, bruised the bone, etc.) and was then out for more than six months.”

KCDD: Did you start out as a player and then switch to refereeing?

Mel Breakdown:

“My original intent was to join Dead Girl Derby as a skater. This was in May 2010. On June 8, 2010, I tore my ACL. I had surgery in August 2010 and couldn’t start skating again (learning to skate for the first time, really) until December 2010. So I helped as part of the game day crew for the last half of DGD‘s first season.

When I was cleared for contact in February 2011, I had already missed DGD‘s draft and was heartbroken that I wouldn’t be rostered to a team. When Sunny Dee asked if I’d be interested in reffing, I jumped on the opportunity. While most people know it wasn’t what I most wanted to do, it was a great way to stay involved in the league and improve my skating. So I passed my skills test and reffed the last four game days. The 2012 Dead Girl Derby season will be my first as a skater.”

KCDD: As an OSDA referee, do you have a specific title, and what are your specific duties during the bouts?

Mel Breakdown:

“I was an OSDA referee for the second half of the 2011 season, and DGD has switched to the M.A.D.E. rule set for our upcoming 2012 season. I was one of four outside refs. Our job on the outside was to watch the outside line and keep an eye out for penalties. Although I did enjoy reffing, I never felt like I got very good at it.”

Yeah, we get distracted too.

KCDD: How did you choose the name Mel Breakdown? (Great job, by the way — there’s nothing worse than a bad derby name.)

Mel Breakdown:

“Thanks! I chose the name Temper Storm back in 2010 as a reference to Tempest Storm. In 2011, my league denied my name because it was too similar to another skater in the league at the time. Two Evils had approved it, so I signed over the rights to the name to a woman in Australia who told me she’d been skating under that name for more than a season already.

I’d been trying to come up with a new name for a while, under no hurry because I wouldn’t be rostered anyway. Mel Breakdown just kind of came to me. I’m often saddened by people who don’t ‘get’ the name, but decided to keep it anyway.”

On hearing loss…

KCDD: On your blog, in the entry entitled Derby in a Hearing World, you mention that you’re not actually Deaf. How do you identify? Has the condition itself been constant from birth, or has it declined over time?

Mel Breakdown:

“Technically, my hearing loss is classified as moderate-to-severe, I believe. I wear the strongest behind-the-ear analog hearing aids on the market. With them, incoming sound is comparably ‘loud’ to me as sounds are to other people, but it’s similar to amplifying sound with a microphone and speaker — there’s some distortion and comprehension issues sometimes. Because I read lips, in a face-to-face conversation with no background noise, you’d probably never know I had a hearing problem. On the phone or in a noisy area, it becomes apparently pretty quickly. You can imagine how this might be difficult in the middle of a jam.

My hearing does not seem to be deteriorating any faster than anyone else my age. The theory is that I lost my hearing for some unknown reason after I started talking as a toddler, but before age three.”

KCDD: You mention on your blog that you don’t sign. Any plans to learn?

Mel Breakdown:

“I’ve always wanted to learn sign language, but I guess not very badly because I haven’t gotten around to doing it. I’m quite stubborn and find a way to do anything I really care about (see: playing derby after tearing my ACL). When my parents learned that I had significant hearing loss, my mom learned sign language in case she would ever need to use it with me. I attended a deaf preschool for about half a year and learned a little there, but stopped using it and forgot all of that when I started a regular public kindergarten. I was told I was deemed ‘too smart’ and ‘too functional’ for a special school.”

But only because she’s always so serious.

KCDD: Are there any specific adaptations you’ve had to make on the track [due to hearing loss] ?

Mel Breakdown:

“I haven’t made any specific adaptations yet, but that may change once I’m rostered on a team. As far as I can tell from my limited experience and some online research, there isn’t much that I can modify. Mostly, I am focusing on improving my visual awareness to compensate for my lack of hearing. What I don’t know yet is how I’m going to hear when/if I’m called for penalties. I can hear whistles and that something is being called, but have trouble comprehending who the penalty was called on.”

KCDD: Roller derby isn’t the only sport in which you’ve participated. What else have you played, and how (if at all) has hearing loss affected your game(s)?

Mel Breakdown:

“I started playing t-ball when I was five years old and played softball until I was nineteen. Occasionally I still play on co-rec teams, but I’m realizing that I don’t love it the way I used to. When I played first base, I made sure my second baseman and pitcher knew that if I ‘called’ a pop fly that they better stay out of my way because I wouldn’t hear them call me off otherwise. I did knock down a couple teammates as a result a few times. My base coaches also had to be aware of my hearing limitations because I wouldn’t hear any instructions given behind me.

The advantage, though, was that I became a much smarter base runner and more visually aware of what was going on around me. And I so very strongly didn’t want anyone to think of me as ‘different’ or ‘disabled’ — being a teenager is awkward enough as it is — that I think I tried that much harder to prove that I was as good or better than anyone else.

Tennis was great the two years I played in high school because even if I played doubles, I only had to listen for one voice yelling at me. I have a somewhat dominant personality and probably do most of the yelling anyway. I played volleyball for three years and basketball for two, but that was a while ago and I can’t say that there was anything else unique about those sports that wasn’t covered in the others.”

On culinary life…

KCDD: Clearly, derby isn’t your only passion in life. You love to cook so much, you started a blog called Cooking On Skates in which you detail some of your favorite recipes. How did this culinary obsession begin, and what are your favorite styles/genres/ethnicities in the kitchen?

Mel Breakdown:

“I started blogging because I often write about depressing topics for my day job and wanted something fun to write about. Also, I’m the oldest of five children in my family, so when I was younger and living with my parents I would often cook a quick dinner for seven people. Because I like food and want to eat good food, I learned to cook good food. We’re talking very meat-and-potatoes, Midwest cooking here.”

And cookies. Never argue with cookies.

“About three years ago, I became kind of an accidental vegetarian and had to completely re-learn how to put together a meal. Fortunately, I’m not vegan and there’s no meat in cookies. I make it well-known that I will not give up cookies. I’d rather skate more and keep my cookies. I’m constantly trying to come up with quick, delicious meals full of lean proteins, veggies, and whole grains. Not only am I fairly health-conscious, I want to give my body the best fuel I can for derby energy!”

KCDD: What inspires you in the kitchen, and where do you get your best recipes?

Mel Breakdown:

“Most often, I’m inspired by a dish I ate in a restaurant or something I read online. I read about a dozen cooking blogs each day and bookmark any recipes that sound interesting. Occasionally I’ll make one of those recipes as-is, but usually I’ll combine elements I like from a few different ones. Some days I just come home from work ravenous (a common derby girl problem, I’ve learned) and throw things together as quickly as possible in hopes that the end result will be edible. Sometimes it’s barely palatable. It’s never been impossible to eat. Every once in a while, I get a surprisingly delicious meal and blog it.”

KCDD: Any culinary disasters or horror stories you’d care to share?

Mel Breakdown:

“When I was in high school, I teamed up with my two best friends at the time to make cookies. We were all National Honor Society members, and our school’s chapter was going to be Christmas caroling and handing out cookies in the neighborhood. We didn’t want to sing, so we volunteered to bake. By the end, we learned that chocolate chip cookies are not a three-person job. When we went to eat one apiece at the end — jokingly, to ‘test’ them, I’m sure — we discovered that we had left all the sugar out of them. They looked fine but tasted terrible. We didn’t have time to make new ones, so we contributed them to the project the next day anyway. I can’t imagine how whoever received those cookies must have reacted.

I can’t think of any good recent disasters. Mostly I just break or drop things because I’m a klutz.”

Which could never happen here.

And finally…

KCDD: Hang around the sport long enough, and you’ll meet many women who say, “Roller derby saved my life.” The impact it has on the lives of the women who participate really can’t be overstated. Do you have a similar story? How has it positively impacted your life?

Mel Breakdown:

“I do sometimes say ‘roller derby saved my soul,’ but that may be overdramatic. When I graduated from college in 2007, I had a job right away, which I am thankful for. Then my boyfriend-at-the-time (now-husband) and I bought a house. Then we got engaged. Then we got married. We weren’t ready for kids yet, but I didn’t know how to slow down and enjoy life without having that next big thing to focus on. I’d stopped playing sports because it’s surprisingly hard to jump in as an adult.

I tried running but didn’t want to admit that I didn’t really like it. Most college friends drifted away. I gained weight. I didn’t think I should be depressed because I was thankful for a wonderful husband, family, friends, home, dog, everything. But something was missing.”

Found it.

“Much like college friends, I know that most derby friends won’t be lifelong soulmates. I think it helps knowing that up-front. But they’re the best ‘second family’ I could have ever asked for. I hate to think ahead to the eventual day when I’ll give this up—either by choice or otherwise.

My close friends have commented that I’m now happier than I’ve ever been, and I think it’s because I have a physical activity that I really love. It’s the part of my life that I was missing. Roller derby isn’t for everyone, but I really believe that every person needs that one thing they LOVE doing that gets the body moving.

Already I’ve found myself doing things on skates that a year and a half ago I didn’t think I was physically capable of. I hope that if I keep skating 5 days a week, I will keep improving. Rather than shrinking my body, I’ve got muscles I didn’t know I could have. And I am damn proud of my thighs and ass. They may not fit in most clothes, but they help me play a sport that is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.”

KCDD: What advice would you give to women — Deaf, hearing, or hard of hearing — who are considering trying out for roller derby?

Mel Breakdown:

“Again, roller derby is not for everyone. You’ll know right away if it’s for you, but you won’t know unless you try. It’s the best and most fun workout I’ve ever gotten, and it’s allowed me to meet the greatest group of people. I’ve read about skaters who were completely Deaf and one who skated on a prosthetic ankle. We all have our limitations, and the derby community is indescribably supportive of helping each of us overcome those. Don’t let yourself make excuses.

And if you find out you don’t love derby, find something you do love. Run, bike, swim, dance, anything. At the risk of sounding completely hippie, I really believe that it’s important to challenge our minds, bodies and souls. For me, roller derby helps with all of those. I am very fortunate and thankful that my husband, family, and friends are so supportive of this.”

Visit Mel Breakdown‘s extraordinary cooking blog at Cooking on Skates (dot com), where she regularly features delicious meals and treats she’s whipped up, as well as recipes from a handful of guest writers who add their spice and expertise to the mix.

Be sure to keep in mind Dead Girl Derby‘s 2012 season, the schedule for which has already been posted, and whatever else you do, keep a close eye out for the incomparable Mel Breakdown in the coming season. You can bet we will.

Our 2011 KCRW Fan Poll Picks

Take a moment and vote in the KCRW 2011 Fan Poll. From experience, this poll won’t be open forever, so let them know your favorites, and they might even send you an unspecified goody for next season.

And now, a breakdown of the questions complete with my own answers… because I know you’re all foaming at the mouth to know what KC Carr thinks of this year’s Wolfpack.

Best Jammer 2011

Our pick:

Hall Balls

Yeah, what about it? She’ll put that finger in your face until you skate away with your tail between your legs. Actually, she won’t, and that’s one of the best things about Hall Balls as a competitor: she’ll dominate you utterly, but what you decide to do with that information is up to you. She is, at least on the track/in public view, one of the quietest, most unassuming ass-kickers on the roster, although my money’s on quite the opposite at the afterparty. I even remember some newbie asking me, at last season’s bout vs. Northwest Arkansas, who they should keep an eye on, and the first thing I said was, “Number 30, Hall Balls. She’s going to dominate, because that’s what she does.”

Best Blocker 2011

Our pick:


There’s the Irresistible Force, there’s the Immovable Object, and then there’s Eclipse. And she’s up against some pretty stiff competition in this category this year, particularly in the form of Evolution, whose overall athleticism really can’t be matched in this league. But there is no blocker like the defensive powerhouse from the Dreadnought Dorothys, and believe me, you don’t want to find out the hard way. Do what I do and cower behind a fan-made sign as she knocks the opposing skaters over like bowling pins, then cheer meekly as she goes by in the hopes that when (not if) her derby-rage triggers the gamma radiation coursing through her system, you won’t be caught in the crossfire. It’s worked for me so far.

Best Skater Name

Our pick:

Toto Basketcase

To make my brother laugh, I once made a list of the best and worst derby names I’d ever heard. And I don’t need to tell you that when they’re bad, they’re… bad. Head-shakingly bad, sometimes. But every now and again, you come across one that is so referentially clever that it takes a half-second to really get it all, and Toto Basketcase is one of those. The Dorothys’ team name, their uniforms, Toto, and the basket he’s carried in combine to form one of the most remarkable, creative derby names I’ve seen in my travels. These women sleep on their potential skate names for who knows how long, and sometimes, it really pays off.

Skater You’d Like to Have Land in your Lap

Our pick:

Extremely Frank

All right, look. I’m only human. And I told myself when I started KC Derby Digest last month that I would spend no time ruminating over the possibility of skaters in my lap. But Extremely Frank takes Looking Good on the Track to a new level, and since there’s a category for it, I don’t mind telling you so. The best part is that she’s also extremely versatile; I’ve seen her pivot, block, and jam over the past two seasons, and this year she also did quite a bit of bench coaching for the All-Star team with some pretty solid results. Extremely Frank is the best reason to sit during the bouts, because when you stand up, your lap disappears.

Skater You Consider the Crowd-Pleaser

Our pick:

Bella Fire

For some reason (possibly related to extraordinary talent and a million-dollar smile), Bella Fire has remained one of the (many) reasons the home crowd cheers the Wolfpack as loudly as it does. The Victory Vixens are a pretty formidable team on their own, but when you couple that with dynamic personalities and versatile talents like Bella, the results pretty much speak for themselves. Let’s hope this crowd-pleaser isn’t going anywhere for a long time.

So now…

We want to hear from you, derby fans. Once you’ve voted in the poll, come back and share your picks in the comments section. Am I nuts? Who’s the best jammer/blocker? Who would you like to have land in your lap?

5 Tips for Making the Most of Your First Derby Night (From a Fan’s Perspective)

One thing you will quickly discover is that there are few things on earth like your first bout night. The birth of your children will probably surpass this experience, but by that statement you understand how completely serious I am about this, the greatest sport in the world. There is nothing like it. Anywhere.

But you’ll need to be prepared, and there are a handful of things I wish I’d known prior to my first derby night (that occurred on Saturday, March 27, 2010, an event so burned into my memory that I remember the goddamn date). Following these five diamond-studded pieces of advice will ensure you make the most of your very first roller derby experience, and you will probably continue to employ these methods at future games in future seasons.

If you’re not local to Kansas City, a lot of this will still apply, just not the specifics, obviously.

5. Be smart about tickets.

The hell does that mean? Well, it depends on which league you’re seeing, but there is one important thing to remember: don’t use Ticketmaster.

I probably don’t need to explain why — by the time they’re done nickel-and-diming you with fees, fees, fees, they’ve nearly doubled the price of your ticket. So far, KCRW is the only Kansas City league that uses Ticketmaster, but even at that, you’ve still got options.

If you know any, you can contact your favorite derby girl for tickets; as I understand it, that’s the least expensive way to go. Here’s the thing, though: Municipal seats just a shade over 10,000 (including the “non-permanent” seating), and even though KCRW pulls in a pretty respectable crowd of a few thousand per game, they haven’t reached the point where they’re going to sell the place out (yet). And according to the web site, the box office opens two hours before doors on The Day Of. So get there when I do, buy your tickets at the window, and wait with me.

I’m a bit more tactful, promise.

With Dead Girl Derby, you can get tickets from the skaters, and you can also buy online with Brown Paper Tickets. They charge a fee or two, but nothing like Ticketmaster. I wouldn’t recommend buying tickets at the door, though, because they don’t let you until doors open, and well, that segues nicely into my next point…

4. Get there at least 30 minutes early.

Bare. ass. minimum.

And by that, I mean 30 minutes before the doors open, not 30 minutes before game time. Allow yourself extra time to park and walk to the venue, particularly if you’re not familiar with the area.

With KCRW, for instance, the doors open at six, so don’t even think about getting there past 5:30; seating is general admission, and if you get there much later than that, your seats will be crap. My secret? I get there at 5:00, and the place is empty. I’m always first in line.

Of course, you become That Guy, but whatever.

I didn’t do this at my first game, and we wound up standing in a line that snaked around the (rather large) foyer once or twice and finally ended somewhere near Cheshire, Connecticut where they have never even heard of roller derby. I understand they also don’t have rainbows or bacon, but I’ve never been there.

With Dead Girl Derby, the doors open at 5:30, but I’ve found that getting there at 5:00 doesn’t cut it; I get there at 4:30 because the line seems to form earlier. Also, the venue is much smaller, and as such, the good seats disappear more quickly.

And speaking of seating…

3. Sit in the crash zone.

The crash zone, the suicide seats, whatever your league calls them, that’s where you want to sit. Trust me on this. It’s always right next to the track, and everyone has to be over the age of 18 to sit there because you could potentially wind up with a derby girl in your lap. This could be the best reason to sit there.

Ya think?

Actually, the reason you want the crash zone is because, quite simply, that’s where the action is. This is another thing I failed to do at my first bout; we, for some damn reason, decided to sit up in the balcony seats where you can (admittedly) see every inch of the track. You’ve basically got an aerial view of the game the entire time.

But you’re so far removed from the action that you completely miss out on the electricity that comes naturally when you’re that up close and personal with a sport this intense. Why would you pass up a chance to literally feel the wind coming off the track as the skaters fly by, calling your name as their siren songs declare their undying love for you and only you? All right, I imagined that.

There may be actual seats in the crash zone, or you may be sitting on the floor. It matters not. If sitting on the floor hurts you the way it does me, bring one of those sporting event butt-pillows. But sitting anywhere other than the crash zone is a waste, in my opinion.

2. Be sure you have a little cash on you.

You may have to pay to park, and you’ll want souvenirs… t-shirts, buttons, stickers, and what not. Many times, they’ll be able to process plastic right there at the merch table, but you won’t know that until you get there (and it’s too late). Besides that, the lines for merch are kind of nebulous anyway, and you don’t want to spend too much time dallying while your card approves (or doesn’t).

Cat’s cute.

Also, the concession stands at Municipal Auditorium seem to lose their ability to process plastic at random intervals, so if you get hungry and have no cash, you’d better hope you can snatch a stray toe stop before a derby girl notices. I know, gross. So bring some cash with you.

1. Don’t be shy.

As tough as the skaters look — and are — they’re not going to bite your head off if you ask for a picture. In fact, just the opposite. They appreciate the fans and our support for the league, and you will be positively shocked by how accommodating they are when it comes to tooly pseudo-paparazzi like me running around with a camera all night. Just be smart about it.

This probably isn’t the time.

Take all the pictures you want during the games — they won’t know the difference. You’ll see skaters rolling around before, after, and during games in which they’re not competing, and they’re pretty accessible. So if you’re inclined, let them know how much fun you’ve had, get a picture, and be on your way. They love hearing from the fans. Hell, sometimes they even stick around and sign autographs after the game.

Make it out to my Nana, she loves “the rollergames.”

Did I miss anything? What tips would you offer people coming to their first-ever derby night?

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