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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Another One Rides the Bus

This past Saturday was the Cincinnati Rollergirls' (CRG's) final home bout of the season. Unfortunately, by two days before, I had completely exhausted all possible sources of a ride down to Cincy. Conservative estimates place my ability to drive at 4-6 weeks away, so I resigned myself to spending Saturday evening in front of my computer. Then, an idea struck, and my brain went into overdrive. My "planner" instinct took over, and I began to map out a way to get to the Cincinnati Gardens and back. By Friday afternoon, I was booking a ticket on Greyhound and jotting down Cincinnati Metro bus schedules.

After securing a ride to the Greyhound station for early Saturday morning, I hurriedly tried to pack and get to bed, knowing that I would not sleep much in the next day and a half. My plan was: ride to Toledo Greyhound station, bus to downtown Cincy station, two Metro buses to the Gardens, one CRG doubleheader, two Metro buses back to the Cincy Greyhound station, sit there for 8 hours, bus back to downtown Toledo, paratransit bus to roughly three blocks from the rehab center, and wheel myself back, all in the span of roughly 30 hours. I was impressed with my planning skills, but exhausted just thinking about it.

A ticketing snafu with Greyhound threatened to derail the whole adventure, but we somehow managed to get it resolved. As the lift pulled my wheelchair onto the bus, I thanked Owen for the ride and settled in with the bus people. With the exception of a Soup-Nazi-esque bus driver and a couple of trashy folks a couple of rows behind me, it was a smooth ride. I played music on my phone and watched the lush, rolling nothingness of Western Ohio roll by. As I got close to Dayton, I received a very welcome surprise via Facebook message: referee Dr. Funkenstein would pick me up in downtown Cincy, sparing me at least two more bus rides. He and his daughter were waiting for me as the bus pulled in, and I was whisked off to the Gardens like a bigwig. Of course, this meant that I arrived roughly four hours before the doors opened to the public. No worries, as I found an outlet in the hall to charge my phone and began to read. If there's one thing I've learned in the nearly five months since I've slept in my own bed, it's how to kill time.

Once again, the fine CRG folks stepped in to make my life easier. Bout production guru Squintz spotted me in the empty hallway and invited me into the main arena. I accepted and wheeled myself to my very familiar spot in row 1, turn 3. It was a bit eerie to be there that early, with maybe ten other people doing some set-up work around me. It was really nice to chat with people as they entered, without the rushed feeling of trying to squeeze in a few words during warm-ups. As the hours ticked away, I read my book and got my scorebook ready for the night's action, pausing every so often to enjoy the company of another skater, ref, or NSO. As the doors were finally opened, I made my way to the concession stand for my traditional Gardens meal of bratwurst and a hot pretzel.

As the familiar scene of pre-bout warm-ups took place, the wonderful Buckhead Betty greeted me with a program and the CRG stadium cup given to the first 2,000 fans on the annual "Fan Appreciation Night." The excitement grew, and I made my ritual perusal of the rosters for both games. The long-awaited introductions of the B-teams began, and a smaller-than-average crowd gave the home team skaters a rousing cheer. As everyone stood and faced the flags, we were treated to one of my favorite sports moments, the double-anthem. Unfortunately, a recorded version of "O, Canada" was used. Then, a gentleman came out and sang... something. I think it was meant to be "The Star-Spangled Banner," but the guy thought he was on American I-Dull or something and tried to do something weird with it. I think I saw Roseanne Barr walk out in disgust. Seriously, folks, just sing the anthem respectfully.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: This post reflects the observations of one fan. All descriptions and statistics guaranteed accurate, or your money back.


The opening act for the evening had all the looks of a blowout. As the Tri-City (TCRG) B team took the track, it looked disorganized and wide-eyed. Although I knew little about this league, watching warm-ups made it clear that they would not be able to keep it close against the Lambs. The very first jam of the contest was emblematic of the entire game. Tri-City jammer Psykosonic had her first rough spot in an evening full of them, being sent off on a track cut less than 30 seconds in. CRG's Ruthless Chris took advantage of the power jam and the Canadians' utter lack of awareness in the pack to post the first 25 points of the bout. A jammer penalty on CRG's Bombtrack gave her fellow #12, Smashing Booty, a chance to strike back. The Cincinnati penalty killers, led by the excellent front two-wall of Big Ugly and Cincy Psych-o, limited the damage to a mere nine points. Hot Slice took the star next for CRG, showing off some sweet jukes in a wide-open jam. Both Susie Shinsplintski and Mirderher dished out treats to the fans sitting in turn four, obliterating Psykosonic two laps apart, but the Tri-City jammer still managed to put up 12 points to Hot Slice's 20.

The next two jams had little effect on the score, with TCRG's Slaughterhouse Streeter parlaying a sweet juke on Roxx Solid into a modest 1-0 win and Ruthless Chris letting a 3-0 advantage become a 3-3 stalemate, thanks to a late call. Over the next two jams, however, the Lambs took command. This started off well for Tri-City, as Aggrosaurus (on furlough from the Cincinnati Museum Center's new dinosaur exhibit) drilled CRG jammer I Caramba. Shortly thereafter, however, Psykosonic took another trip to the box. A superlative Cincinnati pack (Railroad, Big Ugly, Annie Tomical, and Mirderher) trapped Tri-City blocker Ann Killbiter, giving I Caramba free reign to score. Caramba was aided by a beautiful assist from Railroad in turn three and posted a 23-4 jam. The slick pack play continued on the next jam, with Bombtrack leading teammates Cherry Choke, Susie Shinsplintski, and Roxx Solid in a swarming, recycling maelstrom. By the time TCRG's Smashing Booty finally emerged from the pack, her head was down, and she could barely put one skate in front of the other. A 16-0 jam win put CRG's lead at 59 with 16 minutes remaining in the first half.

Tri-City showed some signs of life, but were able to tally a mere 3-0 result on two consecutive lead jammer calls. Bombtrack ended that trend with a quick and powerful dash down the inside, on her way to lead jammer status and a 99-35 CRG lead. Ruthless Chris's jammer penalty on a high block gave Tri-City parts of two jams on the advantage. While the plucky Canucks put together a total of 15 points, a solid penalty kill by Roxx Solid, I Caramba, and Cherry Choke kept it from being worse. Bombtrack one again stepped up to halt Tri-City's momentum, taking lead jammer in an ultra-micro pack (1 CRG blocker vs. 2 for Tri-City). Bombtrack looked amazing, putting a Walter Payton-like stutter-step on the helpless Tri-City blockers near the jammer line en route to a 25-16 jam. Tri-City were able to keep the margin near 50 over the next few jams, despite some excellent work by CRG blockers. The highlight of this span was a stellar one-on-one block by Garden of Beatin. Skating backwards at the front of the pack, she stymied the TCRG blocker for a full third of the track. In the final two jams of the half, the Lambs again asserted control. First, Annie Tomical led a stout CRG pack (Susie Shins, Hot Slice, Cincy Psych-o) with a massive jammer take-out just before turn three. Then, Ruthless Chris showed off her outstanding strength and balance on the half's final jam, sending the Lambs to the locker room with a 154-75 lead.

The second half started off with some sloppy play by the home team. For the second time in the game, Ruthless Chris waited too long to call the jam, turning an advantage into a 3-2 win by the opponent. In the second jam, Big Ugly had a nice hit to force the Tri-City jammer out, but she missed the opportunity to skate back and force the jammer father behind the pack. This was a consistent problem for Lambs blockers, who will need to be much more effective in setting up waterfalls against the good opponents coming up on their schedule. After a few uneventful jams, new Lambs jammer Tru D. Vicious showed nice speed and awareness, grabbing three points and calling off the jam before her counterpart could score.

Once again, things went Cincinnati's way when Bombtrack took the star. She blasted through a two-wall at the front for lead jammer, her power matched only by her fiery disposition. Psykosonic tried to keep up, but Hot Slice did a masterful job, directing her fellow blocker Cincy Psych-o to seal the inside and win the psychobattle. Bombtrack capped off a 19-0 jam, and the Tri-City jammer looked beleaguered yet again. Twelve minute into the second period, the Lambs had extended their lead to 203-83.

The next eleven minutes were all about the CRG defense. First, the Tri-City jammer had a 3/4-lap lead on her CRG counterpart, but Mirderher, Cherry Choke, and Susie Shinsplintski completely shut her down, forcing her to call the jam to a scoreless finale. Then, it was time for the CRG penalty kill. A Hot Slice jammer penalty put the Cincinati blockers to the test, and they came through. Railroad and Poppy Chulo held tightly, and Psykosonic dragged herself through for a single grand slam. With Tri-City starting the next turn on the power jam, the Lambs' pack stepped up again, forcing a rare 0-0 against the Canadian solo jammer. Two of the next three jams resulted in Cincinnati power jams, with both Tru D. Vicious and Bombtrack piling on the points. By the time Mirderher sent a Tri-City jammer crashing out of bounds at the 7-minute mark, CRG had capped a 76-6 run, effectively ending the game. CRG coach Quad Almighty treated the home fans to a rare Mirderher jam, which ended 10-0 in her favor. With the game out of hand, Bombtrack stepped to the jammer line one final time, punctuating her brilliant performance with a jam so one-sided that I lost track at 30 points. The Violent Lambs finished an undefeated home season with a 332-97 shellacking of Tri-City Plan B.

As you may have guessed by reading this far, it was an easy call for Violent Lambs MVP. Bombtrack was dominant, both as a jammer and as a blocker. Wearing the star, she showed off the total package, delivering one of the finest all-around jamming performances I have seen in six years of watching CRG. You want power? She busted through two-walls like Lindsay Lohan through a gram of coke. You want speed? Hers was unparalleled. You want moves? Barry Sanders looked on in awe. Of course, Bombtrack was effective in the pack as well. Her mental sharpness was evident in her ability to direct her fellow blockers, keeping the pack cohesive and relentless. Beyond that, she was the only Lambs skater who made the effort to consistently race to the back after sending an opponent out of bounds.

Dramatic re-enactment of Bombtrack's performance

While the play was generally sloppier than I'd like to see, many of the other CRG blockers turned in fine performances. Mirderher was at her punishing best, constantly hitting the Tri-City jammers and offering some very nice offensive blocks as well. Toledo's own Susie Shinsplintski returned to the Lambs with an excellent performance. She was a part of many of the most effective CRG packs, dishing out some juicy hits of her own. Cincy Psych-o continued to impress in her first season with the Lambs, doing a very nice job at the front of the pack. Garden of Beatin made the case for more track time, showing excellent footwork and a knack for quickly sealing off any lanes that developed for the Tri-City jammers. Annie Tomical showed excellent track awareness and power that belies her size. Big Ugly and Railroad continued to push for a chance to play with the Black Sheep.

The Lambs generally employed a four-jammer rotation. Ruthless Chris joined Bombtrack in taking the greatest share of turns with the star. While she was effective, this was the first time this season that she was not dominant. A few mental lapses in calling jams too late were very uncharacteristic. Hot Slice continued to work her way back from an early-season injury, showing improved speed and some nifty moves. She also played some solid jams as a blocker. Tru D. Vicious showed nice athleticism in her Gardens debut. I Caramba chipped in with a few jams, showing some nice power and balance. Cameo appearances with the star went to Railroad and Mirderher, and the fans went wild as usual for the "Ugly Jam."

On the Tri-City side, all of the jammers had considerable difficulty. Smashing Booty had moderate success, but she had the misfortune of being matched against Bombtrack on many occasions. Psykosonic took the most jams for Plan B, and she probably wishes she hadn't. She was beaten to a pulp, harassed into taking penalties, and generally put through the wringer by the CRG packs. Slaughterhouse Streeter is strong and quick, but she did a poor job playing under control and yielded some big jams for CRG. In terms of blockers, Aggrosaurus was by far the best. I also noticed some good work by Meow Wallace. Overall, however, the Tri-City packs were disorganized, and the blockers allowed plenty of easy passes. Special mention goes to Amy Feral Foul-her for having one of the best derby names I've seen.


After a brief intermission, it was time for the A-teams to clash. The homestanding Black Sheep (WFTDA ranked #34) were looking to dispatch the Thunder (#56) and complete an unblemished home season. Riding an 8-game winning streak and looking to improve their playoff seeding just weeks before the June 30 deadline, the Sheep would suffer dearly from a loss. The introductions featured the Tri-City team skating together holding shark fins and Sadistic Sadie holding a sign proclaiming in lights the league's appreciation of its fans, both of which I really liked.

Prior to the bouts, I had called this one at "Sheep minus 150," so I was not expecting a tight game. In the very first jam, Tri-City's Ova Kill bested K Lethal 4-2 to claim the Canadians' only lead of the night. The second half of CRG's jammer tandem took the line next, and Wheezy glided through a fast, textbook 4-0. Over the next few jams, the Cincinnati packs took over. First, a vicious contingent (Sadie, Buckhead Betty, Kitten Kicker, and Nuk'em) forced Ova Kill to the penalty box, yielding a big power jam. The next time out, Penn Tupanga, Ruff'n the Passer, Candy Kickass, and Hannah Barbaric guided Wheezy to a 14-0 result, executing a flawless waterfall on the hapless Thunder jammer near turn 4 in the process. Seven minutes into the game, the Sheep had run out to a 48-7 lead.

The teams traded 4-0's over the next two jams, the highlight being Nuk'em's absolute abuse of Ova Kill at the back of the pack. On the next jam, Ruff'n the Passer did a tremendous job one-on-one with Tri-City jammer Freudian Whip, eventually drawing a forearm penalty on her quarry. Wheezy took advantage of the power jam, pulling a nifty spin-o-rama and generally making a mockery of the Tri-City pack for a 19-0 tally. Over the next few jams, Tri-City went on a mini-run. The damage would have been worse, if not for a nice three-wall at the front of the pack by Sista Shovechild, Candy Kickass and Penn Tupanga. Thunder jammers Preying Mantease and Skate Pastor showed some sweet moves and power, the latter busting through the middle of a Sadie/Nuk'em wall. Twenty minutes into the half, CRG held a commanding 106-28 lead.

A Wheezy power jam and a 9-0 win for K Lethal, during which she put on an amazing burst of speed to fly by on her second scoring pass, added 24 points to the CRG side of the scoreboard. Tri-City got a break on the ensuing jam, however, as Wheezy was sent off on a track cut. With a power jam spanning parts of two jams, the Thunder added 25 points. That number is a bit deceiving, however, as CRG did some excellent penalty killing. Nuk'em had a big jammer take-out, and the combination of Buckhead Betty, Hannah Barbaric, and Kitten Kicker set up a very nice three-wall. With only two minutes remaining in the half, CRG made a push to reassert control. First, Ruff'n and Jungle Lacy formed a dynamic duo at the front, giving K Lethal time to take lead jammer and post a 4-0. Then, Sadie and Betty went to the kitchen and made me a jammer take-out sammich, as Wheezy racked up a 17-4 jam win. The halftime score was CRG 151, Tri-City 57.

The opening ten minutes of the second half were another episode of "The K Lethal Show." She won all of her jams in that span, showing off speed, moves, and some heady play. Included were an 18-1 power jam and a 13-0 result that featured a beautiful duck-under move heading into turn three on her first scoring pass. During that time, Wheezy struggled a bit, yielding a 15-4 power jam on one of her turns. Twelve minutes in, Wheezy got her groove back, posting a very nice 8-0 and leaving the CRG advantage at 205-80.

When K Lethal was sent to the box on a horrendous track cut call, her pack came to the rescue. Sadie, Kitten Kicker, and Sailor Scary did a beautiful job on the penalty kill against Ova Kill. Over the final 15 minutes of the bout, Cincinnati slowly extended the lead, remaining in control. K Lethal once again took center stage, posting the biggest jams of the late game with some highlight-reel moves. Late in the game, Tri-City got one last gasp. Wheezy went to the box on another track cut. While Tri-City did take a 19-4 jam, the CRG penalty kill had some stellar moments. Nuk'em, Sailor Scary, Sadie, and Penn Tupanga set up a beautiful double bridge, and Sadie did some magnificent work blocking at the front. By the time Sailor Scary battered Ova Kill with just a few minutes remaining, there was nothing to do but count down to the inevitable finish. The Black Sheep finished with a 286-125 victory.

While there were many deserving skaters, the MVP nod for the Black Sheep came down to two. Co-MVP's it is! K Lethal earned one with her best game in the past two years. Everything one would expect from her was on display. K flew by befuddled packs with her tremendous speed. She ducked under, spun around, and tiptoed past blockers with her otherworldly agility. But here's where it got really interesting: K played her cleanest and smartest game yet. She yielded only one power jam, and she very rarely fell victim to the late jam calls that often give away points. It was truly an impressive outing.

"If we wanted to dress as someone really fast, we should have gone as K Lethal."

Wheezy's game was not nearly as clean, going off on at least three jammer penalties. Otherwise, however, her outing looked very good. Wheezy bounced back from a rough outing in her last home game, looking much more like the fast, powerful, Chuck Norris-esque force we know. For the first time, CRG stayed exclusively with two jammers for the entire contest.

On the blocking side, Nuk'em claimed the other Co-MVP award. After being the obvious MVP of the home tilt with Toronto, Nuk'em continued her domination of the Great White North in this contest. The Tri-City jammers will need to take advantage of Canada's national healthcare, thanks to hit after jarring hit from CRG's #86. Nuk'em has always been a big hitter, but her overall game has reached new heights this season. She's always in the right place, and no one is better when it comes to pushing a jammer out of bounds and retreating quickly to the back of the pack. Speed, skills, and smarts make Nuk'em a very dangerous blocker.

Nuk'em wasn't alone in deserving kudos for her blocking. Ruff'n the Passer had yet another outstanding game, seeming equally at ease guiding a jammer out of bounds and introducing one to the concrete floor of the Cincinnati Gardens. Ruff'n has made amazing strides in her fitness and conditioning this season, and it has paid off with consistently strong work. Kitten Kicker had her second consecutive superb home bout, playing in some of the game's strongest packs and using her smooth, fluid strides to be everywhere the opposing jammer was.

Buckhead Betty was strong throughout, showing why she is one of CRG's most fearsome stalwarts. Hannah Barbaric continued her transition to blocker, showing the same grit and hustle that she always brought to the jammer line. Sailor Scary busted out some big hits, in addition to thrilling the new CRG fans sitting in turn three. Jungle Lacy rivaled Karch Kiraly as the perfect setter, standing up jammers with excellent positional blocking, to be spiked by her teammates.

On the Tri-City side, there weren't many standouts. Preying Mantease was the best of the bunch, showing some serious power and quickness with and without the star. Leigh-zzie Borden did some very nice work as a blocker. The two most frequent Tri-City jammers, Ova Kill and Freudian Whip, were generally neutralized by the strong CRG packs.

Now, for the good, the bad, and the ugly on the overall experience:

GOOD: As always, my favorite part of the night was getting to talk with so many of the CRG folks. After all of these years, I finally had my first real conversations with (injured) June With A Cleaver and Jungle Lacy, finding both fun, sweet, ad enchanting. I also had my most extensive visit with Garden of Beatin, finding a kindred spirit and a wonderful person. Talking derby (and sports in general) with Bombtrack is always both educational and exhilarating. I had some enjoyable time with quite a few other skaters, including Buckhead Betty, Nuk'em, Annie Tomical, I Caramba, Ruthless Chris, Cincy Psych-o, Big Ugly, and Hot Slice. On top of that, I got to chat with some very cool refs, NSOs, and retired skaters, including Dr. Funkenstein, Captain G, Jennemy, Squintz, TKO, Miss Print, Killian Destroy, and the great RDF Earl. I also got to talk ith the awesome Mama Wheezy and finally met former coach and current announcer Marty.

BAD: Riding the Greyhound. Only for you, CRG. Only for you.

UGLY: The sound system at the Gardens, which had improved greatly in the previous home bout, was once again mostly a garbled mess.

GOOD: Getting lots of extra time to visit, thanks to the VIP treatment I received from the awesome CRG folks.

BAD: Once again, scoreboard problems. The large overhead scoreboard was often behind on the score, until it stopped working completely. Once again, I urge CRG to install another projection screen behind turn one, so that the fans in turns three and four have some chance of seeing the score and clock.

UGLY: The rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. Consider this my vote for having the Mistics sing before every single home bout.

GOOD: I had, by far, my best ever experience at a CRG after-party. For the first time, I didn't feel like an outsider. I got to sit with the cool kids, and we closed the bar at 2:30am. I showed off my wild side, downing a glass of water.

BAD: Attending the bouts alone, I was unable to get any decent photos to accompany this post. I also was unable to continue my tradition of bringing a tasty gift for my CRG friends.

UGLY: The way I must have looked when I finally reached the Greyhound station in Toledo at noon on Sunday.

GOOD: The overall bout production was excellent, as usual. I liked the decision to shift the juniors scrimmage from between bouts to before the doubleheader. It made the intermission seem a bit quicker. So many other leagues could benefit from calling Squintz and getting some tips on keeping the evening tight and engaging.

BAD: I think I managed to offend one of my favorite rollergirls. She has always been very warm to me, and rarely did I attend a bout with getting a hug and a chat. The past two trips to Cincy, however, there hasn't been anything more than a wave and a terse hello. I'm not sure what the deal is, or even if there is a deal, but it may have been due to a joking comment I made on Facebook shortly after the March home bout. Skater X, I'm sorry if I offended you.

GOOD: I loved CRG's fan appreciation idea of having each skater make a personalized gift for a random fan. No other league I've seen does such a wonderful job of engaging its fans, and it shows with the excellent fan support CRG receives.

So, as last call ushered us out of Molly Malone's, I once again enjoyed the CRG hospitality, getting a ride from Dr. Funkenstein back to the Cincinnati Greyhound station. Five hours of waiting for my bus passed relatively easily, as I consumed snacks, listened to music, and rubbed my eyes a lot. The ride back to Toledo on Sunday morning wasn't bad, and some friends came to pick me up there and take me to lunch.

In all, it was a wonderful way to end a remarkable season for both CRG and myself. My favorite team in all of sports went completely undefeated at home. I pushed through countless hours of physical therapy to make my way to Cincy for three of the five home dates, always receiving inspiration to continue pushing forward. I can't wait to see CRG on the road and/or in the playoffs, hopefully returning to my road-tripping ways at the helm of my good old Saturn. Plus, I finally got to use a Weird Al song as the title of one of my posts!

Friday, May 10, 2013


This past Saturday, I was faced with a dilemma. The Toledo Mud Hens were holding their second annual "May The Fourth Be With You" Star Wars theme night, while the Glass City Rollers (GCR) were finishing their home season just a block away. Last year, I did it all for the Wookiee, so I decided to forego Jawas for jammers this time around. Since I managed to score a ride downtown directly from the Mega Pet Adoption Event in Maumee, I arrived roughly 90 minutes before the doors opened. I expected to find a spot in the hallway somewhere and kill time by playing games on my phone, but the nice GCR folks let me in right away. I suppose that I either looked like a VIP or a pathetic guy sitting alone in a wheelchair, but I went to take my place in turn three, settling in to watch warm-ups. A lot of warm-ups. The time dragged, but it was broken up by nice chats with GCR announcer Biff Mixalot, superstar NSO Screama Donna, and skater Destruck-Shawn. I also made a trip to the concession stand for my usual derby meal, a hot dog, soft pretzel, and Diet Pepsi.

Finally, the line-ups were announced and the anthem sung. It was time to watch the GCR All-Stars take on the most annoyingly named team in women's roller derby, the Fox Cityz Foxz of Appleton, Wisconsin. I have some good memories of sports in Appleton, as I used to go there for single-A minor league baseball games on the way from Chicago to my friend's vacation home. I enjoyed many a Friday night watching the Appleton Foxes, formerly the Fox Cities Foxes, from whence the derby team's Scrabble-riffic name likely derives.

I had been informed that I would witness a time of transition for GCR. The doubleheader would feature farewells from both its best player (Sonic Crush, moving) and its face (founding member Pamazon, retiring). Making her first appearance for GCR was Ena Flash, formerly of the London Rollergirls All-Star team. I settled in, ready to see the comings and goings.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: This is a fan's view of the action. All recaps guaranteed completely accurate, or your money back.

Unlike many leagues, Glass City features its A-team first in doubleheaders. GCR came out on fire, riding the jammer tandem of Looks That Kill and Punk Monkey. In the bout's second jam, GCR blocker Ravin Bubbles did some excellent work at the back of the pack, bottling up the Fox jammer to give Punk Monkey a grand slam. Soon thereafter, the GCR pack turned in a dazzling performance. Sonic Crush handed out a great assist at the front to spring Looks That Kill for lead jammer status, as well as teaming with Gimme Moore, Ena Flash, and Nadia Getit to beat on Fox jammer Just The Hip. By the time the beleaguered Fox skater took the star panty to the penalty box late in the jam, Looks That Kill had tallied 19 points. Stepping to the jammer line alone, Punk Monkey notched 19 of her own, her blockers standing still in the most boring "offensive" tactic of any sport. Eight minutes in, the Toledoans held a 44-1 lead.

GCR's Elle O'Hell took the star next, showing off some nice moves on her way to a grand slam. Unfortunately, she was sent off before she could attempt a second pass, and Fox took advantage, icosi-ena-tupling its score with a 20-5 result. The next six minutes belonged to Glass City. Sonic Crush forced a track cut on Fox jammer Olive Glitter. The Fox pack did some solid penalty killing, limiting Elle O'Hell to ten points with the help of a great jammer take-out by Lulu Palooza. By the time the penalty ended, GCR had capped a 23-0 spurt.

The next eight minutes were mostly sloppy and painful to watch. Jammers and blockers for both teams paraded to the sin bin, and at one point, both jammers were sent off on simultaneous track cuts. The sole example of appealing play was a nice penalty kill by GCR's Carrie Baker and Mother Nature. The Cheeseheads took advantage of the chaos to claw their way back into the game. By the time Olive Glitter juked GCR's Wendy Boughbreaks on a magnificent scoring pass, Fox was in the midst of a 52-14 run, spanning nearly twelve minutes of game time. Punk Monkey incurred a jammer penalty, and it looked like Glass City would surrender the lead. Over the period's final three minutes, the GCR blockers put on a sparkling performance. As Fox's Daisy Mae D'Stroir tried to pile up points on the power jam, Sonic Crush rose to the occasion. She applied a punishing take-out to the Fox jammer, then raced to the back of the pack, deftly weaving through opponents to avoid a direction-of-play penalty. The stellar blocking continued over the final two jams of the half, highlighted by Carrie Baker's crushing hit on Fox's Olive Glitter and Ena Flash's beautiful stall blocking at the front of the pack. Glass City went into halftime with a slim 96-85 lead.

The next 15-20 minutes were easily the worst of the evening. At halftime of the bout, some charter members of the new Toledo Juniors team came out and danced/skated to the most annoying of line-dance songs. I don't take issue with the skill level, as they are just getting started. It was just interminably long and featured terrible music.

As the second half commenced, the Sonic Crush Show was back on the air. The skillful GCR blocker forced yet another track cut on Olive Glitter, leading to an 18-0 power jam for Elle O'Hell. Once again, jammer penalties for both teams began to define the game. Glass City hammer Ravin Bubbles managed to commit two penalties on a single jam, handing the Appletonians a 22-4 score. Fox's Olive Glitter returned the favor on the next jam, starting solo but being sent off on a forearm. Just over ten minutes into the period, we finally saw something resembling roller derby. Glass City's Slash & Burn dished out a big assist at the back of the pack, propelling Punk Monkey to a tidy 4-0 jam and GCR to a 143-112 lead. The penalty-laden action led to both Ena Flash and Ravin Bubbles collecting their penultimate trips to the box with over 17 minutes remaining in the bout.

Once again, Glass City's blockers took control, led by the Sonic Crush and Carrie Baker Pain Delivery Service. By the eight-minute mark, when Punk Monkey posted a 20-0 power jam, GCR had pushed the advantage to 194-132. Fox's Derrieress attempted to singlehandedly erase the deficit, taking a sweet inside pass during a 9-1 jam. She then did something rarely seen, powering directly through Sonic Crush on a subsequent jam. A 21-1 run by Fox brought the difference down to 42 with 4 1/2 minutes remaining. That was as close as it would get, as Glass City closed well. Derrieress fouled out on the last jam, and Elle O'Hell finished with a 25-point tally, leaving the final score at Glass City 237, Fox 161.

As you may have guessed from the title of this post, Sonic Crush was the clear-cut MVP. This is not surprising, as I came to the very same conclusion in the other two GCR bouts I attended this year. If we're choosing sides, I'll take Sonic and give you the next three picks. She is fast, powerful, and precise. I could tell just from watching the warm-ups that she would be the most talented and focused skater on the track. While others lazily skated laps, Sonic Crush worked her way around the referee lane, each time skillfully executing a different form of skating. It's rare that the quickest, strongest, and headiest player on the track are the same person. Glass City will miss her dearly.

Carrie Baker turned in the best performance I have seen from her. She was dominant at the front of the pack, excelling at both positional blocking and laying the lumber. Her lateral quickness seemed much improved from earlier in the season. Ena Flash showed a lot of talent, especially in one-on-one blocking situations. She will have to tighten things up going forward, however, as she took a lot of sloppy penalties. Other notable blocking performances for GCR included Nadia Getit and Gimme Moore.

On the jammer side, Punk Monkey turned in the top performance. She is the most explosive of the Glass City scorers, showing off nice speed and moves. Punk Monkey still takes too many jammer penalties for my taste, but she definitely shows great potential. Looks That Kill also saw quite a bit of success wearing the star. While she doesn't earn superlatives in any one area, she has a steady all-around game. Elle O'Hell had an uneven night, posting some big jams but failing to deliver consistency. Ravin Bubbles took a few jams, committing some costly penalties.

On the Fox Cityz side, Derrieress showed the most talent. She has a nice mix of speed and power. Like most of the jammers in this bout, however, she needs to clean things up more and avoid sloppy penalties. Olive Glitter and Daisy Mae D'Stroir both showed flashes but were often beaten into submission by strong GCR packs. Top blockers for Fox were Tilly Screams and Just The Hip, but this squad needs more depth in its blocking corps to stand up to better teams.

I actually felt myself aging as a very long, boring between-games break took hold of the arena. Possibly due to the Mud Hens game, attendance was very poor to begin the night. By my estimate, there were no more than 300 fans present, and they were a quiet bunch. The long lull in the action only worsened the situation, as roughly a third of the fans filed out before the Glass City Killer B's could take the track. In arranging my ride home for that night, I had left plenty of time for two bouts and some chatting. The loose bout production meant that I had to leave at halftime of the second bout.

I doubt that I missed much. The River Rats of Taylor, Michigan made their second appearance at the Seagate Centre this season, and it was clear they hadn't improved much. The difference in talent was apparent early on, as River Rat's Crimson Bullet took a jammer penalty and GCR's Destruck-Shawn displayed a nice inside move on a 15-0 jam. On the next turn, an outstanding GCR pack of Pamazon, Elle O'Hell, Betty Floored, and Beefy Vanderhuge completely flummoxed the Michiganders. Talented rookie Hanaconda took advantage, putting up a rare 29-0 without the benefit of a power jam. Destruck-Shawn followed with another nice jam, winning it 10-0 with the help of a great jammer take-out by Jeeper Creeper in turn three. Fewer than ten minutes in, Glass City had posted 54 points, and I was tied for top River Rat scorer with zero.

Things went a bit more roughly for Glass City over the next five minutes. Destruck-Shawn failed to call of the jam with an advantage and yielded a 3-2 River Rat point advantage. Unfortunately, things got very ugly soon thereafter. GCR's Ima Zombie went down hard in turn one with what appeared to be a major injury. She left the track on a stretcher, and I can only hope that she is doing well now. The injury sucked any remaining energy from the building, but Glass City returned to the track with a dominant performance. Jeeper Creeper forced a track cut by the Taylor jammer, who joined a cluster of her blockers in the box. Pamazon had only a single blocker opposing her for a portion of the power jam, and she racked up a 35-0 score. Glass City held a 100-point lead just 19 minutes into the bout. The carnage continued into the half, as GCR skated off with a 150-29 lead.

If I were to name an MVP for the half-bout, I'd split the prize between Pamazon and Jeeper Creeper. In the final game of her GCR career, Pamazon simply shredded the overmatched River Rats. She showed excellent speed and balance, leaving the home fans with a great final memory. Jeeper Creeper was the enforcer for Glass City, dishing out the biggest hits of the 30 minutes. She also showed very good track awareness, rarely ending up in anything but perfect position. Hanaconda and Destruck-Shawn also impressed me.

Moving forward, Glass City will have a tall order in replacing the talent and production of Sonic Crush and Pamazon. I definitely see some talent coming up through the pipeline, so upcoming road tests will bear watching. The biggest flaw I saw from Glass City that night was in their bout production. Before the next home season begins in October, the league will have to work on better and shorter breaks in the action. Also, as I have stated many times, it's ridiculous to have the DJ continue playing songs during the action. Save it for time-outs! One high point for GCR is the in-house announcing. Not many leagues the size of GCR  have an announcer as strong as Biff Mixalot. He mixes the perfect proportion of information, laughs, and excitement, spurring an often lackluster and clueless crowd to a better evening.

I wish the best of luck to my hometown Glass City Rollers going forward, and I look forward to renewing my season tickets for 2013-14. Much like one-hit wonder JJ Fad, I will look back wistfully to the days of Super-Sonic (and Pamazon).

Friday, March 29, 2013

Back in the Saddle

Before I get into this post, a warning for you all. If you're just here for the recap, you will have to wade through more personal stuff than usual. My trip to Cincinnati on March 23 was my first sports road trip of the season. It was also my first since I lost my right leg to blood clots this past January. So, this post will be more infused with emotion than most. On my first day of physical therapy at my rehab center (January 30), I told my PT that his job was to have me ready to travel to the Cincinnati Rollergirls' (CRG) home opener at the Cincinnati Gardens. I had plans to attend the doubleheader with my most frequent derby companion, Owen, but he came down with a bad case of Wifesaidno-itis. Thankfully, Andy had the time (barely), the inclination, and the SUV to get my wheelchair and me down I-75.

After a couple of brief stops and a so-so lunch at Panera, we were on the road by 2:30. The ride down was a melange of catching up, discussing the new WFTDA rules, and listening to college basketball. We pulled into the Gardens parking lot at the perfect time, roughly 5:30. Even though PR maven Miss Print had set aside a place for us in my favorite section, I still like to be in line when the door opens. I get anywhere from 3-5 chances per year to see CRG bouts in Cincy, and every opportunity seems to pass quickly, fading into a long drive home or a short drive to a so-so afterparty. With my inability to drive, I worried that this might be my only visit this season. Every minute in that arena with those rollergirls was precious.

Andy deftly wheeled me down what seemed like a sheer cliff face out of the parking lot and we located the ramp to make our way in. It may be cliche, but I never took the time to think much about the challenges faced by those in wheelchairs. For the past two months, I have been acutely aware of every crack in the sidewalk and tight parking space. Had I somehow made it to Cincy on my own, I would have had a very difficult time getting to and into the building. After squeezing through the door, we stopped at the Will Call booth, acquiring Andy's ticket and a slick little card that identified me as a season ticket holder.

From the moment I rolled in the door, my eyes searched the hallway for the rollergirls who so often cruised through or stopped to hand out programs. I had a mental list of people I wanted to see, and it was a long one. As we made our way into line, my disappointment grew. Not a CRG soul to be found. Finally, a vision approached one of the ticket windows. Wheezy! I made my way over and received a warm and enthusiastic greeting, handing off my delivery to her. It was finally Opening Day.

After one failed attempt to get to the floor seats (wide wheelchair, narrow aisle), we made our way to my beloved row one, turn three seats. Spots on the floor were left open, reserved for us, and I settled into place. Sitting there, with my notebook out, my program open, and Violent Lambs circling for warm-ups, I was home. My heart was pounding, and I was unable to avoid a bit of chair dancing. Then, one of my favorite parts of the evening: many of the CRG ladies stopped by to chat. Forgive me if I forget to mention anyone, as the night was a blur of euphoria. During the warm-ups, I got to see longtime favorites such as Pistol Whippin Wendy, Miss Print, Buckhead Betty, Bombtrack, and Maime. Also stopping by for enjoyable chats were Mirderher, Sista Shovechild, Big Ugly, Ruthless Chris, Cincy Psych-o, Polly Rocket, and even a very nice ref who hailed from 15 minutes away from my hometown. (Yes, I know said zebra's name, but I'm not sure if there's some kind of problem with refs fraternizing with fans before the bout.) Men's derby player Grimace of the Cincinnati Battering Rams came by to talk about the testosterone-y side of the sport and very kindly gave me some Rams swag. Of course, the great and wise RDF Earl stopped by. Seeing a fellow Toledoan there was a special treat as well. Superstar NSO Screama Donna had also made the jaunt down I-75 for the bout.

Eat your heart out, Mr. Kot-ter. These are no sweathogs.

The time for warm-ups passed far too quickly, and it was time for the B-Team game's player introductions. I am an unapologetic B-Team derby fan, and I was screaming for every Violent Lambs skater with a fervor usually reserved for my few absolute favorites. As always, the opening night crowd was a good one, and they were in full voice as well. Just in case things weren't already off to an amazing start, four-man a cappella group The Mistics sang the Star-Spangled Banner so well that it would make Francis Scott Key shed a tear. I choked up a bit upon realizing that it was the first time in my memory that I had not stood for the anthem at a sporting event. That momentary dose of reality quickly faded as ten skaters took their places within 4 1/2 inches of the jammer line to start the first bout.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: The following recap is one fan's view of the bouts. All facts and numbers guaranteed to be accurate, or your money back.

The ravings of a madman (My rough notes from the Violent Lambs bout)


The Lambs roster had a very new look for the home opener. Five skaters (Big Ugly, Cincy Psych-o, I Caramba, La Bruja, and Ruthless Chris) were making their home debut. The roster also featured some skaters (Bombtrack, Cherry Choke, Mirderher) who have recently put in time with the Black Sheep. One of my original favorites from my first ever CRG bout in 2007, Juwana Hurt, made her return to the Gardens as well. Some Lambs stalwarts from past seasons were not skating, due to injury (The Librarian, Hot Slice, Maime) or retirement (Polly Rocket). By contrast, NEO's B-Team was made up of a mere ten skaters, some of whom were playing in their first ever bout. On paper, this did not look like much of a game.

My initial instincts were quickly proven wrong. From the first few jams, it was clear that this would be a complete dismantling, not a game at all. One the game's first jam, CRG's Railroad, Mirderher, Poppy Chulo, and Cherry Choke formed a smothering pack as jammer Ruthless Chris flew by for three grand slams. After Bombtrack showed some nifty moves to gain lead jammer and post a 4-0, Sista Shovechild got into the act. She wore the star and waltzed right through the middle of the pack, thanks to a giant hole opened by Lambs blockers Big Ugly, La Bruja, and Mirderher. On the very next jam, Pistol Whippin Wendy put a beautiful hit on NEO jammer Lita Rabbit, springing Ruthless Chris for lead jammer status. When Lita subsequently went to the box, Chris posted a 29-point jam. With just seven minutes elapsed, CRG held a 58-1 lead. The bout would never be that close again.

The drubbing continued, thanks to textbook CRG pack play, huge jammer take-outs by (among others) Roxx Solid, Mirderher, and Juwana Hurt, and NEO's inability to even hinder CRG's jammers. NEO were able to capitalize on two jammer penalties by Bombtrack, posting twin 9-0 jams a few minutes apart, but even these left the margin at 124-25 just beyond the halfway point of the period. With Bombtrack waiting to emerge from the sin bin, some punishing pack work by Cherry Choke, Cincy Psych-o, La Bruja, and Railroad shut down the remainder of the NEO power jam. Bombtrack came out of the box and quickly took lead jammer and a 29-0 jam win, showing a gorgeous dart down the inside during one of her copious scoring passes. This was the first of three consecutive CRG jams of 15-0 or better, as Wendy put up 20 and Chris added another 15, bringing the score to 188-25 with a few minutes left in the first half.

CRG's I Caramba jumped in for a nice 4-0 jam before NEO took its only even-strength jam win of the half, a meager 2-0 for Lita Rabbit. In the final jam of the period, pivot Wendy was the leader of a soul-crushing CRG pack that gave Chris an 18-4 tally. The whistle left the score at CRG 215, NEO 31 and brought a 10-minute halftime respite from the carnage.

The second half was more of the same. The first jam was a 25-0 for Chris, thanks to a track cut by NEO jammer Honky Tonk Hellion. As the period progressed, the CRG jammer rotation came to include just about everyone. No matter who wore the star, the Cincinnati pack dominated. After Cherry Choke took the star to the box on a track cut, her pack of Poppy Chulo, Roxx Solid, Railroad, and Pistol Whippin Wendy shut things down, holding the NEO power jam completely scoreless. After that jam and I Caramba's 24-0, CRG led 274-35 with over 20 minutes still on the clock. Nearly all of the NEO skaters looked exhausted and deflated. A short roster, huge deficit, and extremely physical play by CRG combined to completely kill NEO's spirits.

An outstanding CRG pack of Big Ugly, Bombtrack, Sista Shovechild, and Cincy Psych-o forced Honky Tonk Hellion into another track cut, and Wendy posted another big number, simply pummeling NEO's front blocker on her way. Mirderher joined the jamming parade with a 9-4 win, and Juwana Hurt took the star next. Showing that she still has the speed and moves, Juwana added 28 points, pushing the margin above 300. One of the night's most memorable moments happened on that very jam. CRG blocker Pistol Whippin Wendy was called for a penalty on the backstretch. In a move that would make the Cobra Kai proud, she decided to "sweep the leg" of the growing beer-a-mid on her way to the box. The fans erupted for the umpteenth time, and Wendy once again displayed the spark that makes her one of CRG's emotional leaders.

Over the final minutes of the bout, La Bruja, Roxx Solid, and Railroad took their turns on the jammer line. NEO were able to scrape together a few points, scoring 28 of their 71 in the game's final ten minutes. With the clock winding down, the 3,500 CRG fans had one final treat coming. Big Ugly became the 12th different CRG skater to wear the star. With the margin nearing 350 points, she skated as if it were a tie game, showing excellent speed and unsurpassed ferocity. The scoreboard rolled up and the clock ticked down, but Big Ugly was not finished. She threw in a little jammer-on-jammer action to make her point. In the game's final moments, she approached the pack once more. A stray NEO blocker lingered on the outside, behind the pack as it left turn three. Not content to merely skate by, Big Ugly went directly for her, punctuating the victory with a final, annihilating hit. A new derby crush was born, and CRG finished the game on the good side of a 423-71 score.

Dramatic re-enactment of conversation on the NEO bench after the "Ugly Jam"

So now comes the difficult part for me. Short of awarding the Lambs MVP to the badly overmatched NEO team, how do I narrow down the field of contenders? I typically rate CRG skaters on a scale of minus-three to plus-three for each bout. While the caliber of opponent doubtlessly made CRG's players look better, this was the first time ever that I rated every single one in plus territory. In fact, only three of the 14 got a plus-one, and five received a plus-three. The plus-threes were Mirderher, Railroad, Big Ugly, Ruthless Chris, and my MVP, Pistol Whippin Wendy. Wendy was simply in control of all facets of the bout. As a jammer, she piled up her share of double-digit jams, showing some nice speed as a complement to her power game. As a blocker, especially when wearing the pivot stripe, she made it look easy. Her packs set up impenetrable walls, sturdy bridges, and beautiful cascading waterfalls. They trapped goats. Sorry, I don't have any goat-trapping adverbs. They mastered speed control, looking equally adept at fast, slow, and stop. Of course, Wendy was excellent as an individual blocker as well. She always dishes out some of the game's most powerful hits, and in this game she added some skillful one-on-one positional blocks at the front of the pack. I tend to hesitate to award MVP to my personal favorite skaters, worrying about bias, but I came to the same conclusion every time I read my notes.

Chatting with Cincy Psych-o and MVP Pistol Whippin Wendy. Big Ugly eats her cookie cake approvingly.

I usually split the next few paragraphs into jammers and blockers, but in this bout, nearly everyone did both. So, I'll just start with my plus-three ratings. Mirderher has been an effective blocker for the Black Sheep, so it was no surprise to see her dominate NEO here. Mostly occupying the middle of the pack, skaters such as Mirderher often get overlooked. In this case, no one could miss her bone-jarring hits. In many cases, NEO jammers never got to see the CRG pivots, thanks to the play of Mirderher and other middle and back-of-the-pack blockers. Railroad's game continues to evolve. At one time, she was a loose cannon, but the more I see her skate these days, the more impressed I am with her grasp of positioning. Sure, she lays the lumber every time out, but limiting her mistakes has made Railroad a very effective and complete blocker.

Big Ugly has stepped to the forefront of the Lambs blocking corps very quickly. Her overall athleticism is outstanding. Many tall players have penalty troubles, as they don't get low enough to consistently deliver legal hits. Big Ugly avoids this problem with excellent body control, and seeing her in her one turn as a jammer will convince any viewer that she has speed to burn. Of course, the most obvious part of her game is her ability to plant a shoulder into an opponent. She also seems to have a good head for strategy and positioning. Ruthless Chris did her damage from the jammer line. I mean, from behind the jammer line, rather than inches in front of it. While I didn't try to tally the stats, I would be shocked if she did not easily lead her team in scoring. She has been fast from the start, but she added so much more in this bout. We saw Chris pushing the front blockers out of play, where she once passively skated behind them. She displayed a few neat jukes, and absorbed the rare NEO hits with excellent balance.

Bombtrack picked up a couple of jammer penalties, but she was very sharp otherwise. She is a very versatile player, good with the star and excellent without. Along with Pistol Whippin Wendy, she leads the team in being down with HPP (hits per pound). Sista Shovechild was also solid as a double threat, in addition to keeping her crown as best in-game dancer. Cherry Choke continues to show the consistency of an atomic clock. Cincy Psych-o showed excellent awareness and an affinity for standing up jammers with a shoulder to the sternum. True rookie La Bruja was a bit inconsistent, but showed impressive power and skating skills overall, in addition to apparently putting a curse on the entire NEO squad. Roxx Solid's performance was eponymous. Poppy Chulo joined Wendy with some excellent pivot work. Juwana Hurt was much as I remember, fast and powerful. I Caramba pitched in with a couple of nice jams and showed great promise as a pack player. And yes, this is the first time I remember feeling a need to say something about every single player on the roster. Whew.

This is usually the point at which I say nice things about some of the opposing players. So, um, I'm sure that they are all friendly folks who do good work in their community.

Between games, the juniors played a scrimmage. While I do enjoy watching the youngsters play, I must admit that I mostly missed the action this time. I was chatting with Andy and enjoying visits with more of my CRG friends (more on that later). After the first bout, I was in need of a cough drop to keep my yelling voice intact. Thankfully, I thought ahead and had a few on hand. I know that my long-time CRG friends would be shocked that I would plan so obsessively. When the teams for the headline bout were announced, the crowd reverted to its frenzied state. The excitement built as each Black Sheep player emerged, until a crescendo greeted the Cincinnati Gardens return of Sadistic Sadie.


The Black Sheep were in desperate need of a win, after starting 0-2 on the season, including a tough three-point loss to lower-ranked Bleeding Heartland. This game, against lightly regarded NEO, offered a good opportunity. A strong start would be vital for CRG, as a close game down the stretch would place the pressure squarely upon them. A loss in this bout would almost certainly push CRG into the "Division 2" area of the new WFTDA rankings.

In a move that signaled her 2012 ascendancy to the top of CRG's jammer rotation, Wheezy stepped onto the track for the first jam. Ruff'n the Passer, Candy Kickass, and Penn Tupanga did some nice work on NEO's Hummuscide, giving Wheezy the first three points of the game. K Lethal took the star next. Despite yielding lead jammer status to Akron's Twin Pistol, K ended up the lone jammer on the track soon thereafter. Some nice stopped pack action (oxymoron, in this fan's eyes) and a beautiful tiptoe down the boundary by K to avoid a cut gave CRG another 22 to NEO's 4. Not wanting to be left out of the Sweet Move Club, Wheezy came back out the next time with a quick, smooth juke, on the way to a 4-0 jam win.

After Buckhead Betty popped NEO's Holley Car Brader to limit her to a 3-0, CRG really poured it on. Wheezy continued her hot start by knocking down both halves of NEO's front two-wall on her first scoring pass. She ended up with an 18-0 jam, thanks in part to a wicked and cohesive pack (Karma Krash, Kitten Kicker, Ruff'n the Passer, and Nuk'em). CRG had its hot start and a 47-7 lead.

NEO had a chance to seize momentum, as K Lethal's early struggles continued. This time, she had a chance to call the jam ahead 3-0, but ended up barely salvaging a 4-4 jam. Then, NEO's Holley showed a great burst of strength, plowing through Sadistic Sadie's chest for lead jammer and a 3-0 jam. Unfortunately for NEO, CRG took control for the next 15 minutes. K Lethal started it off, riding her excellent speed and the great pack work of Penn Tupanga, Ruff'n, and June with a Cleaver to a sweet 16-0 outing. CRG's #21 looked more like "June with a Sledgehammer," pounding the opposing jammer along the backstretch. Sadistic Sadie jumped into the jammer rotation nicely, followed by another solid round of Wheezy and K. After a magnificent pack of Betty, Sadie, Karma, and Kitten paved the way for a 20-4 in Wheezy's favor, the score stood at 126-18, with a little over three minutes to go in the period. The Black Sheep capped a 74-4 run.

Over the final few minutes of the half, NEO again showed some life. As any zoologist will tell you, the natural enemy of the black sheep is the zebra. CRG's penalty-depleted pack gave up a 14-0 jam to NEO's Holley. Ruff'n the Passer stemmed the tide by doing a whale of job playing one-on-one defense against NEO jammer Hummuscide. Ruff'n sent her to the ground, then forced a penalty against the Akron skater, giving Wheezy a solo start to the next jam. Unfortunately, Wheezy missed the chance to put the game away, going to the box herself on a track cut. NEO did a nice job on the power jam, turning Kitten into a goat and posting a 15-5 score. A couple of jams later, Wheezy capped the half with the grace of a swan, gliding through turn three on one foot to gain lead jammer status and a 4-0 win. The halftime score stood at 142-47, in favor of CRG.

The second half got off to a physical start. NEO's Finnish Her stood Sadie straight up with a solid shoulder, but Sadie came back later in the jam to show that she's got the moves like [former CRG blocker Nik] Jagger, flattening Akron's Teeny Houdini. In the very next jam, a great quartet of CRG blockers (Sailor Scary, Candy Kickass, Penn Tupanga, and Hannah Barbaric) repeatedly pounded on Holley Car Brader, never letting her see the front of the pack until Wheezy was well on her way to a 16-0 jam. For the next few jams, ample trash talking from both team added a bit of extra spark to the action. Bookending a big jam by Wheezy were smack talking jams by K Lethal and Sadie, both featuring lots of jammer-on-jammer action and other hijinks. Over the first 13 minutes of the second half, CRG outscored NEO by a 79-10 margin, bringing the score to 221-57.

And then, things got sloppy. Jammer K Lethal joined two of her blockers in the penalty box, giving NEO a 5-2 advantage on the track. Not surprisingly, this turned into a 20-0 jam for the visitors. CRG's blockers continued to visit the box with regularity over the next 4 jams, as NEO went on a 42-0 run. Sadie and Hannah stopped the bleeding for a bit, combining for 20 points over consecutive jams. Then K Lethal took another jammer penalty, heading off on a track cut. Betty, Sadie, and Jungle Lacy held up well for quite a while on the penalty killing unit. Once K got back on the track, she committed another track cut seconds later. That allowed Hummuscide to start the next jam alone, with a 5-2 pack, and she posted a big 24-0. Over the back-to-back jams K sat in the box, NEO posted 39 points. Ruff'n took a cameo with the star, only to be sent off as well. Of course, the score was secondary to the dwindling clock by then, and CRG finished with a 249-151 win. Well, CRG really finished by using four awesome skaters to take out the beer-a-tower!

Behold, my subjects. The Fortress of Beer!

While I was certainly very glad to see CRG post the W, those final 17 minutes were very troubling. Playoff-caliber teams don't suddenly fall apart when they get a big lead, and they don't get outscored 94-28 by teams such as NEO over a 17-minute span. CRG need to come to the arena with an "every jam matters" mentality. Sure, the talent differential in this bout was determinative, but avoiding mental mistakes and building the ability to put teams away will be vital in closer contests.

I looked at quite a few candidates for Black Sheep MVP in this bout, and eventually narrowed it to two. So, I'm naming co-MVP's. Wheezy was, as she often has been in the past year or so, CRG's most consistent jammer. She did have an ill-timed (is there ever a good time?) jammer penalty late in the first half, but her record otherwise was sterling. She didn't get into any of the taunting and showboating, preferring to do her job on every jam as though it were the first of the game. I love Wheezy's growing strength. A year ago, she probably would not have been able to plow through blockers the way she did in this one. I can only hope that my hard work in the gym will pay off as well as hers.

My other co-MVP is Ruff'n the Passer. I'll give her a break on the last-minute jammer penalty, playing out of position in a blowout. When I look at the jams that featured excellent pack work, #29 appears in my notes so very many times. In this bout, Ruff'n did everything of which a blocker could be asked. She held to her position in full packs and did her best to keep the levee from breaking in shorthanded situations. She booty-blocked jammers into frustration when she wasn't dropping them to the floor. This was the best all-around game I have seen in the years of watching her.

As for the other jammers, they all did some very good things. If I were giving an MVP for the middle 30 minutes of the game, it would go to K Lethal. She looked really fast and had some amazingly athletic moves when needed. K posted more of her team's big-point jams than anyone else, a testament to her explosiveness. However, she also continued to give points away with mental mistakes and jammer penalties. CRG lost to lower-ranked Bleeding Heartland by three points earlier this month, so eliminating some of those will be vital to winning the rematch. Sadistic Sadie did a bit of everything. She's in great shape, and it showed in her speed and endurance. There's probably a bit more rust to knock off before she regains the awesome elusiveness she had before, as Sadie was stood up by a few very pedestrian solo blocking attempts. Hannah Barbaric took a few jams and looked very Hannah-like: fierce, strong, and technically sound. Both Hannah and Sadie contributed quite a bit on the blocking side, as well.

Other blockers of note included, well...just about everyone. Not a single Black Sheep player rated in the minus categories for this bout. Karma Krash was superb, leading many of the game's strongest packs. June with a Cleaver is usually quietly effective. In this game, she screamed for attention with some thundering hits as well. Penn Tupanga played a steady role in some textbook pack play, rating higher than she has in any other game I've seen. Sailor Scary was a physical presence, and her underlying level of play was excellent as well. I've seen Betty and Candy play stronger games before, but I'll take 80% of those two for my team anytime.

On the NEO side, Holley Car Brader was by far the best jammer. She used her long strides well, building up lots of speed. She also showed off some power moves a few times, going right through solo blocks from tough CRG skaters. The other Akron jammers (Hummuscide, Twin Pistols, and Taking Names) were mostly bottled up by good CRG blocking. I noticed Finnish Her and Take-Out doing some nice blocking work on the Akron side. Assuming that my memory holds, I saw Ivanna Destroya years ago as a member of Burning River. She played a good game and provided me with a bit of extra derby nostalgia.

After the bout, I got a little extra face time with more of the CRG skaters. During intermissions, I was lucky enough to see two of my all-time favorites, The Librarian and Killian Destroy. I also got more time with Wendy, Wheezy, Big Ugly, and Cincy Psych-o. After the bout, I did all I could to talk with many skaters. It took 5 1/2 years, but I finally got a chance to meet Juwana. I also had my first real conversation with Sadie and a longer one with Mirderher. Karma Krash was charming as always, Candy Kickass is similarly worth the time, and a bit of extra time with Miss Print never hurt anyone. As our time was dwindling, I caught up with Betty. She is perhaps the sweetest of all, and that's no small feat. Just before we were shooed out of the arena, I managed to get one good picture, standing up with Betty, Sadie, and Wheezy. As I said before, I try to make every minute there count.

Seven legs' worth of awesome!

Okay, let's tidy up with some cheers and jeers on the overall experience.

CHEER: The sound/PA system was the best it's been in years. Whoever worked on that gets a special MVP from me. I was able to understand at least half of what the in-house announcer said.

JEER: On the topic of sound, I hate when teams play music during the bout action. It's tough enough to hear the PA and the sounds from the track. Why drown it out with extraneous noise? Save the music for warm-ups and time-outs.

CHEER: The welcome and accessibility inside the venue were wonderful. Thanks to Lauren and Thadd for making sure I had a great overall experience. I also loved the scoreboard welcome.

JEER: Still some scoreboard issues at the Gardens. The score on the big scoreboard shut down partway into each game. Also, the clock displayed the time of day, rather than the time remaining in the period. With the hockey scoreboard behind turn three unavailable, this presented a big problem for folks in the general areas of turn three and four. If adequate game information cannot be shown on the center scoreboard, perhaps CRG should invest in another projection screen to place behind turn one.

CHEER: The Lambs finally got a 60-minute home game! 'Saboutfriggintime!!

JEER: The CRG bout schedulers could have done better here. I would buy NEO A vs. the Lambs, but I'd still take the Lambs and give you 30 points. I criticized the schedule when it was released. Tough to move up in the rankings when you play mostly lower-ranked teams.

CHEER: The bratwurst and hot pretzel were as delicious as ever.

CHEER: Everyone at the Cincinnati Gardens was very helpful and polite.

CHEER: I got a nice sales pitch about men's derby, and it moved me from agnostic to curious. Curious about the game. I still like girls.

CHEER: I really enjoyed chatting with the "mystery" ref. I wish I could get to know more of the support staff of CRG. Plus, I thought the officiating in this game was very good overall.

CHEER: How could anyone have anything but a magnificent time with the love I received from so many?

Our time sadly elapsed, we made our way out of the arena. A short 3 1/2 hours later, I was back among the semi-living at the rehab center. My presence in Cincy lasted a mere 5 1/2 hours, but the joy and inspiration I carried back home will endure for some time to come. Mr. Tyler, any closing remarks?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

2012 Roller Derby Wrap-Up

Well, it's that time again. While I didn't reach my ambitious goals for the year, I did get to see my share of derby. I made it to three CRG home bouts, one away bout (at Chicago Outfit), and NC Playoffs (barely!). In addition, I got to one Circle City home bout (vs. Chicago Outfit), two Glass City Rollers home bouts (bookending 2012), and one GCR away (again at Chicago Outfit). Somehow, due to quirks in the schedule, I managed to see almost as many Outfit bouts (6) as CRG (7).

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to travel to any of the regular season tournaments, nor did I make it to Detroit, Cleveland, or any other nearby cities to catch some skating. I decided to do basically the same format as last year: a section of CRG superlatives, and one featuring the best of other teams. My list only includes teams I physically saw play, so no Gotham, Denver, Rose, etc. So, let's get on with it!


MVP Jammer, Black Sheep: Wheezy

Last year, Wheezy earned a place in the regular jammer rotation for the Sheep. This year, she took over. K Lethal was flashy but wildly inconsistent. Hannah OuchoBarbaricCinco fought valiantly through injuries and later ended up on leave. Candy Kickass was strong in limited use. A handful of others tried, with very minimal success. Wheezy, however, was a revelation. Most of the measurables were similar to last year. I didn't notice huge gains in speed or moves. This was all about strength and toughness. Hits that used to take Wheezy to the floor were shrugged off. Rough jams that used to result in 10-0 or worse for the opponent were minimized as she fought through and navigated some rough packs. What's more, she seemed to step up as one of the emotional leaders of the team. Wheezy had a season of consistent positives, but her coming out party took place in Niagara Falls. With K Lethal unavailable, Wheezy showed her North Central competitors that she can be a true #1 jammer. In the final game of Playoffs, Wheezy carried her team to victory over The Outfit, offering a tantalizing peek at what's to come for her in 2013.

MVP Jammer, Violent Lambs: Hot Slice

Hot Slice is a repeat winner in a category that featured roughly 84 entrants. Throughout the season, the Lambs employed wide-open jammer rotations. While many others (Bombtrack and Cherry Choke most notably) had flashes of greatness, Hot Slice was the consistent leader of the Lambs' jammer corps. A quick skater with sharp cuts and a frame that belies her power, Hot Slice missed out on her chance to skate for he Sheep at Playoffs due to an injury. I would not be at all surprised to see her with th Sheep full-time, or at least as a tweener, in 2013.

Most Improved Jammer, CRG: Wheezy (see above)

    Honorable Mention: Ruthless Chris

MVP Blocker, Black Sheep: Buckhead Betty

Just when I thought I might have to retire the "Sk8r-Kinney MVP Blocker Award," Betty became a true superstar. She completely owned the front of the pack, dishing out Kinney-esque solo positional blocks and crushing jammer take-outs with equal aplomb. The punishing hits have always been prominent in Betty's game, but all of her other skills took a giant leap forward in 2012. Betty showed vastly quicker lateral movement and excellent agility and body control. In all of the CRG bouts I saw, I can't recall more than 2 or 3 poor or missed blocks. On top of this, the always heady Betty went for her Derby Ph.D.. She was consistently in great position, controlled the pack, and was a vocal and emotional leader. If I had to choose an MVP Blocker among all teams I saw in 2012, I wouldn't put a single great Windy City, Minnesota, Naptown, or other blocker ahead of her. While some of them might be her equal in talent, none was as vital to her team's success as Buckhead Betty.

    Honorable Mentions: Sk8r-Kinney, Nuk'em, June With a Cleaver

MVP Blocker, Violent Lambs: Railroad

This is always the toughest category for me. Many good Lambs blockers end up spending significant time with the Sheep. Some have one great game, while others are consistently good. That's the nature of a B-Team. In the past, I was a bit rough on Railroad for her tendency to go for the big hit and whiff. In 2012, however, she became a smarter blocker without losing the intimidation factor. While she hasn't completely shaken the tendency to go for the all-or-nothing, Railroad used improved positioning to minimize the mistakes. With another season of experience to polish her anticipation and lateral movement, Railroad could push for track time with the A-Team.
    Honorable Mentions: Pistol Whippin Wendy, Sista Shovechild

Most Improved Blocker, CRG: Buckhead Betty (see above)

    Honorable Mentions: Railroad, Mirderher, Garden of Beatin'

Moment/Bout of the Year, CRG: April 21 home doubleheader

Could there be any doubt? In the first game, the Lambs put together quite possibly their most complete performance ever in dismantling Hard Knox, 102-53. The jammers played a smart game, calling off jams to preserve advantages. The blockers pounded and recycled Hard Knox jammers, while also excelling at forming bridges to avoid out-of-play situations. It was a total team effort, as I had 12 Lambs graded above-average or better for the contest. Then, the Sheep faced Tampa Bay. It was a great back-and-forth affair, and the fans were into the action. I love when The Gardens gets loud, and the Sheep gave the fans reason to yell. As the second half waned, CRG clung to a small lead. In the last jam, with a crowd of 4,000 on its feet, CRG secured a 150-143 win. Here is what I posted on Facebook on my way home after the doubleheader:

Stopped for gas somewhere between Cincy and Dayton, looked up while I was at the pump and saw the Hustler Store. No need to stop. Tonight was like sports fan porn. What an amazing pair of bouts for CRG. Last time I was this pumped after a game of any kind, the Blackhawks were skating around with the Stanley Cup. Love my CRG... and I'm spent.

Most Disappointing Moment/Bout of the Year, CRG: Playoff Opener vs. Madison

I arrived at North Central Playoffs just in time to see this bout, fresh (or not so fresh) from a 6+ hour drive. I was very excited, as I expected a close game and a chance to cheer like crazy for my CRG. From the start, this one was ugly. CRG were shorthanded in the jammer rotation, and the coaching staff made some questionable decisions in filling the holes. Normally stout pack skaters looked like they had been absent the day they taught blocking in derby practice. Jammers and blockers alike formed a conga line to the sin bin, rarely leaving CRG with more than three total skaters on the track. This one was a blowout 15 minutes in, and it never really got better. By halftime, I could barely muster a cheer. By early in the second half, I stopped writing in my notebook. Roughly everyone fouled out. I have never seen CRG play so far below their talent and potential.

Best Teammate: TIE - Buckhead Betty / Pistol Whippin Wendy

I feel a bit funny choosing a "Best Teammate" from a team on which I do not play. Nonetheless, I wanted to recognize an underappreciated facet of a successful sports team. Since I am not present at practices, this reflects the skaters who were most essential to the morale and chemistry of the team during bouts. From warm-ups through trackside hand-slaps after the second bout, Betty is never "off." She is always energetic, always encouraging, always doing everything in her power to keep her team and the fans in the game. She takes a strong leadership role, seeking out struggling teammates and trying to jump-start their games. Betty is the ultimate motivator on the track.

Wendy's contributions are a bit different, but equally noteworthy. One of my strongest memories of Wendy from the season came from Playoffs. Due to injuries and other factors, CRG had 15 skaters who were healthy and present for the entire weekend. With 14 rostered for each bout, I expected to see a rotation for that final spot. Instead, CRG kept Wendy out of each and every bout, denying her valuable A-Team experience, even in games that had little bearing on playoff results. A mere mortal would have sulked and groused, especially as the team often showed little of the spark and energy that Wendy is known to provide. Instead, Wendy sat in the crowd very time, yelling encouragement, and never uttering a disparaging word. She was there with her teammates between bouts as well. While it had to hurt her personally, she consistently put her team first. This is far from the only instance of great "teammateship" I saw from Wendy in 2012, but it will stick with me for a long time.

Heavy Artillery Award (biggest hitter), Black Sheep: TIE - Buckhead Betty / Nuk'em

This is an award for big hitting. Both Betty and Nuk'em hit people. Hard. Often. Not much need for explanation here.

Heavy Artillery Award, Violent Lambs: Pistol Whippin Wendy

Wendy hit. Opponent fall down. Go boom. Everyone cheer.

 Bad-Ass Award: Hannah Barbaric

In my five-plus years of watching roller derby, there are two skaters who stand out among the toughest athletes I've ever watched: Jackie Daniels and Hannah. Hannah has endured many injuries in her career, and an observer would have to conclude that her style of play is a major factor. Is she quick? Yes. Does she have moves? Sure. Yet, Hannah's style of jamming is defined by pinballing through a tough pack, daring the opposing blockers to knock her down. Simply put, she absorbs a lot of punishment. Despite this, she always bounces back and pushes through, whether it's playing with a broken finger, coming back quickly from a leg injury, or simply lining up and busting through the pack on her next turn after a tough jam. Hannah Barbaric is the picture of toughness, and she should be an inspiration to athletes everywhere.


MVP Jammer, Playoff Teams: Harmony Killerbruise, Minnesota Rollergirls

MVP Jammer, non-Playoff Teams: Vivi Section, Circle City Derby Girls

MVP Blocker, Playoff Teams: Sargentina, Windy City Rollers

MVP Blocker, non-Playoff Teams: Sonic Crush, Glass City Rollers

Heavy Artillery Award: Lady K, Chicago Outfit

Breakout Star: The Smacktivist, Ohio Rollergirls

Moment/Bout of the Year: OHRG upsets Arch Rival, first round of playoffs.

Most Disappointing Moment/Bout of the Year: Chicago Outfit A vs. Midwest Megateam

New Favorites of 2012 (Rookies, skaters I saw for the first time, or skaters who made a big impression on me for the first time):

Majestic, Naptown Rollergirls
Second Hand Smoke, Minnesota Rollergirls
Kitty Liquorbottom, Ohio Rollergirls
Mayor Francis Slayer, Arch Rival Rollergirls
Jennergizer Bunny, Chicago Outfit

Sunday, August 5, 2012

One Week

On Saturday, July 21, I made my way to the Windy City Fieldhouse to see the Cincinnati Rollergirls (CRG) take on the Chicago Outfit. I had traveled out to Chicago a week earlier to spend some time with family. It was a lovely and restful week, full of good times and excellent food. I mean, really excellent food. Giordano’s deep dish pizza, Connie’s beef sandwiches and tamales, Eli’s cheesecake, excellent Chinese takeout… uh, where was I? Oh yes, an excellent week in my Sweet Home Chicago, but the timing of the trip was all about the roller derby doubleheader on Saturday evening. So, let’s get on to the night of derby.

I arrived at the Fieldhouse roughly ten minutes before the doors opened, with plans to get a first row seat along the backstretch. I had been to an Outfit home bout before, and I knew that my usual turn three seats were not ideal at this venue. Also, since the seats are not tiered in any way, it’s extremely important to get there early and secure a front row seat. As usual, I settled in to read the bout program. I usually pay only fleeting attention to the warm-ups, making sure I see the skaters I know. This time, however, I was drawn in. As a former athlete, I know that there are so many different approaches to the pregame routine. It’s interesting to see athletes’ personalities peek through in the way they warm-up. I personally had different routines for different sports. In baseball, I was a loner, stretching and doing some minimal throwing, then disappearing to listen to music. For you youngsters, we had this thing called a “Cassette Walkman,” which was excellent for playing “mix tapes.” Side B of every tape I made started with the same song, Vince DiCola’s “War” (from the “Rocky IV” soundtrack). It was always the last song I played, timed to end as close to taking the field as possible. For home games, I’d sprint from the third base dugout to the first base bag, head down. As soon as I stepped on the bag, I would spin and fire the first grounder to my third baseman. If my routine was disturbed, it became really tough for me to focus for the first inning or two. In football and basketball, my approach was different. I was social, joking, enjoying my teammates. I think the primary difference is that I generally didn’t start the game in either of those sports, so I didn’t need that immediate focus. But, each person has his or her own approach.

"I'm ready now."

So, I watched carefully as CRG took its turns around the flat track. The DJ started with some great 80’s music. Many of the skaters sang along, happily dancing on skates. I really noticed Pistolwhippin Wendy having an absolute blast, while other CRG skaters were much more businesslike. I don’t have any grand conclusions to make from watching the warm-ups. I don’t think that either approach necessarily paints an athlete as fun-loving or focused, but I do intend to watch warm-ups more carefully in the future to see if any trends emerge. After introductions and a nice rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner by one of the Windy City Rollers (sorry, didn't get down in my notes who it was), it was time for the action.

DISCLAIMER: I am just a fan and have no official connection to any team or player. While I strive to report accurately, I may cite inaccurate details. This blog chronicles my own experiences, and should not be used as a substitute for actual derby coverage, highbrow literature, sugar, salt, or sleeping pills.

The first game of the evening pitted the visiting CRG Violent Lambs (B-Team) against the homestanding Chicago Outfit Shade Brigade (B-Team). The Shade Brigade eked out a hard-fought victory over Toledo’s Glass City Rollers in my earlier visit to Chicago, and I would consider the Outfit squad an even match for the Lambs in normal circumstances. These, however, were not normal circumstances. The Lambs came to town with a rookie-laden roster, the result of many skaters on both CRG rosters being unavailable for the road game. CRG faced an uphill battle against an opponent that was skilled and far more experienced.

That challenge was apparent from the opening whistle, as Chicago’s Jennergizer Bunny and her pack posted a sparkling 7-0 jam. CRG got an immediate chance to strike back, as Imma Tattooher had a power jam opportunity. While she was able to tie the score at seven, the Lambs pack squandered a chance to make it much better. The CRG blockers failed to trap an Outfit blocker and slow the pack, and also showed a lack of offensive awareness in terms of providing assists. The next momentum shift occurred as the Shade Brigade’s Uma Bomber completely shut down Imma at the back of the pack, issuing multiple take-outs on the Cincy jammer. This cleared the way for another big jam by Jennergizer, and the Outfit led 22-13 after seven minutes.

On the very next jam, the CRG pack avoided calamity, allowing a mere 4-0 to Chicago on a jam that could have been much worse. Pistolwhippin Wendy and Garden of Beatin put up a beautiful 2-wall at the front, while Susie Shinsplintski and Flannery O’Slaughter provided a textbook double-bridge to keep the front blockers in play. CRG were able to cut the deficit to three, as Ruthless Chris did a nice job on a power jam, making some sharp, quick cuts. The Lambs then avoided yet another crushing blow. Imma wore the star, but took an absolutely atrocious track cut, simply walking right back in bounds in front of the foremost blocker, who had knocked her out. The Outfit jammer went to the box soon thereafter, and the jam ended 9-8, in favor of Chicago. Thanks to some excellent 2-walls, first by The Librarian and Godzillary, then by The Librarian and Flannery, CRG kept it close, at one point bringing the game back to within three points.

The game would never be that close again. The CRG pack broke down repeatedly, completely losing track of the Outfit jammer on consecutive jams and allowing untouched scoring passes straight down the middle of the track. The score stood at 66-41 Chicago with nine minutes remaining in the half. The Lambs finally put together a few solid jams. Some nice blocking gave Ruthless Chris a 9-0 result, but when she got a power jam soon thereafter, CRG could only muster a single grand slam, bringing the score to 66-55. In the remaining four minutes of the half, things fell apart completely for Cincinnati. Its packs were shredded, its jammers shut down completely. The Outfit went into halftime on a 15-0 run, leading 81-55, but CRG was lucky that it wasn’t worse.

At the beginning of the second half, it was a different team that struggled, Team Zebra. On the very first jam, Chicago’s Jennergizer blatantly cut CRG’s front blocker. Everyone I have asked since then has confirmed that this infraction results in a major penalty. The official signaled a track cut minor and allowed her to continue skating, but did not make a signal as to her status as lead jammer or not lead jammer. Half a lap later, Jennergizer suddenly became lead jammer. Not only should she have been sitting in the sin bin on a major, the minor penalty that was actually called should have kept her from lead jammer status. The Outfit ended up taking the jam, 4-0. On the ensuing jam, the CRG pack completely fell asleep, allowing an untouched grand slam on the inside, part of a 9-0 jam that left the score 94-55, three minutes into the half.

The Lambs jammers also played a role in the team’s poor performance. I Caramba showed flashes of talent, but her inexperience showed when she waited too long to call a jam on which she was lead jammer, giving the Outfit a 4-3 result. On her next turn with the star, Caramba squandered a beautiful back 3-wall by Wendy, Roxx Solid, and Garden of Beatin, drawing a major and yielding a power jam to Chicago. Just seven minutes into the second half, Chicago led 103-62, tallying a 37-7 run over 11 minutes of play. Pistolwhippin Wendy temporarily stopped the bleeding with a ferocious jammer take-out near the jammer line on an Outfit scoring pass. While it was by no means Wendy’s only big hit of the night, it was certainly the most jaw-dropping. She was sent to the box, but it certainly looked like a phantom call from where I sat.

The Lambs drew on the emotion from Wendy’s crushing block. Roxx Solid, Sista Shovechild, and Poppy Chulo combined to form a sharp pack, and Hot Slice did excellent work jamming, pushing the Chicago front wall out of play and garnering an 8-0 result. Unfortunately, a late call by lead jammer Ruthless Chris (with a 2-3 pack disadvantage) killed the brief burst of momentum, and the Outfit won the jam 3-2. Soon thereafter, Imma continued her rough night, being sent off on a jammer penalty. Chicago’s Ivanna Schoop took the jammer line all alone to begin the next jam and began to accrue points. After serving her time, Imma came back in and was sent back to the box within ten seconds. The Librarian provided a great jammer take-out, but the back-to-back-to-back power jams left the Outfit with a 153-82 edge.

The final 11 minutes of the bout were more of the same. The Lambs looked physically exhausted, mentally beaten, or both. Hot Slice continued to look solid with the star, but CRG’s other jammers had nothing much to offer. By the time the final whistle sounded, the Outfit had a 188-96 margin of victory.

Lambs co-MVP Hot Slice was, by far, CRG’s best jammer. While it wasn’t her best game ever, Slice was solid throughout, playing a good mental game. She showed good speed, and she was the only CRG jammer who worked to push the opposing front walls out of play. This allowed her to take advantage of her opportunities, despite the uneven play of her blockers. Rookie Ruthless Chris showed some excellent talent, with nice bursts of speed and sharp lateral cuts. Unfortunately, she looked lost when she reached the opponent’s front wall, not continuing to skate and push them out of play. She also seemed flummoxed by the tactic of Chicago’s blockers skating backwards after knocking her out of bounds, taking far too long to work back and re-enter. I attribute these errors to inexperience, and I think that Chris has a bright future as her mental game catches up with her physical skills.

The other two primary jammers for CRG struggled mightily. Rookie I Caramba showed some positive flashes but could not put it together. Imma Tattooher couldn’t get anything going, taking too many trips to the box and spending as much time on the floor as she did on her skates. I was shocked that CRG’s coaching staff left her in the jamming rotation well into the second half. Making cameo jamming experiences for the Lambs were Pistolwhippin Wendy, Roxx Solid, Flannery O’Slaughter, Sista Shovechild, Godzillary, the pizza vendor, a couple of NSO’s, and the guy holding a “will work for food” sign at the on-ramp to the Kennedy Expressway.

Turning to the blockers for the Lambs, my other co-MVP is Pistolwhippin Wendy. While The Librarian also had many of the good blocking moments, I gave this one to Wendy on the basis of the energy she brought to the team. Her big hits had an impact on the game, and her positive, aggressive attitude was in short supply among her teammates. Simply put, Wendy looked like she was playing a sport she loved, while much of CRG looked like they had been sentenced to forced manual labor. The Librarian, while not as consistent as she’d like, did a nice job on many occasions with positional blocking and keeping walls together. Susie Shinsplintski had the best performance of her comeback campaign, and Garden of Beatin showed promise in her debut. The remainder of the CRG blockers ranged from inconsistent to subpar.

On the Chicago side, all four of the Outfit’s main jammers were solid, but Jennergizer Bunny set the pace. She’s speedy and smart, often disappearing into the pack, only to emerge virtually untouched. Ivanna Schoop and Big Lebekski weren’t far behind. Graves rounded out the rotation with some effective work. On the blocking side, Uma Bomber was the clear standout.

The back half of the twinbill featured the A-Teams, CRG’s Black Sheep and Chicago Outfit’s Syndicate. The Sheep defeated the Syndicate just weeks earlier at the Brewhaha tournament, and Chicago was looking for payback at home. Much like the Lambs, the Sheep entered this matchup missing some key cogs, most notably Hannah Barbaric and Nuk’em. While Nuk’em had been out with an injury for quite some time, the loss of Hannah was recent, and I wondered how CRG would proceed with its jammer rotation beyond K Lethal and Wheezy. My guess was that Candy Kickass, enjoying her most effective season to date, would step in.

The first minute of the bout was a CRG fan’s dream. Buckhead Betty, Penn Tupanga, and Candy Kickass formed an imposing and cohesive pack, as K Lethal racked up 12 points to nothing for Queefer Sutherland. (Side note: “Queefer” was #5 on the list of top 10 things I never thought I would type on a publicly-viewable blog.) Unfortunately for the Sheep, K was sent off to the box at the tail end of the jam. Sk8r-Kinney, Karma Krash, and Kitten Kicker did a nice job on the penalty kill on the ensuing jam, but the Syndicate’s blockers were up to the task, finding ways to get their jammer through for a 14-0 jam. Wheezy then took her turn with the star, showing magnificent balance as she snuck through the inside for lead jammer. Silkk Assassin went out on a jammer penalty for Chicago, but her pack bailed her out with an exquisite penalty kill, holding Cincy to a mere four points. By the time 13 minutes had passed, CRG were in complete control of the bout, yet led only 30-23.

"It wasn't me, I swear."

A series of uneventful jams followed, with the only action to note a nice forced minor track cut by Candy to deny a Chicago jammer lead status. Then, showing that you don’t have to be a rookie to call a jam too late, lead jammer K Lethal waited long enough to turn a 2-0 jam victory into a 3-2 loss. On her next chance, K got to skate solo, but her blockers didn’t give her much help, and CRG turned in another low-scoring power jam, bringing the Cincinnati lead to 43-31. The events that led to that power jam fall into the category of “things I’ve never seen in roller derby.” Silkk Assassin was handed a major on a really blatant track cut along the backstretch, then proceeded to skate directly through the middle of the infield toward the penalty box. The refs eventually managed to get her turned around, and she skated back across the infield, then around the outside to the box. Strange plays, indeed.

From there, the teams traded shots for a while. The Outfit’s Lola Blow put together a magnificent scoring pass, juking past June With A Cleaver and at least one other CRG blocker for a 4-0 win. Then Cincy’s Ruff’n The Passer, Betty, and Candy did a beautiful job sealing the Outfit blockers to the outside for an easy pass and a 4-0 jam by K. Betty and Candy then combined again with Penn Tupanga to slam the door on Silkk Assassin with an impenetrable 3-wall at the back of the pack, turning a Syndicate advantage into a harmless 0-0 jam. Thanks to some fine blocking by Railroad, K Lethal posted a nice grand slam, and it looked like CRG might finally be able to stretch the lead, up 52-35 with five minutes to play in the half.

The next five minutes, however, completely changed the bout. First, Wheezy took the star to the penalty box on a high block major. Kinney did some excellent work on Queefer, but Chicago managed to do nine points worth of damage. A minute or so later, Lola Blow posted another eye-popping jam, managing to slip by on an outside scoring pass, thanks to her amazing balance. On the final jam of the half, K Lethal took another trip to the sin bin. While Karma, June, and Mirderher did some fine work on the penalty kill, the Outfit finished the half on a 25-0 run to take a 60-52 lead.

The Black Sheep needed to come back from the break and re-establish their rhythm. Unfortunately for the visitors, it was Chicago who found another gear. CRG’s blockers formed a conga line to the penalty box, rarely keeping more than two blockers on the track for the next 12 minutes, and the Chicago lead grew steadily. By the time K went to the box yet again on a track cut, the solid penalty killing by June and Candy was not enough to keep the lead from growing to 30 points, 89-59 with 22 minutes remaining. Things continued to get worse for CRG on the next jam, with Chicago’s Smashley Destructo leading a fine pack in the absolute pummeling of Wheezy. I don’t believe Wheezy ever completed her initial pass, and Queefer rolled to an 18-0 jam. Shortly thereafter, an interminable officials’ time out led to K receiving an ex post facto jammer penalty for no reason I could discern. Chicago took advantage with another solid power jam. Over 19 minutes, the Outfit put together an 84-10 scoring run, and this one was more or less over with 16 minutes to play, Chicago leading 119-62.

Not much of note happened from there. K turned 3-0 into 4-4 with another late jam call, but by that stage, it was hard to blame her for taking the risk. Kinney took a turn jamming, eventually joined by Karma, but both decided to join the parade of CRG jammer penalties. The sole Black Sheep highlight of the game’s waning minutes was a 14-point jam by Candy Kickass in her only appearance with the star. On that jam, Chicago’s Smashley Destructo was called for a major while blocking. She just stayed in the pack as though nothing had happened, and the ref basically said “ah, never mind,” not persisting in sending her off. It was the final sign of a very up-and-down night for the zebras.

While I can’t accuse the Black Sheep of quitting on the bout, they just had no spark for the game’s final 35 minutes. Frankly, it was a terrible game to watch, not just for a CRG fan, but for any roller derby fan. The Outfit prevailed in a laugher, 150-93. The Sheep completely dominated the gameplay over the first 25 minutes, yet squandered countless chances to take a stronger lead. When Chicago turned the tables, Cincinnati had no answer, no energy, no fire, and no chance.

There was plenty of blame to go around. The team’s jamming performance was easily its worst since… well, maybe 2008 vs. Philly? K Lethal was her team’s best option with the star, and when your best option is in the box as often as she was, that’s not a good sign. I really need to come up with some type of autotext to use in every recap. It would be something like “K Lethal was the fastest, strongest, and most talented jammer on the track. Yet, she hurt her team with penalties and poor decision making. If her mental game ever catches up with her physical prowess, you could be looking at an all-time great.” I feel like I’ve been writing the same thing every bout for the past 2-3 years. For the first 10-15 minutes of this bout, I honestly thought things would be different. K was playing a smart game, calling jams at just the right time, and not taking excessive penalties. I could have seen her playing for precision offenses such as Gotham, Denver, or Rose City in that span. Unfortunately, it didn’t last, and it was back to the usual.

Wheezy just did not have it in this game. I would rate it her worst performance since joining the Sheep. She did have a few flashes of Wheezy-esque brilliance, but she was battered consistently, and her speed and explosiveness seemed a couple of ticks below the norm. You may notice that I never mentioned the third jammer for CRG, and that is telling. Penn Tupanga, in a move surprising even to many CRG insiders, was called upon to jam. While her blocking performance in this one was above average, she does not seem to be the answer from the jammer line. Candy Kickass looked great in her single jam, and the CRG coaching staff would be well advised to use her in the third jammer slot until Hannah Barbaric’s return.

Cincinnati’s blocking, at least when the team could muster a pack of more than two, was pretty good. The effort was led by co-MVP’s Buckhead Betty and Candy Kickass. While I would have previously considered this statement sacrilegious, I put forth that Betty has at least tied Kinney as the best blocker in CRG. While Betty has always delivered the big hits and a booty made for jammer frustration, her overall game has taken a giant step forward this year. Her speed is up a notch, her lateral quickness likewise, and her track awareness is superlative. Candy has also reached new heights during this campaign. She seems equally comfortable in jamming and blocking roles, and her blocking has a ferociousness that belies her slender frame. She always seems to be in the right position, a credit to her focus and mental acuity for the game.

June With a Cleaver joined Sk8r-Kinney and Karma Krash among other standouts on the blocking side. June played a very consistent game, doing some of her best work as a positional blocker and as half of some excellent 2-walls. Her penalty killing kept things from getting even more out of hand as the bout went on. Mirderher, Penn Tupanga, and Ruff’n The Passer also stood out for solid blocking performances.

For the Syndicate, Queefer Sutherland and Lola Blow formed an excellent jammer tandem. Sutherland , while not the very fastest nor very strongest jammer I’ve seen, is above average across the board, and her track awareness allows her to use the full measure of her talent in every bout. Lola is a bit more of a blunt instrument, powering her way through tough packs in lieu of the finesse game. Chicago’s other jammer, the previously mentioned Silkk Assassin, is “K Lethal-lite.” She may have the most physical talent of any of the Outfit jammers, but her inconsistency and mental lapses limit her overall effectiveness. On the blocking side, it was all about Smashley Destructo and Lady K. Smashley is a punishing hitter, quick, ferocious, and smart. She has a way of controlling the back of the pack by herself, making her especially valuable when packs get spread out or shrunken by penalties. Lady K is all-around awesome. She’s speedy, smooth, and equally adept at holding walls and measuring up opponents for a dose of pain.

Moving on to my overall impressions of the night, I found the full bout experience below average, albeit with some definite high points. I know that not every league can have a major arena as its venue, but the Windy City Fieldhouse does not provide the feel of a top-level sporting event. The seats are not tiered in any way, meaning that only the foremost of the 4-5 rows that ring three sides of the playing surface provides a decent view. The seats in the turns are set a bit too far back from the track, and seem to be at an odd angle for viewing. The biggest drawback of the venue is certainly the food. There is one stand, with a paltry selection of nasty-looking pizza, nachos, and tasteless soft pretzels. The only plus is the bank of vending machines, which serve up bottled drinks at $1.50 each, less than half the cost of a beverage at most arenas. Unlike at the first bout I attended there this season, the sound system was subpar. I had a difficult time understanding the announcers, although not as bad as the Charlie Brown’s Teacher mumble of the Cincy Gardens.

"Chuck, he said Hot Slice is Lead Jammer."

The best aspect of the bout production was easily the halftime show during the first bout. The Chicago Boyz Acrobatic Team put on a phenomenal show, doing acrobatic tricks involving jump ropes, as well as a wonderful routine with a springboard. The performers, who looked to range from 7 or 8 years of age to late teens, had the crowd spellbound. One did “the worm” over a jump rope, while another bounced on his back to clear it. It was, by far, the best halftime performance I have ever seen at a sporting event of any kind. It was the only time all night that the crowd was really into what was happening on the track, which was unfortunate for the hardworking skaters of the home team. The other item of praise for the Outfit goes to the DJ. He played an excellent mix of mostly 80’s and 90’s favorites, which both the fans and skaters seemed to enjoy. He didn’t get into the obscure hipster crap that many bout DJ’s overuse, and the folks spinning tunes for other leagues should take notes.

A Taste of the awesome Chicago Boyz Acrobatic Team

After the first bout, Betty encouraged me to move over to the turn one seats and join the CRG partisans. I had the pleasure of sitting with CRG rookie Eerie Sistable, set to make her bout debut in the C-Team “hangover game” the following day. We compared notes as we watched, and I really enjoyed the conversation. Unfortunately, due to family commitments, I could not attend that bout. I also got the chance to spend some time with Pistolwhippin Wendy and The Librarian, two of the coolest people you will ever meet in all of derby, during the Sheep bout.

After the skating was finished, I got to catch up with the wonderful Betty outside the venue. She did something that very few skaters do, introducing me to some of her teammates I had not met. This means the world to me, as it is so difficult to approach people I don’t know and chat, especially when they are with all of their friends and teammates. If I could ask one thing of roller derby players everywhere, it would be to make the effort to approach and engage your fans (especially the ones who have traveled to support your team for years).

After leaving the venue, I decided to attend the after-party, held at a bar in the Bucktown neighborhood. The first CRG skater I encountered was Wendy, and I made my way to a table to join her and Mark. Ruff’n also came up, introduced herself, and joined us. We chatted while waiting for the private area to be ready, and that may have been the most enjoyable part of my evening. The bar finally opened a private area for the after-party, and we made our way to a sweltering, dark basement. The music was bad and loud, but worse yet, there was no food available. The bar had closed its kitchen at 11pm, and no provisions were made by the bar or the league to even provide food for the skaters. While I did also get the chance to talk with The Librarian for a while, the party was a total flop in my book.

It’s been four months since I posted here.
For that, I deserve your scorn and derision.
Two weeks since I saw a bout.
To be quite honest, it’s one I could have done without.
Nine days, I’ve been typing this.
I hope it doesn’t take you too long just to read it.
In six days, it’s another trip.
So I’ll finish this up before it gets longer.
You’ll be falling asleep if it gets much longer.
St. Louis Blues defenseman Chris Pronger.