Roller Derby. Yes, Roller Derby. It's back in a grassroots sort of way.

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Jack Briggs, Nov 18, 2010.

  1. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    First, from this morning's Los Angeles Times, a columnist writes a straight-up appreciation of the new grassroots-style Roller Derby leagues forming all over the nation:


    http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-erskine-20101118,0,1711789.column


    Of course, the column is specifically about the L.A. Derby Dolls, a homegrown league here in SoCal comprised of five women-only teams who skate on a banked track in an old warehouse on Temple Street next to Silver Lake. The columnist watched the same "bout" that I did, while enjoying Tecate beer and enjoying the spectacle of women athletes basically clobber each other.


    I have a confession to make: Ever since childhood, Roller Derby has fascinated me. I watched the Seltzer-owned Roller Derby league on television, and I even took in L.A. Thunderbirds games of the old Roller Games circuit. But the theatrics and scripted silliness was a little wearing.


    Not so the teams in the Derby Dolls. These women really are skating to win. Too, the game is a little different from the mixed-gender stuff I saw as a kid. There is but one official jammer, three blockers, and a pivot skater who also can be a jammer. The Derby Dolls do a year-'round schedule of one or two games a month, and everyone is a volunteer. Nobody makes any money off this.


    But what they give you is just about the most memorable Saturday-evening entertainment imaginable.


    Look, this isn't so-called "studio wrestling" any longer. It's a real, honest-to-goodness sport. The crowds that pack the Temple Street converted warehouse are mostly punk-rock types, and everyone has a blast. And I know I will be back for more. The next "bout" is scheduled for Dec. 4. I'm there. (And, seriously, I love the work of David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, and so on. Yet I also sure like to watch pretty young women skate in formation and jammers trying to pass the opposite team while clobbering each other. Yin and yang, I suppose.)
     
  2. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
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    Roller derby has been picking up in my neck of the woods as well, though I still haven't made it out to their games, I have friends who really enjoy watching the games in-person. "Whip It" (recent film directed by Drew Barrymore) was an okay film about the current roller derby scene.
     
  3. Kevin Hewell

    Kevin Hewell Cinematographer

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    I've met some of the Atlanta Rollergirls at various functions around town and they seem like pretty cool chicks.
     
  4. CRyan

    CRyan Screenwriter

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    Funny, yea flat-track rollerderby has gotten pretty popular here as well. I actually have a few friends on the Nashville Rollergirls team. And they are serious about winning for sure. More serious than I even care for actually. They used to wear crazy outfits etc but now have gotten uniforms etc trying to be more competitive and taken more seriously - At least they still have the interesting names and very oddball halftime shows. Not many banked track leagues around - I guess because the tracks are hard to come by.
     
  5. MarkMel

    MarkMel Screenwriter

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    When they bring out motorcycles and a steel ball, I'm in. ;)


    Seriously though, I wonder if they have any matches here in the east coast.
     
  6. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Mark: Yes, there are homegrown, mostly flat-track Roller Derby leagues on the East Coast.


    CRyan: All these "grassroots" organizations employ a strong DIY ethic. Which means, with the banked-track organizations, they build there own tracks. The Derby Dolls organization has maintenance people on hand during games to keep the track in spiffy condition. Really, you have to admire the effort everyone puts into these events.


    And the talent is obvious, especially now that the various teams are playing to win.


    As I said, I used to enjoy watching the old Roller Debry matches during the late '60s and early '70s. The most famous team of those days, the Bay Area Bombers, still exists (in the classic mixed-gender form of the sport) and puts on exhibition games from time to time up north.


    These newer leagues, though, are pure intensity. One gets the impression that the women, more than anything, simply love playing the game. Beyond that, though, they're in it to win.


    I do, however, love it that the women are adopting stage names that sort of pay homage to the early days of the sport. My favorite name of a modern player (and she's not in one of the Derby Dolls teams) is Sandra Day O'Clobber. You have to love it.


    Check out Roller Derby in the Wikipedia -- there are two excellent articles, one that provides an overview o the sport and the other a history of it:


    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roller_derby


    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_roller_derby
     
  7. CRyan

    CRyan Screenwriter

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    Anyone interested in flat track should visit the site. They just had their championships. It is the WFTDA pronounced wufta. Anyway, it is all very fun for sure.


    http://wftda.com/



    Jack, you should check out the Angel City Derby Girls.
     
  8. Rex Bachmann

    Rex Bachmann Screenwriter

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    Jack Briggs wrote (post #6):





    Whatever happened to the Los Angeles Thunderbirds (Julie "the Ace" Patrick and that rangy Australian guy whose name I can't remember) from the mid-70s that used to come east against the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern teams? They were always fun "bad guys".
     
  9. Frankenbike

    Frankenbike Auditioning

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    What anyone might remember of 20th century roller derby is not the roller derby of today, whether it is played on banked or flat track. If you remember the Thunderbirds (T-Birds), Bombers, Chiefs or Pioneers, what you remember has nothing to do with modern roller derby. There are no "good guys" or "bad guys", there is little to no fighting (fighting has severe repercussions for skaters involved both during the game and afterwords). The common upper arm block (generally referred to by modern skaters as "elbow blocks") is illegal under the modern rules both in banked and flat track among most leagues. Stars are not people who are crowned and maintained as stars by the organizations, but are people of merit and accomplishment who get no special treatment, and only stay stars as long as they maintain their level of accomplishment. Fan favorites as stars are today, are never promoted in advertising or marquees. This year's stars are not necessarily next year's stars.


    For their part, those who participated in 20th century roller derby and its offshoots like Roller Games, do not view modern derby as "their" roller derby. They don't like the rules, they don't like the more vulgar attributes of style and behavior among the modern skaters (most of whom have some college education, and surveys show a quarter of whom have graduate degrees), they think that derby should sacrifice any and all integrity if it meant getting on TV again. There are a handful of these older skaters who respect and support the modern derby movement with reservations, but most are dead set against it.


    There is no continuity between the modern and "old school" derby communities. Few of the old school skaters have been invited to train modern derby leagues because the game they played was so dramatically different, that they can't resist telling the modern skaters that "they're doing it all wrong". The modern rules are drastically different from the old school game, encouraging more disciplined team tactics that often result in slowing of the "pack" for advantage. The reason for this, is that in open competition the letter of the law trumps the intent of the law, and so the rules are very detailed and very specific. Acting on what the rules don't say, skaters have developed very specific tactics that changes the look of the game from always "fast, fast, fast" to one that alternates between fast and slow, as teams angle for advantage through "pack control": slowing the pack down when their scoring player (the jammer) is in an imminent scoring position. Also, penalties are much more serious and numerous than in the old days, and each player as well as their position, is penalized to the point of changing the on-track makeup of the game in each play (jam). A heavily penalized team may be down to 2 players on the track for a jam, or much of it.


    Obviously, a heavily penalized team will be at an extreme disadvantage when they're skating with 2 players while the opposing team is skating with 5.


    Team play rather than creation and support of individual stardom are the goals of modern derby. If a player in the modern game is over 40, they are competing directly with the natural endurance and superior muscle retaining advantages that 21 year olds are endowed with. Unlike the 20th century game, no one goes easy on anyone, just because they are a "star", or have a long resume of experience.


    In 2001, a group of skaters in Austin with the rallying cry of "How hard could it be?" formed their own league, updated the rules to legitimate play (after figuring out that it's easier to play real games than to try and convincingly fake a game), and formed a bridge to the modern derby world. They played flat track games to raise funds to buy a banked track. In 2003, a group of skaters from that league disagreed with this goal as well as other business practices, and decided that flat track should be its own sport. This lead to an all-flat-track organization and standardized rules that were released in 2006. The theory being that you could spread roller derby a lot faster if leagues don't have to go through the stages of an organization and years of fund raising. They were right. Flat track roller derby is now an amazing sport in its own right, and it's massive competitive field has led to many innovations in team tactics.

    Flat track leagues that join the WFTDA, are discouraged from "going banked" through a series of restrictions. For nearly all, "going banked" means leaving the WFTDA and it's large scale North American competition (and it is expanding to Europe, with London as its first league across the Atlantic). There is a movement today to get flat track roller derby, which is a truly worldwide phenomenon with 17 participating countries and more every year, into the Olympics. This will be difficult to accomplish, since the international Olympics committees have been extremely resistant to allowing any roller sport at all into the Olympics.


    The modern banked track game evolved along similar lines to the modern flat track game, and the rules today are very similar to those being used in flat track. But with far fewer leagues participating, the tactics in a banked-track-only world would evolve slowly. But it isn't a banked track only world, and many of the same tactics that work in flat track work on the bank as well. These tactics are adopted by banked track teams seeking an edge, through study of video (many top flat track games and tournaments are webcast and archived), through attending flat track tournaments, through inviting skaters from top flat track teams to train the banked track teams, through teams composed of flat track skaters competing against them, through playing flat track derby against other leagues themselves (mostly the LA and San Diego Derby Dolls), and through various training camp events held by leagues around the country.


    In other words, the tapestry of modern roller derby is complex, detailed and highly inter-woven. Most leagues are skater owned and operated in modern derby, while in "old school" the leagues were owned by promoters whose primary goal was to sell tickets to the largest number of people and to make them happy. The emphasis in modern derby is for the teams to find out who is best through open competition, and fans are generally invited to witness this. Flat track emphasizes interleague play, banked track has up to now emphasized intraleague (trying to find the best among the home teams as their primary goal for both themselves and the fans). Banked track is slowly catching on to interleague competition with both other banked track leagues and flat track leagues.


    For example, the LA Derby Dolls are traveling to Chicago to play the Windy City Rollers on December 11 (using the San Diego Derby Dolls banked track, which is being shipped to Chicago). The event is sponsored by Red Bull.


    WCR is a flat track league that has been around since 2004. WCR were the hosts of the 2010 Women's Flat Track Derby Association's Championships (which are now international and Canada and London are eligible). Other flat track teams have been challenging the banked track skaters for 3 years now, but they've all been composite teams drawing from leagues from the Bay Area, Seattle, Portland, Albuquerque, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Denver, and New York. Windy City is not expected to be disadvantaged by lack of banked track experience, and unlike the composite teams like Team Legit (currently the #2 banked track team even though it's made up of flat trackers), Windy City has the advantage of a Championship level team that plays and practices together all the time.


    While "old school" roller derby (which is now not capitalized, as the trademarks were allowed to lapse except on one skate brand) seemed larger, that was because it was on TV. It was syndicated in the pre-cable world when most cities only had 7-12 stations, and inexpensive content was in demand. These days, no such deal is possible because open slots in programming are sold for 1/2 hour to hour long paid advertisements (infomercials). Roller derby is growing organically, as ticket sales for single events have grown from 200-500 attendees to 2000-7000 attendees in 3 years. The popularity is growing mostly through word of mouth, with articles like those in the LA Times a rarity, and TV news coverage mostly highlighting the disparity between what the skaters do in their professional lives (teachers, librarians, lawyers, scientists and a litany of more ordinary jobs and traditional rolls--what the community calls "By day, by night stories, or BDBN)...a rare acknowledgment of their growing popularity. Insiders estimate the number of tickets sold to roller derby events this year will exceed two million tickets.
     
  10. Frankenbike

    Frankenbike Auditioning

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    He should. ACDG will be playing in Culver City's Veteran's Auditorium next year, and are rebuilding their league after the retirement and departure of many of their skaters to other leagues during a leadership crisis (at least 3 departed for the LA Derby Dolls because it was more structured at the time). Their aim is to once again pursue a run for the WFTDA Championships, and their core skaters are serious and very accomplished.


    You always see a lot of LA Derby Dolls skaters in attendance to support their cross town sister league (which split off from the LA Derby Dolls in 2006), often sitting on the floor at track's edge in the "suicide seats". There isn't much crossover in the fans between the leagues, largely because ACDG is a "Westsider" league, while LADD attracts fans mostly from the line that extends from West Hollywood to Echo Park, largely among self identifying "Eastsiders" who find that a forcefield repels them from going south of Wilshire and west of Fairfax.


    Anyone who wants to see how really large and dynamic the roller derby world is should check out Derby News Network, http://derbynewsnetwork.com/


    Like modern roller derby itself, it is all volunteer and the reporters and technicians often travel on their own dime. The coverage is mostly flat track, because most games are flat track, and flat track has a very heavy playoff season (we're in post season now, with a few games here and there to the end of the year). From January to November, there are numerous live events which can be viewed from DNN's "Live" page, as well as archives of games (most are video, but some are textcasts only).
     
  11. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Frank, thank you for your posts. Are you affiliated in any way with any of the flat-track teams? You surely have good knowledge of the sport.
     
  12. Frankenbike

    Frankenbike Auditioning

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    Somewhat affiliated. But also a seriously devoted fan of the sport, not just a league. I truly don't understand why more people aren't fanatics :)


    Also, a lot of that is cut and paste from posts I've collected over time, or rewrote and saved. I really want people to understand that this is not like the roller derby of old. Relating it to the roller derby of old is really not complimentary.


    BTW, games are video cast with increasing frequency on DNN (it's slow now but the season ramps up in January). I often have friends over and I use the HDMI out on my laptop to watch low res live derby on a 52" Bravia. Sadly not optimal. But sometimes content wins over delivery quality. Sometimes they have a parallel PPV HD stream. We follow the derbynewsnetwork drinking game: http://www.derbynewsnetwork.com/drink. Sometimes they only have textcasts since they can't get a video signal out. Textcasts are for real fanatics.


    And I may be a fanatic, but I'm not enough of a fanatic to volunteer for a league's stats team. That's over the top.
     
  13. Lucia Duran

    Lucia Duran Screenwriter

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    HUGE Roller Derby fan here! I get to watch some great bouts here in NC. The Carolina Roller Girls are fabulous and after attending a bootcamp with them back in September, I have much more respect for what these woman do out on the track. I remember fake roller derby back in the day, but todays roller derby is amazing and a true sport. These woman work hard and skate atleast 4 days a week. The bootcamp I attended was intense and for someone who is pretty fit, I had a hard time keeping up with them. What I love most about the ladies of derby, atleast here in NC, they are such a fabulous community doing amazing things for their communities.


    Go Trauma Queens and Debutante Brawlers!
     
  14. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Frank, since you are now the established expert about the sport in these environs, please offer your input vis. the advantages and disadvantages of the banked track versus the flat track version of the sport. Since my exposure has been to the Derby Dolls here in Los Angeles, and I grew up watching Jerry Seltzer's official Roller Derby teams as well as the Roller Games offshoot, which was also a banked-track "league," I'd like to know what skaters think about each form of playing. Also, why is the flat-track version so popular? Is it because it's simply easier to get started with a flat track? Again, what are the pluses and minuses of each? Thank you.
     
  15. CRyan

    CRyan Screenwriter

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    I can answer one of the questions - Hopefully Frank can chime in on the players thoughts between the two.

    According to the women that I know who skate flat, they all say it's because of cost. Unless there is already a bank track available, there is just no way for an upstart to afford it. This is an all volunteer sport with relatively little money coming in and practice space is expensive. A bank track would require a dedicated space (that would incur year-round costs). Flat track allows the girls to practice anywhere and play anywhere.


    It is pretty neat though how it all works. When the players play teams from other states, generally the home team helps pay for their trip and allows the traveling team to stay at their homes etc. It very much becomes a lifestyle that you live, eat and breathe.
     
  16. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    I'm thinking that cost is the reason for all the many flat-track leagues, as well, CRyan. But outside of that, what would be the advantage of a banked track? I certainly think it "looks" cooler with the skaters playing the game on a banked track.
     
  17. Frankenbike

    Frankenbike Auditioning

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    It's cost, it's culture. Flat track has a competent governing/membership organization called the WFTDA. They sanction games, they have rankings, they have playoffs in the form of regional tournaments and they have a championship tournament that takes the top 3 from all four regions.


    So, besides the cost of the track and practice space, there is also eligibility to enter this semi-pro sport at a mostly national but somewhat international level. Banked track leagues are excluded from participating in this system even when they play flat track games away from home.


    However, many flat track leagues want independence from skate rinks, and they rent warehouse space. Some also buy Sport or Skate Court floors for the games and practice, which actually cost more than a banked track to build.


    But they generally do this after many years as a successful flat track league. Whereas with banked, you have to get that money before you can play your first banked track game. If flat track leagues didn't lose their eligibility to play in the flat track system by becoming a banked track league, there would probably be more banked tracks. To some flat track is kind of a religion, in the Mac vs PC or iPhone vs Android way. To others, they're a little less orthodox. Some flat track skaters love skating the banked track and show up repeatedly or even talk their leagues into playing a banked track game whenever the opportunity presents itself.


    Banked tracks are just not that accessible, and their financial and logistical costs are going to keep their numbers well below that of flat track. I've seen skaters at the beach playing pickup games of roller derby chalking out a track on a basketball court. But there are a growing number of leagues who have tried them and seem to want one of their own.


    I've been to two WFTDA Championships, and sometimes see the LA Derby Dolls when I'm in LA. I think what I like about watching banked live when I can is the visceral sound that you feel coming from the resonating chamber of the banked track. You don't get that with flat. The bank is like a Thunderdome, and there's just a whole asymmetry to banked track because it's played on a slope, that gives it a lot of character of its own.


    Flat track is all on one level, and there also isn't separation between the game and the audience in a lot of places. In a stadium, flat track is two dimensional and you can see patterns arise and dissolve. Then you go back and watch a banked game, and you see it there too. But it's fast and if you don't know to look for it, you don't see it. Flat track is good for training your eye to watch banked track in that respect.


    My assumption is that flat track is more Olympics bound, and banked track is more X-Games bound.


    From what I've seen on the net lately, it looks like the same things that work in flat work in banked. Maybe I said that already. There's that game between the LA Derby Dolls and Windy City Rollers on a banked track in Chicago (evidently being shipped from San Diego). And there's another I've heard in the spring between the San Diego Derby Dolls and the WFTDA Champion Rocky Mountain Roller Girls. Both flat track leagues have skaters that have skated multiple games on the bank in Team Awesome and Team Legit. Those games should be interesting.
     
  18. CRyan

    CRyan Screenwriter

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    I decided to ask one of the Nashville Rollergirls again today what she thought (they went to Nationals this year). I caught exactly the kind of attitude Frank mentioned a bit above - It was almost a snobby attitude toward banked track.


    But I am with Jack - Banked track just looks so damned cool. =)


    I am not what most people would call a sports fan, but Rollerderby was something I really enjoyed. The atmosphere at games around here is very rockabilly/counterculture/alternative. And the demographics are very interesting - A very large lesbian presence for sure. Its just entertaining all the way around.


    But as I said above, as the teams become more serious, it has lost a bit of its appeal for me. But its still cool and apparently there is a Wii game out for Rollerderby now and it has a couple of the big names in flattrack - Ricerocket! Yep, she is Asian and she is fast. ha.
     
  19. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    But I guess I am asking this: Is there any sort of advantage to a skater when she is on a classic banked track? How does it affect the playing of the game? Is there any sort of advantage to a banked track in terms of the players' abilities to navigate it? Is it easier or harder to skate on a banked track?
     
  20. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp
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    If I remember right, you can get better speed with less effort on a banked track. Once you're used to the track of course. We only have flat track up here, but the E-Ville Roller Derby League was going strong prior to Whip It coming out, and has since exploded. so popular that they now have Canada's first junior team! Always a good time, and the travel team was undefeated last year. I volunteered for them a couple of times, the girls take the matches dead serious. Lot's of fun!


    http://www.e-villederby.com/
     

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