Credit: Jim Bush. Saucies Rookie Jammer Rosi. Also on Subzero Sirens and Lake Effect Furies.
For roller derby skaters life is measured in strict time from off skates, to warm ups, to halfs, to jam clocks. Trainers and coaches set strict agendas for practice and try to stick to set lines in games. Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) ranked teams obsess over scores, ratios and team weights that all determine ranking. Aspiring skaters obsess over the “27 in 5” the amount of laps a skater must pass in order to meet their mandatory WFTDA minimums. The track itself is a game of geometry, an oval that can further be broken down into specific angles – blockers typically give space on the outside lines in the turns, a space which disappears as the track moves into the straight aways. Veteran skaters are constantly trying to find ways to break this sport down in mathematic terms for aspiring skaters – just from last week Booty Quake’s “Go From Benchwarmer to MVP with the 1% secret” is just one of the most recent examples. All of these obsessions are dependent on one thing though – opportunity.
While skaters obsess over the mathematics of the game, leagues operate on a different level. Institutional knowledge, the high or low end of a leagues skill, everything from the training committee to the in game production all play a role in the development of a skater. Does your league have any transfer skaters who can bring a new perspective? Are skaters hungry to attend boot camps and workshops outside of the region, is your league quick to host them? How many refs do you have and at what level? How many opportunities are there to practice, bout and workout – and with who? While individual skaters will have their own strengths and weaknesses, a well rounded skater is a representation of a league as a whole. This is how top leagues stay at that level for years, and why it is so hard for aspiring leagues to make the jump. It simply isn’t up to individual effort.
Some of the biggest changes that came in the 2015 offseason for the Queen City Roller Girls were a conscious strategy to acknowledge this. The league returned the B Travel Team (Subzero Sirens), brought the home teams down to 3 and all but 2 Lake Effect Furies skaters went Furies only (Rookie Rosi and 2nd year skater Ashes t’Ashes). This move alone ensured more bout experience for young skaters, especially young jammers who were getting buried on jammer rotations behind Travel Team skaters. On top of this the league instituted mandatory league practice by Furies skaters – increasing and adding diverse skill set training for young skaters – and also doubled its bout schedule to over 30. It is only February and between home league bouts, Sirens, Queen’s Court and charity bouts – which match Furies with young skaters – some rookies have already played in 8 bouts this year, more bouts than many leagues will play in a full year. The amount of bouts and the differing level of skill and strategy, all guided by the league, puts these rookies at a huge advantage.
With the first purpose built derby track in the world to call home at Buffalo Riverworks, and record attendance over 1,300 to open the home league season, skaters are also getting to play in front of crowds and in a facility that feels like they matter. The majority of WFTDA leagues around the world still operate in “workable” conditions and some competitive leagues still struggle to secure spaces from one year to the next. QCRG skaters don’t have to worry about this and can focus on the track.
What is the skill ceiling for the league? The Lake Effect Furies, the travel team, made their first Division 2 WFTDA Playoff appearance in 2013, following it up with another in 2014, before making their first D1 appearance in 2015 in Omaha, NB. Their highest ranking came last year at 30th, in the world, and their slow build should keep them pushing ahead in 2016. The team features Librawlian, who also coaches the Subzero Sirens, their star jammer who was third in points in all of the 2015 WFTDA Playoffs behind only Portland’s (Rose City All Stars) Scald Eagle, and New York City’s (Gotham Roller Girls) Bonnie Thunders – both recognized as two of the best jammers in the sport. The league has seen transfers from Southern Ontario, and from as far away as Hawaii, and Madison, Wisconsin. Throughout the history of the league they have had one Team USA skater (Addy Rawl), but also had skaters move on to Team Germany (Lethal Lorelai), Team Canada (K-Wow), and currently has a skater credited with spreading roller derby to Denmark (Ana Killingspree – Alley Kats). Those first three skaters have since moved on, but the institutional knowledge remains. Also important, the league hosted a WFTDA tournament in 2012, has turned out elite level Non-Skating Officials like Stella By Starlight (who is head NSO for the upcoming Beaver Fever Tournament in Kitchener-Waterloo) and solid referees like Senor Weiner who is a level 2 certified WFTDA ref, coach of the Devil Dollies and also a Men’s Roller Derby star in his own right with the Toronto Outrage.
Credit: Rene T. van Ee. Coaches Librawlian and Vile Love It with B Team Subzero Sirens. 7 skaters are league Rookies.
One of the most important numbers for a skater is age. Although many skaters play a high level of derby well into their 40’s, most skaters know that they have a “window” where they will be able to focus on the sport. Planning around careers, injuries, families and “life” can be tough. A lot of skaters make the decision to move from smaller leagues to more established leagues in order to maximize their time. If you are willing to relocate, carpool or commute some can immediately go from a new league to an established and certified WFTDA league and the chance to compete in Playoffs. For Niagara Roller Girls transfer last year, and my wife, Murphy, this meant going from a Non-WFTDA league to jamming against Bonnie Thunders in the span of a year. That is rare, but opportunity exists for many skaters willing to seek them out and commit.
QCRG prepares for a new intake of skaters this coming Sunday with their first intake boot camp of the year. For most new skaters the trajectory will be longer, but already 1 Queen’s Court skater from last year is on the Furies roster and 7 are on the B Travel Team the Subzero Sirens. For all young and rookie skaters on home league teams they get to play on teams anchored and mentored by former Furies and Travel Team skaters, all the while being trained and coached by skilled skaters and veteran coaches. With 30 games in a season some skaters will plateau, but others will experience multiple seasons in one. For skaters who want to progress, who want to challenge themselves, and who are mindful of their “window,” QCRG is offering the one intangible a lot of other leagues struggle with – opportunity. The fast track is there for those who want it.