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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 Roller Derby Wrap-Up

The end of the year tends to be a time for reflection, and a time for writers everywhere to haul out the "Best of the Year" list as a handy crutch. While I normally avoid cliches like the plague, I can't pass up the opportunity to post my list here.

2011 was a year of firsts for me in terms of roller derby. I experienced many of the Western teams for the first time, thanks to my early-season trip to the Wild West Showdown. I became a season ticketholder for the Cincinnati Rollergirls (the first time in my life that I have purchased a full season ticket for any team on any sport). I made it to Indy for my first Circle City Derby Girls home bout, and again a few months later for my first trip to North Central Regionals. In addition to all of the "firsts," I made it to two Glass City Rollers home bouts, four CRG home bouts, and CRG's road bout against Steel City. In all, 2011 was easily my most prolific year for roller derby travel.

I decided that it would be very difficult to issue one "best of" list for the year. My experiences with CRG would naturally overshadow those with other leagues, by virtue of volume alone. So, I will go with two lists: "Best of CRG 2011" and "Best of (non-CRG) Roller Derby 2011." All of these awards are based solely on events I attended, so no skaters from Gotham, Oly, RMRG, etc.

BEST OF CRG 2011:
MVP Jammer, Black Sheep: Hannah Ouchocinco - Hannah was her usual, steady self in 2011. While she uncorked at least one amazing, Matrix-esque move in each regular-season bout I saw, her consistently heady play and overall skill set earned her the nod. She was easily the least-penalized CRG jammer, and her track awareness made tactical mistakes extremely rare. In sports, many see the term "grinder" as a pejorative, implying a lack of top-level skill. When I call Hannah a grinder, it is with admiration. She is certainly skillful and athletic, but she also gets the most out of her ability by combining it with toughness and smarts.

MVP Jammer, Silent Lambs: Hot Slice - Hop Devil was excellent in her bouts with the Lambs, and Nastee had one amazing game. Neither of them, however, provided the consistent contributions of Hot Slice to her team's jammer corps. Showing good speed and surprising power, Hot Slice was the go-to skater when her team needed a big jam. Her play will certainly continue to improve with more experience, and I see Hot Slice as a candidate to make the jump to the Sheep at some point in 2012.

Most Improved Jammer, CRG: Wheezy - Wheezy had an excellent season in 2011, going from a Lambs/Sheep Tweener to a full-time member of the Sheep jamming rotation. Her skill set improved in every major area, including straight-line speed, agility and balance, power, and track awareness. At times, she was the most effective jammer on her team, finding ways through tough Windy City packs when Hannah and K Lethal were struggling. At regionals, she fought through illness to give her team a lift. In addition to all of this, her personality has made her a true favorite among the crowds at the Gardens.

MVP Blocker, Black Sheep: Sk8r-Kinney - The blocking contingent has always been CRG's greatest strength. A typical pack in 2011 might include standouts such as Karma Krash, Trauma, Buckhead Betty, Nuk'em, and Sk8 Crime. As great as those skaters are, it was an easy choice to select Kinney here. She is the best one-on-one blocker on the team, and one of the two or three best anywhere whom I have had the pleasure to observe. She can hand out a big hit, but her game is more positional in nature. She always seems to be in exactly the right position, and her agility and lateral quickness are superb. If you're a Top Gun fan, consider her Iceman, a model of technical perfection who wears down the opponent until her prey gives up or makes a mistake. Had she not already made her claim to the award, her one-woman pack at regionals would have put her over the top.

MVP Blocker, Silent Lambs: Kitten Kicker - This was one of my toughest decisions. I strongly considered Barracuda, Bex Pistol, Cherry Choke, Killian Destroy, and Pistolwhippin' Wendy as well. Although Kitten Kicker (as well as others on my list) did spend some time with the Black Sheep, I considered her primarily a Lamb. Kitten Kicker used her lanky frame, smooth lateral movement, and pack awareness to contribute strong efforts throughout the season. The final tiebreak for me was consistency. While I never selected her as a bout MVP, I also never saw her have a subpar game, and that means a lot over the course of a season.

Most Improved Blocker, CRG: Maime - In previous seasons, Maime was often one stride too late to make an effective block. 2011, however, saw her improve in both the mental and physical aspects of the game to become a very effective blocker. First, her lateral quickness was vastly improved. She looked stronger and faster in all aspects of the game. Equally important, her track savvy took a giant leap forward. Her positioning was significantly better, which allowed her to cut the space she had to cover to make a block. Maime's hard work was rewarded with a promotion to the Black Sheep for the North Central Playoffs. While she didn't see much track time in Indy, it was clear that she could hold her own against the top-level talent on display.

Rookie of the Year, CRG: Hot Slice - See above.

Fans of the Year: The CRG Beeramid Crew - Their outstanding aluminum creations wowed skaters and spectators alike (and annoyed some of the grumpier opponents). One of the highlights of attending a bout at the Gardens is watching the beeramid grow.

Best Bout / Best Moment of the Year, CRG: Silent Lambs vs. Detroit B (Final home bout) - As regular readers know, I am an unabashed fan of B Team Derby. I love watching the hard working, underappreciated skaters get their moments in the sun. The Silent Lambs were in great form against Detroit. The blocking was a magnificent show of teamwork, as both teams' blockers worked in tandem to close holes and recycle jammers. The low-scoring, back-and-forth contest stood tied at 66 with less than a minute remaining in regulation. Hot Slice stepped to the jammer line, and the CRG pack did a great job, harassing the opposing jammer into taking the star to the penalty box. Hot Slice achieved lead jammer status, picked up two points, and put her hands to her hips as she skidded out of bounds near turn one, capping the CRG victory. While the action was great, I enjoyed the atmosphere in the game's closing minutes even more. It had been a tense and physical bout, and it was easy to see that there was some bad blood building on the track. The fans, as they all-too-rarely do during B Team bouts, took over the building. The noise and cheers were amazing. When the game ended, the fans erupted as the victorious Lambs mobbed each other. It's no secret that Miss Print has been one of my very favorite skaters since I saw my first bout in 2007. I described in an earlier post the sad details of my own "retirement" from competitive sports, and as I thought of Miss Print in her last bout, my eyes welled up a bit. She joined John Elway and Michael Jordan (his first two retirements, at least) in walking off the stage in glory and adulation. As much as I love the Black Sheep, the night would have been complete for me whether they later won by 100 or lost by 100.

BEST OF (non-CRG) ROLLER DERBY 2011:
Best Jammer: Heather Juska (Denver) - I saw Juska and her team at the Wild West Showdown early in the season, and I came away very impressed. Wearing the star, she is equal parts crafty and explosive, wearing out opposing blockers with her unrelenting attacks. Her slender frame belies her toughness, and I was not at all surprised to see her take a prominent role with Team USA in the World Cup. (Honorable Mentions: Soulfearic Acid of Rose City, Maiden America of Naptown, Downtown Dallis of Arch Rival)

Best Jammer, Non-Playoff Team: On'Da Sligh (Slaughter County) - On'Da Sligh was another revelation from my trip to the Pacific Northwest. She was by far the best skater on the track in each game her team played, showing off speed and some dazzling moves. Her 360-degree spins in pack traffic were some of the best jammer jukes I've ever witnessed. I would love to see her play against higher-level competition, as I certainly think she could handle the step up. (Honorable Mentions: Roll-R-Damage of Circle City, Cosmo Disco of Des Moines)

Best Blocker: Jackie Daniels (Windy City) - Since I didn't do a "double threat" category, Jackie Daniels is placed here (by virtue of blocking more often than jamming in the Windy City bouts I saw). Ever since her days in Grand Rapids, Jackie has shown toughness, quickness, and smarts. All of those traits and more were on display in her trip to Cincinnati and her action in the NC Playoffs. Much more on her later. (Honorable Mentions: Gabrielle Begeman of Denver, Bork Bork Bork of Windy City, Smack Ya Sideways of Rose City)

Best Blocker, Non-Playoff Team: Megger Bomb (Des Moines) - When I saw Megger Bomb play against Circle City in Indy, it took me back to my first ever derby bout, and a big, fast blocker named Juwana Hurt. Megger Bomb combines intimidating size (and the punishing hits that follow) with nimble footwork, good straight-line speed, and precision positioning. She is a spirit-killing blocker, laying hit after hit on a jammer until the jammer's legs are rubber and her speed is sapped. (Honorable Mentions: Faye Stunaway of Circle City, Astro Glide of Bellingham)

Best Bout / Best Moment of the Year: North Central Region Semifinals, Windy City vs. Naptown - Windy City was in danger of losing to a NC Region opponent for the first time ever, as Naptown was putting on a sharp and furious display in front of the hometown crowd. Since there is no way I can tell it any better, I will defer to Justice Feelgood Marshall's (Windy City Bench Coach and DNN Poobah) description of the events.

Jackie Daniels goes out to jam the next one and it's totally going our way; Yvette, Bork, Sarge and Hoosier are all over the Naptown jammer. Jackie gets lead and a full 5 points on her first lap. Scoreboard updates to Naptown 87, Windy City 81. Our blockers continue to work the Naptown jammer; she is still stuck in the pack and in danger of getting lapped again. Jackie is ripping up the track now, coming for a second scoring pass; she knows she can get the lead back if this jam keeps going well.

Except it stops going well, because as she enters the pack at pretty close to her top speed, she tries to go around a nearly stopped Sarge to the right, just as Sarge moves to the right. Sarge is what the military would classify as a hard target. Physics happen and Jackie goes from like 60 to 0 in an instant, hitting the floor on her back super hard. Everybody in the room goes "OOOOH" at the same time. As any derby player knows, the collisions you don't expect -- the ones you're not braced for -- are the ones that fuck you up.

So Jackie's on the ground. Doesn't move for a couple seconds but it feels like ten. Her jam ref is standing over her and looks like he's about to call the jam on injury. Sarge is also obviously concerned. I'm sure Jackie's got to be relatively seriously hurt, because otherwise she'd call it off, right?

But no. Jackie slowly rolls over, slowly gets up, and keeps fucking going. Amazingly. She is really interested in that scoring pass. She's slower than she was before and obviously in some pain, but she's also Jackie. She gets the 4 points and calls it off at 9-0.

When Jackie gets back to the bench, our lineup manager Angel Dustt and I immediately check to see if she's ok. She's gasping and holding her chest and can hardly talk; she sits down heavily in the back row of seats and unbuckles her chin strap.

Angel says something to her right then, something along the lines of "Nice jam" or "Are you trying to kill yourself?" I do remember exactly what Jackie says back to her in between ragged breaths: "I wanna win. I wanna win."

I'm trying to come up with the right adjective to describe to you exactly *how* she said it, because it is hard to accurately convey how affecting those words were to me, at that moment. She didn't say it very loudly or emphatically -- partially because she wasn't exactly breathing correctly -- but with this quiet intensity and passion that left no doubt of how badly she wanted it and how pain and fatigue were basically irrelevant considerations.

I have a great deal of respect for anybody willing to put themselves out there and play derby, but I don't think I've ever felt respect for pure competitive spirit in my life as strongly as I did at that moment. Quite a few times in the past couple of days I have gotten literally choked up thinking about it. I don't really do "choked up." This was a considerable exception.

'Course that's not really the end of the story; we were still behind 87-85, but Beth Amp got 2-0 to tie it next and it was a new game again. Later in the game Hoosier Mama saved the day as our only blocker out on the floor during a powerjam for Naptown, managing to keep their jammer dead slow, out of bounds or on the floor for most of it.

Jackie herself got the lead back late with a huge 19-0 in the last five minutes, and jammed the last two frames as well. That second half was full of serious heroics up and down our roster. But when I think of this tournament and that game, I know I am always going to remember that image of Jackie Daniels on the bench, barely able to breathe, eyes on the next jam, saying "I wanna win. I wanna win." and ready to go right back out there again.


Now, I was not privy to the conversation on Windy's bench, but Jackie's actions on the track were one of the best sports moments (not just derby moments) that I have ever experienced. First, the collision. I have been blindsided by 330-pound D-1 College prospects on crackback blocks. I once initiated a collision with a catcher that resulted in a separated shoulder (me), a broken jaw (him), a broken collarbone (him), and a three-game suspension (me). But I can assure you that I have never been a part of a collision like this. Had she merely left the track under her own power, it would have been amazing. Instead, she dragged herself through the pack for four more points in an extremely tight contest. She then proceeded to be the closer in her team's victory.

Folks, this was Michael Jordan fighting through the flu to put up 38 in the NBA Finals. This was Byron Leftwich completing passes despite needing his linemen to carry him down the field between plays. This was Duncan Keith returning from the locker room two shifts after losing seven teeth to get the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup Finals. If you were there in Indy, you witnessed greatness.

Best Afterparty: Circle City Derby Girls - I am not usually a fan of karaoke, but the ladies from Indy made it work. It was a fun atmosphere, and the skaters (gasp!) actually took time to mingle with fans, instead of staying in little cliques. (Honorable Mention: Steel City, for the excellent DJ and great party music)

There you have it. 2011 was a great year for me as a nomadic derby fan, and I'll close with my 2012 Derby Resolutions:

1. Attend at least two high-level regular season and/or playoff tournaments.
2. Attend at least four CRG home bouts
3. Attend at least one CRG road bout
4. Attend at least one Circle City home bout
5. Attend at least two Glass City Rollers home bouts
6. Attend at least two home (interleague) bouts of other WFTDA leagues
7. Attend at least two home (interleague) bouts of other non-WFTDA leagues
8. Attend at least one banked-track bout
9. Purchase Dragon speech recognition software, and
10. Use it to actually complete recaps of at least 80% of the bouts I attend.

Friday, December 2, 2011

I Didn't Mean to Turn You On

Well, since I have lately been an abysmal failure at posting recaps, I thought I'd try something different today. Instead of frustrating myself by being unable to push through an eight-hour or more writing project, I'm just going to give some quick thoughts on a couple of current issues in roller derby. I have a feeling that some of the things I have to say here will upset some people, but it's not like I've never been widely reviled before. (I was in school to become a lawyer, after all.)

(Best John McLaughlin voice) Issue One: What to make of the "20 Derby Girls to turn you on" and "20 Roller Derby Girls who will turn you on to the Sport" articles?

First, let me be very clear that the original (now deleted) post was an absolute piece of crap. It was merely a bunch of photos (unattributed ones at that) pulled from random places and accompanied by banal and pathetic captions. I'm not sure how widespread the site's viewership is, but I hope it is minimal. I doubt that I've said anything controversial thus far.

Now, here's where I may get some disagreement. I am not opposed to the purported aim of that post, but merely to the execution. It's time for me to come out of the closet and proudly be who I truly am. I have been a devoted fan of roller derby since I first saw a bout, and I am truly drawn to the athleticism and strategy involved. But you already knew that. You can't understand the full measure of my love for the sport, however, without one additional revelation: I like women. I mean, really, really like women. I like attractive women more than I do baseball, football, roller derby, and Murray Head's "One Night in Bangkok." I am pretty sure that I like them slightly more than I do water and air. I'm fairly certain that I was born this way.

It should not be surprising, then, to observe that most of my favorite skaters are not only very talented, but also very easy on the eyes. I admit that I have a mental ranking of the hottest skaters on some of my favorite teams (Cincy, Circle City, Windy, Denver, etc.). I don't believe in the slightest that highlighting the physical attractiveness of the athletes detracts from the public taking the sport seriously. In fact, I believe that it is a legitimate avenue to bring a more widespread fan base to the sport. After all, thousands of women drooling over Tom Brady have not managed to tarnish the NFL. Women who come to the ballpark to see David Wright or sit at the Jake in the "Grady's Ladies" section have grown to be true and more knowledgeable baseball fans.

It seems that roller derby has a split personality when it comes to this issue. The same folks who cheer the inclusion of a naked Suzy Hotrod in ESPN's magazine get offended when others "marginalize" the sport by paying attention to the "sex(y) sells" angle. There is a reason that old-school roller derby types referred to nice breasts as "tickets." As long as the fans who come to ogle are treated to a great athletic competition, the sport comes out ahead. I will never claim to be an expert on "empowerment" or women's issues in general, but I do not understand why anyone is offended to be thought attractive. Maybe it's just that I'm not much to look at, but I would be more than happy to be eyed amorously once in a while. So, I think that a well done "20 Sexiest Derby Girls" article in a mainstream publication or website would be a plus.

Enter the "Derby Deeds" website, which quickly moved to right the situation by providing a list of 20 skaters who would turn someone on to the sport of roller derby. Again, I found the intention better than the execution. First and foremost, is there a single person reading that website who is not already into roller derby? Beyond that, however, I do have some issues with the list. First, allow me to give due credit. The writers highlighted some excellent and underrated skaters (Begeman, Mouse, Four Closer, etc.). Also, many of the skaters shown were of the "clean-cut" variety. Here's where I get into trouble again, but I am not a fan of extensive tattoos, especially on women. I am fine with every person's right to self-expression and body decoration, but it just does nothing for me to see large, garish tattoos covering every surface. Disregarding for a moment my earlier point that non-derby fans (or future derby fans, as I like to think of them) don't read Derby Deeds, these are the images of the sport that will appeal to a wider, more mainstream audience. I have no problems rooting for the less traditional-looking athlete, in any sport, nor in appreciating their talents. Except for the NBA's collection of thugs, though, every major sport's most popular and marketable athletes are the clean-cut types. You don't see Aaron Rodgers, Derek Jeter, or Sidney Crosby sporting the tattoo sleeves and multiple visible piercings.

Since my praise for Derby Deeds devolved into a rant, there are a few more problems with the list. First, it's extremely LA-centric. Seriously, three different LA Derby Dolls, and another from Angel City? Add in the other California teams, and they're nearing half of the entire list. Also, some of the skaters were profiled by those who have rarely seen them skate. Would it be too much to solicit testimonials from more knowledgeable sources? The guy who wrote K Lethal's blurb has seen her once? While I certainly agree that she is immensely talented and aggressive, I had to laugh when he claimed that one of her great strengths was avoiding fouls. K Lethal does many things extremely well, but avoiding the box while wearing the star is not one of them. The inclusion of skaters in face paint also detracts from the list. What serious, mainstream sport features top athletes in full-face white paint? Finally, I know that any finite list will omit many great skaters, but no list of the top 20 anything in roller derby is complete without Jackie Daniels. If anyone saw her performance at NC Regionals this year and didn't come away a derby fan, I have no hope for that person's soul.

Issue Two: Pros and cons of the World Cup.

Many of my points are in response to those made by "Commissioner" Jerry Seltzer and commenters on his blog, so you might want to look at that here first. I have not had the chance to watch any of the action thus far, but there have been complaints that the venue is not "World Cup" caliber. I have not personally seen it. I agree that if at all possible, tournaments of this magnitude should be held in excellent arenas. The current realities of the sport, however, mean that such opportunities will not always exist. Simply look at the sites for some of the 2012 WFTDA Playoffs. The North Central Region will bout in Chicago? Indy? Cincinnati? Milwaukee? Cleveland? St. Louis? No, try the sporting mecca of Niagara Falls, more than 250 miles from the nearest team that made the 2011 NC field. Of course, I'd love to see the World Cup played in Chicago, Seattle, or another city with a top roller derby venue. But, I'd rather the skaters have this opportunity in a subpar arena than nowhere at all.

One major problem is the competitiveness of the matchups. When Team USA's Heather Juska posted about the World Cup groupings, I stated that I would take the USA minus 300 points against either of its two competitors. The team's first bout resulted in a 377-8 drubbing of New Zealand. The closest bout of day one was an 83-point victory by Australia over Germany. My patriotic fervor aside, it's very difficult to get excited about a tournament in which every single contest is a blowout. I admit that I don't have the answer to this problem. The Commish proposed a system in which the top six seeds compete for three of the four semifinal positions and the bottom seven seeds compete for the final berth. While that would provide at least some decent early-round matchups, I'd be very upset to be on the fourth-best team and miss making the semis in favor of a team that may be nowhere near the same quality. Aside from the gap between the USA and the rest of the field, I think the differences will narrow over the next few years. I'd be in favor of another World Cup in four years. In the meantime, I'd love to see an annual four-team All-Star round robin in December among the top skaters in each WFTDA region.

Now, for a few "quick hits." A commenter doesn't think the organizers of the tournament should be allowed to call it the "World Cup," instead reserving that title for the soccer and rugby versions. Another thinks the event is diminished because Japan was excluded over compliance issues. First, I have a major problem with an organization as riddled with corruption as FIFA getting to declare the world champion of anything. Second, I believe that any tournament whose champion can legitimately make a claim to the title of best team in the world in its sport can rightfully be called the World Championhip. People take baseball, football, and other US-based sports to task for bestowing the title of "world champions." Can anyone legitimately argue that the best football (in the American sense of the word) team in any other country could beat the worst team in the NFL? Could even the national teams of Japan or Cuba beat the Yankees, Rangers, or Cardinals in a best-of-seven? No and no. Since no non-participating nation has a team that could rival the eventual champion USA, I have no problem with this being a "World Cup." As for the Japan argument, international competitions have rules and standards. If a country fails to comply, be it this event, the Olympics, or anything in between, that team should not be allowed to participate.

Well, that was a bit longer than expected, but it was nice to break through the writer's block. I hope that I haven't offended too many. I also hope that you all love me for my mind and my writing, but I wouldn't quibble if the ladies wanted to see me as a sex object as well.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

The trip this past weekend was a new one. I paid my first visit to Indianapolis, to see the Circle City Derby Girls (CCDG) play a home doubleheader. I had seen Circle City play three times before: they played at the Cincinnati Rollergirls' Silent Lambs, then their rookies played an exhibition bout here in Toledo, then earlier this season, they played here against Glass City for a full bout. I have really enjoyed watching them skate in the past, and I searched in vain for an opportunity to visit them in Indy last season. Saturday's bout happened to fit into my travel schedule (between two weekends in Cincy), and I was excited for the opportunity to visit the Forum at Fishers.

I dropped off my dog for her overnight play date and got on the road Saturday morning. I made my way across to Indiana and down I-69 to Fort Wayne to pick up my fraternity brother, Mark, who was joining me for the festivities. He was not a derby virgin, having seen a few bouts in Fort Wayne, so it wasn't necessary for me to explain the rules and such. We caught up a bit as we made a smooth drive the rest of the way to our hotel. Upon our arrival, we were told that the hotel had experienced a power outage, and that only some of the power was back online. Namely, the elevator and TV/Internet were completely down, and each guest room had power to either the main living area or the bathroom, but not both. Mark volunteered to go upstairs and see which one our proposed room had, and he reported power in the main room, so we opted to finish checking in. We were cautiously optimistic that by the time we returned, eight hours or so later, things would be fixed.

We had decided to have dinner at Cheeseburger in Paradise before the bout. I am a big Jimmy Buffett fan, having seen him in concert more than a dozen times and in four different cities. I did visit his other restaurant chain, Margaritaville Cafe, on a drive down to Key West when I was a law student in Miami. I always wanted to eat at Cheeseburger in Paradise while on one of my many visits to Chicago, but it's pretty far out in the suburbs, and just not worth the drive. The decor was pretty much what one would expect from a Buffett eatery, with beach chairs in the waiting area and a tiki bar in the middle. I was a bit surprised by the music, however. I expected either an all-Jimmy playlist or the Radio Margaritaville satellite radio station. Instead, we got a Buffett song every fifth or sixth tune, and some off-mood choices (Nickelback, Run-DMC) thrown in among various country songs. At least the restaurant lived up to its name when it came to my entree. I opted for the "Chesapeake Bay Burger," which is topped with a medley of cheeses, lump crab meat, and crab-and-spinach dip. It and the fries were excellent, and we polished everything off in record time.

We made one more quick stop on the way to the Forum at Fishers, knowing that we could make the 6pm "doors open" with a few minutes to spare. Upon pulling into the parking lot, it seemed like there were quite a few cars there over an hour before the first bout. When I opened the car door, I could hear the garbled sounds of a PA system bleeding through the wall. What kind of place runs PA announcements before the doors even open? At that moment, I got a sinking feeling. Had I actually checked the time on the tickets, or did I just assume the CRG schedule of doors at 6pm, bout at 7pm? A quick look at the tickets confirmed that I had been incorrect, and we were glad that we at least arrived before the action started.

We made our way into the Forum, which is primarily an ice hockey arena. The wall behind the team benches was covered with hockey banners, while a set of bleachers five or six rows high sat behind the boards, running the entire length of the backstretch. Ample space for suicide seating surrounded the track, especially in the "end zones," where another four or five rows of folding chairs were available behind it. As we walked in and made our way around the outside of the track, the first and most obvious thing I noticed was the air conditioning. After the previous week's sauna at the Cincinnati Gardens, it felt great. We made our way to my favorite derby-watching position, turn three, but had to settle for seats in the second row of chairs. I have done suicide seating at a number of venues before, but not recently, and my legs and back begged to be spared three hours sitting on the floor. I readied my scorebook to take notes, while Mark wandered off to get programs and a frozen custard cone.

Before I move on with the bout recaps, it's disclaimer time! I am merely a fan, not a journalist. While I do watch the action carefully, I'm very likely to mess up a detail here and there. A few factors made my job difficult this time, mainly difficulty reading numbers on jerseys (especially the Dire Skates), and some scoreboard issues (points suddenly appearing from previous jams, the fact that it was more or less behind me). And now, on with the recaps.

*** The evening's first bout featured the homestanding Circle City Derby Girls (CCDG) Party Crashers (B-Team) versus the Dire Skates of Richmond, Indiana. Cassie Khaos took the line for CCDG, while Foxy Hellrider opposed her in the first jam. Circle City's Megan Enemies provided an excellent assist to allow Cassie a clear lane on the inside, and the resulting grand slam gave CCDG a 5-0 lead. Nova Blaze followed with a clean 4-0 for Circle City, and after a scoreless jam, Dire jammer Maniac Jack was sent to the penalty box. The Party Crashers' pack did an excellent job slowing things down, enabling Cassie to collect two grand slams before she went to the sin bin herself. The Dire Skates managed three points after the jammer switch, and the score stood at 19-3 in favor of CCDG.

*** Foxy Hellrider started the next jam all by herself, but she apparently didn't realize that her pack had given her a "no pack" kneeling start. She stood by as the pack inched ahead, and her advantage slowly ticked away. A good opportunity for the ladies from Richmond turned into a scoreless jam. With 23 minutes remaining in the half, Nova Blaze again took the star for CCDG, going against Dire's RollHer Zombie. CCDG's Cherry Slapstick and Jackie Bauer provided a solid wall at the back, and Nova Blaze chewed up the open track en route to a 20-1 jam. Circle City's excellent pack play continued on the following jam, as it put on the brakes to force a 20-foot call and give jammer Wrecker Becker lead status on the way to a 14-0 result. CCDG's Strawberry Smackquiri threw a punishing block to keep Dire off the board, and Circle City's lead was 53-4.

*** The Dire Skates caught a break on the next jam, as Cassie Khaos was sent off on a major back block. With the help of a sharp assist by pivot Stubborn Itch, Dire picked up two grand slams. Unfortunately, any chance for Dire to keep the momentum was lost to yet another jammer penalty. Nova Blaze and Wrecker Becker started the next two jams unopposed, and CCDG picked up a combined 24-0. On the very next jam, Dire's Emily KickNsum took the star to the box, and Cassie Khaos called the jam quickly to give CCDG's next jammer a solo start. Circle City's pack took a knee, and a wall of four Dire skaters couldn't so much as slow Nova Blaze, who collected a pair of grand slams. With nine minutes to go in the half, the game was getting out of hand, and CCDG led, 90-14.

*** After a pair of scoreless jams, Jackie Bauer completely shut down the Dire jammer at the front of the pack, giving Nova Blaze a clean 6-0 jam. The next time out, Wrecker Becker took the jammer penalty for CCDG, but her pack (Nova Blaze, Bunnie Low-Browski, Dread Pirate Roberta, and Barb Dwyer) did an excellent job killing it off, allowing Dire a mere 2-0 victory. A pair of uneventful jams left the score 96-20 in favor of CCDG at the half.

*** The second half began with CCDG scoring 30 unanswered points over the first five jams. Foxy Hellrider then scored a 2-0 jam, significant because it was the only jam in which Nova Blaze lost the point differential (9 wins, 1 loss, 1 tie). The next three jams were a blur of penalties, and the score stood at CCDG 132, Dire 31, with 13 minutes remaining. Four mostly uneventful jams pushed the Circle City advantage to 108 before Dire's Necessary Roughness showed some nice speed and balance to win a 9-0 jam over CCDG's Megan Enemies. The Party Crashers took the next four jams by a total of 22-0, a stretch highlighted by Jackie Bauer picking up a grand slam in her first jam of the evening and Nova Blaze showing off some nifty jukes to add a 4-0 of her own. Jackie Bauer and RollHer Zombie tallied four points each as time expired, leaving CCDG with a 175-54 victory.

*** The Party Crashers used a three-jammer rotation for most of the bout. The most effective of them, and the bout co-MVP, was Nova Blaze. As previously mentioned, she won the point differential on nine of eleven jams, for a cumulative score of 68-5 in her favor. Nova showed nice speed and seemed equally comfortable racing by on the outside or picking her way through a congested pack. She had excellent balance and seemed to shrug off most of the hits from the Dire Skates' blockers. Perhaps most importantly, I don't believe she took the jammer's star to the penalty box even once. Nova even chipped in with some effective blocking when she wasn't wearing the star.

*** Wrecker Becker looked like the fastest skater on the track for this bout, and she also wasn't afraid to pound her way through an opposing wall a few times. She did take a few jammer penalties, but her teammates mostly bailed her out with some great penalty killing. Cassie Khaos had a few big jams, but also succumbed to the whistle a few times. Toward the end of the bout, both Jackie Bauer and Megan Enemies got into the action from the jammer line, taking the star twice each. While Megan was shut out in her attempts, Jackie acquitted herself well, winning one jam and tying the other.

*** Primarily for her blocking work, Jackie Bauer is my other co-MVP for the Party Crashers. She had a great combination of nimble feet for positional blocking and powerful shoulders to lay a big hit. Strawberry Smackquiri also received some consideration, based on her strong work at the back of the pack. Bunnie Low-Browski showed off some punishing hits, while Bona Contention seemed to be everywhere, doing a great job on both offensive and defensive pack play.

*** For the Dire Skates, Foxy Hellrider was tireless from the jammer line. She took the star on 13 occasions, and although she won only three of those, she showed good toughness and some nice moves. Aside from Foxy, Dire employed a very eclectic jammer corps, including RollHer Zombie, Emily KickNsum, Malice B. Stopless, Maniac Jack, Necessary Roughness, and Six Inch Killettos. The strange rotation left none of them truly able to establish a rhythm against tough CCDG packs. Dire's packs often seemed disorganized, and they had significant trouble keeping walls together. Unfortunately, the difficult-to-read numbers on Dire's jerseys made it very difficult for me to single out praiseworthy skaters within the packs.

*** After a short intermission, which featured a kids hockey contest and me voraciously downing a cake batter flavored custard cone, it was time for the second bout. The visiting Des Moines Derby Dames brought only eight skaters (maximum roster is 14) to clash with the CCDG Socialites (A-Team). While the Dames were outnumbered, they were by no means overmatched. CCDG's Roll-R-Damage took the first jam of the bout by a slim 1-0 margin over Des Moines' Cosmo Disco. For the next 16 minutes, it was all Des Moines. The aptly named Stella Italiana ("stella" means "star" in Italian) was buonissima in taking advantage of Circle City jammer Vivi Section's penalty. The Dames' pack moved like a precision timepiece, always in the right spot, and Stella flew around the track, at one point getting a hellacious shirt-whip from Show Stopper. The jam ended 24 points later.

*** From there, things fell into a pattern. The Des Moines pack would beat on the Circle City jammer until she took a penalty. Then, Des Moines would quickly call the jam and bring in Stella (who also skates for derby powerhouse Oly Rollers) to jam unopposed for the big power jam. On the third jam, the imposing Des Moines blocker Megger Bomb unleashed hit after punishing hit on petite CCDG jammer Liberty Spykes. Liberty eventually incurred a penalty for a track cut, and the Dames' Autopsy Turvey immediately called the jam. Then, Stella came in and scored an unopposed 23 points, bringing the CCDG deficit to 51-1 after just nine minutes of play.

*** CCDG's Robin Sock'em was the next jammer to head to the sin bin, but this time, her pack killed the penalty nicely. Faye Stunaway and Salacious T formed a sweet double bridge to prevent their front blockers from going past the 20-foot mark, and Kimmie S'more finished the action with an emphatic jammer take-out. Unfortunately, Roll-R-Damage went to the box on the very next jam, and the pattern repeated, with Stella scoring 9-0 on the ensuing power jam. Cosmo Disco then picked up nine points on two far-too-easy passes to the outside. I'm not certain that she was even touched on either scoring pass. Autopsy Turvey added another 11, as Stella did some nice blocking, forming a tough twosome at the back of the pack with MOAB to bottle up Liberty Spykes. Des Moines had scored 82 unanswered points to take a commanding lead midway through the first half.

*** Robin Sock'em came out for the next jam, and she finally put an end to the carnage, using her speed and nimble footwork to rack up nine points. Salacious T put a big hit on The Dames' Smallsbury Steak to keep her from getting through the pack, and Smallsbury eventually was sent to the box near the end of the jam. Roll-R-Damage started the next jam solo, but she was slowed by an excellent front wall. CCDG's Shock Hop sacrificed herself, drawing an obvious penalty in order to break up the wall and allow her teammate to score. Roll-R-Damage picked up eight points before being sent off herself, and Smallsbury Steak picked up nine after the jammer switch, putting the score at Des Moines 91, Circle City 18.

*** The next three jams were relatively uneventful, and Des Moines added to their lead with a cumulative 12-2 margin. On the ensuing jam, Roll-R-Damage was held back by a great front three-wall of Autopsy Turvey, MOAB, and Neuro Sis. Des Moines' jammer Cosmo Disco eventually took a trip to the sin bin, and Roll-R-Damage took a quick four points before calling it off. Vivi Section then had a chance to jam unopposed, but a great jammer take-out by MOAB left the jam scoreless. Cosmo Disco again came out to jam, racking up a grand slam against Liberty Spykes before a thunderous hit by Ionic Bondage sent her hard to the floor on the outside. Cosmo was shaken up, and the jam was called for her to receive some medical attention. She would not return to jam for the remainder of the night, but I'm not sure if she returned as a blocker. A quick 3-2 jam for Des Moines closed the half at 111-26.

*** The second half was dramatically different from the first. Big point totals for individual jams were rare, and the teams seemed very evenly matched. After Autopsy Turvey started things off with a quick 4-0, Robin Sock'em took the line for CCDG against Show Stopper. Both packs did some nice work, but Faye Stunaway cleared out blocker Stella Italiana to give Robin lead jammer status, which she converted into a grand slam.

*** A pair of low-scoring jams passed, and then Roll-R-Damage lined up against Stella. The CCDG pack had made a major adjustment at halftime. Throughout the first half, Circle City had tried to set up two-walls, but mostly ended up as four individual blockers. Stella, with her explosive speed and quick cuts, danced through time and time again. In the second half, CCDG went primarily to three-walls and kept them together, leaving Stella fewer gaps and knocking her down or out of bounds more consistently. The strategy change worked well in this instance, as Stella took the star to the penalty box. Circle City's pack displayed a textbook example of trapping a blocker and slowing the pack, giving Roll-R-Damage a chance to put ten points on the board. That 10-2 result was the highest point total for any jam in the second half, and it shrunk the deficit to 120-42.

*** After Stella took a quick, sharp 4-0 jam, Vivi Section put together her best jam of the bout. Vivi was extremely quick and decisive in and out of her cuts, generally going against three blockers with no assists from her pack. On her first scoring pass, she squeezed past the final Des Moines blocker on the outside, tip-toeing by to stay just to the inside of the boundary. Thanks to her great moves and balance, she won the jam 8-0. A series of forgettable jams then left the score at 130-58 in favor of Des Moines, with 15 minutes remaining.

*** From there, neither team managed to score more than five points on a single jam. The most exciting moment of this final portion of the game came when jammer Robin Sock'em took a strong whip in turn two, only to be thrown into the business end of a punishing hit. Over the last 15 minutes, CCDG outscored their opponent by a slim 30-24. The final score was Des Moines 154, Circle City 88.

*** Circle City employed a four-jammer rotation throughout the bout. While it's a close call, I decided on Robin Sock'em as my co-MVP for the Socialites. Robin won the point differential on six of her ten jams, including five of six in the second half. She wasn't the fastest jammer on the track, but she was extremely tough, and she seemed to have an edge in the mental game. Robin made smart decisions and yielded only a single, low-scoring power jam via jammer penalty. This quiet consistency earned her the nod as the top jammer for her squad.

*** Roll-R-Damage was the same fast, strong, and aggressive skater I remembered from the bout against Glass City. While she did get out of control once in a while, her passion for the sport made it easy to see why she's a crowd favorite. In terms of pure, all-around talent, she may well be the best in her league. Vivi Section had an up-and-down game, but once her team got it together in the second half, she proved easily the equal of her talented opponents. Like most of the Socialites jammers, her stature makes her dependent on great pack work at times, but she also showed the skill to take control of a jam on her own when necessary. Liberty Spykes had difficulty getting on track, as she was consistently battered by the excellent Des Moines blockers. She has excellent speed, and she was able to keep pace with Stella Italiana on the open track, but Liberty often found herself stranded at the back of the pack.

*** Quite a few blockers turned in noteworthy performances for CCDG. Chief among them was my other co-MVP, Faye Stunaway. Faye has good size and speed, and she's certainly able to send an opponent into the suicide seats. Her greatest attribute by far, however, is her derby acumen. She is one of the smartest skaters I have seen, and she always seems to see things develop just before others do. So many times in this bout, she used her good lateral quickness to slide into an opening, shutting down an opponent's lane or providing an assist just when her jammer needed it.

*** Other effective Circle City blockers included Salacious T, who provided the muscle with some powerful hits. Trouble Helix helped in dishing out the pain. Kimmie S'more joined in the hit parade, while Lady Miss Bier and Ionic Bondage quietly turned in good performances, especially in the second half.

*** For Des Moines, Stella Italiana was clearly the, er... star. She was lightning fast and had the shifty moves of a star running back. Autopsy Turvey and Cosmo Disco were also impressive with the star. On the blocking side, I was extremely impressed by Megger Bomb, who has excellent quickness to go with her size and power. MOAB also did some excellent work in the pack, joining Show Stopper in shutting down the Circle City attack in the first half.

After the bouts, we made the short trek over to Claude and Annie's for the after-party. It was a bit slow at first, and we grabbed a booth and ordered some appetizers. I had told Mark on the way down that I would not likely sing anything at karaoke, but held out the possibility of doing Biz Markie's "Just a Friend." He took a song list and jotted a few down as I scanned the door for skaters with whom I wanted to chat. He took his slips up to the DJ, and within a few minutes, he was earning his title as the white man with the least rhythm in the world. He stole the only song I would have considered, and I decided to spare the crowd my attempts at singing.

I spotted Roll-R-Damage and sent a drink her way. She was very gracious and friendly when she made her way over to say hello. She remembered the good things I had to say about her in an earlier post, and I really enjoyed talking to her. I used the same tactic to meet both Vivi Section and Robin Sock'em, both of whom were very sweet and willing to share their insights. As I waded into the crowd near the Karaoke stage, I managed to catch up with both of the Circle City Skaters I had previously met, Faye Stunaway and Liberty Spykes. Both of them were as bright and charming as I remembered. Just before we paid our tab, I managed to catch up with Nova Blaze. We had a short, but fun, conversation. I definitely look forward to seeing all of them again, and hopefully meeting more, when I return to Indy for North Central Regionals this fall.

We left the bar and made the short drive back to our hotel, where power had been fully restored. A bit of channel surfing closed out the evening, and we decided to sleep in before heading out of town. We weren't ready to leave the hotel until after 11am, so we discussed lunch options. I was secretly thinking I'd be more than happy to go back to Cheeseburger in Paradise, when Mark unexpectedly suggested just that. After a good lunch, I took him back to Fort Wayne and continued my easy drive home to Toledo.

So, I'll finish with my overall impressions of the trip.

THE GOOD:

*** The roller derby action. Granted, the teams weren't on the level of many others I've seen this year (Rose, Denver, Cincy, Windy, and such), but there were excellent skills on display. The caliber of play was strong, much better than I'd expect of WFTDA Apprentice leagues. Circle City has grown so much in terms of their play since I first saw them, and I truly believe this is a team on the rise.

*** The "cool" parts of the venue. Namely, the air conditioning and the outstanding frozen custard.

*** The (minimal) between-bout activities. The only non-derby activity was the kids having a hockey shooting contest. The absence of filler allowed for two full 60-minute bouts.

*** The charity. Paws and Think connects at-risk people with at-risk pets, and it was nice to see them with a table and a presence at the bout. I was very disappointed at the prior week's CRG bout when I brought a number of games and items for the Yellow Ribbon Project, only to find nothing but a small, unmanned box on the floor of one concourse.

*** The after-party. This was very different from my two most recent after-parties, the overpriced dance club at Wild West Showdown and the semi-private room and general cliquishness (I'm not sure that's a word) of Cincinnati. The bar had good munchies, and the skaters were much more willing to engage with fans than at any other I've attended. Although I'm not generally a fan of karaoke, it seemed to set a good tone for getting people to mingle and enjoy the evening. Of course, the best part was getting to talk with some great skaters and fun people!

*** The food at Cheeseburger in Paradise. Mmmmm, Chesapeake Bay Burger.

THE BAD:

*** The venue in general. I've been spoiled by the bigger crowds and more derby-centric set-ups of places like the Cincinnati Gardens, the UIC Pavilion, and even Toledo's Seagate Centre. By my count, there couldn't have been more than 200-300 fans in attendance, and they weren't too vocal for the most part. Also, the hockey scoreboard was tough to see from my end of the room, and it couldn't manage the triple-digit scores common to roller derby.

*** The lack of a meet-and-greet / autograph session at the venue after the bout. Circle City should take a cue from CRG on this, as this type of thing would really help to build the fan base (especially families).

*** The fact that smoking is allowed inside Claude and Annie's. I've come to appreciate states such as Ohio and Michigan, where I can go to a bar and not inhale smoke all night.

*** The music at Cheeseburger in Paradise.

THE UGLY:

*** Mark's rendition of "Just a Friend" at karaoke.

THE FINAL VERDICT: In the end, this roller derby trip was unlike any other I'd experienced, in ways good, bad, and just different. I continued to be more impressed by Circle City as a league, and I'm certainly willing to plan one or more trips to see them skate next season. I know that Indy has multiple derby leagues, but I hope local fans come out in greater numbers to support CCDG in future bouts. Thanks to the Circle City Derby Girls for inviting me down!




(Edited by Ruby)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gonna Make You Sweat

This past Saturday's trip was a quick down-and-back to Cincinnati to see the Cincinnati Rollergirls (CRG) host the Windy City Rollers (WCR) of Chicago. I admit that things got very steamy, and I didn't at all mind getting sweaty with dozens of attractive women. Unfortunately, it was just the high-90's temperatures and the lack of air conditioning at the Cincinnati Gardens. The drive down was uneventful, and I arrived around 6:15 for the 7pm bout. After stopping to chat with Trauma out on the concourse, I bought some tickets for the June 18th bout for friends, then used my season ticket to enter and head down to the floor seats. Despite the scoreboard issues I mentioned in previous posts (more on that later), I once again chose to sit in the first row at turn three, facing down the backstretch. I arrived too late to catch any of the other skaters before warm-ups, so I stopped by the textcast table to chat with Rabid Derby Fan Earl and retreated to my seat to set up my scorebook for the evening's notes. The introductions for the first bout were followed by a shaky rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, and it was time for the action.

As always, let's start with the disclaimers: I am not a professional, just a fan. Although I watch the action closely, it is highly likely that I will credit the wrong person for something or be off on a detail or three. The uniforms of Windy City's Second Wind (impossible for fans to read the red numbers on light blue shirts) made things difficult, as did the lack of period and jam time on the scoreboard I could see. And now, on to the recap.

*** The evening's first bout was a battle of the B-Teams, with Cincy's Silent Lambs taking on Windy City's Second Wind. I was present for these teams' matchup last season at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago, in which WCR overpowered the Lambs. Based on those memories and the fact that the Lambs have lost a lot of talent and experience in the blocking ranks, I was just hoping the Lambs could avoid a blowout. The first four jams did not do much for my confidence, as Windy City scored in surgically precise single passes of fours and fives. The lone early highlight for the Lambs was an explosive jammer take out by Kitten Kicker as the third jam came to a close. Each of the four jammers in the Silent Lambs' rotation (Hop Devil, Hot Slice, Miss Print, and Cherry Choke) was shut out on her first turn with the star, and the Second Wind took a 17-0 lead.

*** WCR's Unicoroner looked primed to continue her team's dominance, putting a hellacious juke on CRG's Pistolwhippin Wendy. However, she was sent to the box soon thereafter, giving Cincy's Hop Devil a power jam opportunity. Hop Devil managed a grand slam, but the real story was Windy City's penalty killing. Tamikaze led the way with some outstanding work to keep Hop Devil slowed, and CRG lost a golden opportunity, merely matching WCR's five points on the jam. This was actually the first of four consecutive power jams overall (two for CRG, one for WCR, one for CRG).

*** In the very next jam, Miss Print took the jammer line with the Second Wind's Ska Face. Ska face got the early advantage, but CRG's Maime not only leveled her with a huge hit, but also drew a penalty on the Chicago jammer. Miss Print got to work immediately on the power jam, her pack keeping things nice and slow as she tallied two grand slams with some nice bursts of speed on the outside. The WCR lead stood at 26-15. Hot Slice took the star next for CRG, looking to keep the momentum going. Unfortunately, she took a major track cut, and WCR's Wreck N Shrew got to show what she could do on the power jam. A depleted CRG pack was no match for a smart and physical Second Wind contingent, which featured some outstanding assists by Tori Adore and Sunshine N Painbows. WCR posted a 19-0 jam and took a 30-point lead.

*** The momentum shifted yet again on the next jam, as Windy City's jammer went to the box, and Hop Devil posted an 11-0 power jam, cutting the deficit to 19 points with five minutes remaining in the half. That was truly the last time the outcome of the bout was in question, as Windy City reeled off three consecutive big jams to end the half, closing on a 28-0 run to lead by a score of 83-26.

*** As the skaters took to the track after their break, it was as though halftime never occurred. Ska Face and Wreck N Shrew picked up when they left off, starting the half with 9-0 and 10-0 jams, respectively. They were once again aided by some sharp offensive pack play, but poor number visibility prevents me from giving credit to any individual WCR blockers for it. As the Second Wind eased across the 100-point barrier, the Silent Lambs looked powerless to stop the onslaught. Nearly every time CRG attempted to build a wall, a Windy City blocker would appear and take just the right angle to break it wide open. CRG ended up trying to play a lot of one-on-one defense, and that's not a style of play that suits them well. Kitten Kicker had another nice hit on the Windy City jammer, but CRG were down 102-26 with 16 minutes remaining.

*** The Sient Lambs had one more push left in them, and some strong pack work kept Chicago's jammer in the pack as Hop Devil got lead jammer and a 4-2 jam win. Next, both teams featured players taking the star for the first time on the evening. WCR's Sunshine N Painbows took the jam 4-0 over CRG's Polly Rocket, as Kitten Kicker took (at least) her third trip to the sin bin, leaving a pack disadvantage for Cincy. Cherry Choke took lead jammer for the Lambs on the next jam, but despite some fine blocking by Iona Pare and Poppy Chulo, only managed a 4-4 tie. The teams reassembled, and WCR's Karmageddon took lead jammer. CRG's pack did a wonderful job recycling her, eventually forcing her to call it off scoreless. The Second Wind led, 112-34 with 11 minutes to play.

*** From there, it was all Windy City. Wreck N Shrew put up a 15-0 jam, as WCR pivot Mo Vengeance slammed Miss Print to the floor. On the next jam, Poppy Chulo, Bex Pistol, and Polly Rocket managed to keep a strong three-wall together at the back of the pack, springing Hop Devil as the lead jammer. Hop Devil could have called the jam with a small point advantage, but passed, leaving the Second Wind a slight 4-3 edge and a margin nearing 100 points. After a quick 4-0 for WCR, Mo Vengeance struck the death blow, making effortless laps with the star as her pack shut down Hot Slice for a 25-0 differential.

*** With only four minutes remaining and a 123-point gap, both teams continued to play hard. Tamikaze put up a 5-0 jam over Cherry Choke, thanks to great blocking by WCR's Red Zeppelin. On the evening's last jam, Hot Slice got the lead for CRG and managed to make a great move, going limbo-champion low to escape a Chicago blocker. Unfortunately, she was sent off soon after that, and the bout drew to a close. The final score was Windy City 170, Cincy 44.

*** For CRG, none of the four primary jammers found any consistent success against the fearsome Windy City packs. No Silent Lambs jammer scored more than seven points in non-power jams for the evening, and none won the score differential more often than she lost it. In fact, the entire CRG squad only won the point differential in four of 23 jams, only one of which was a non-power jam.

*** Even though Cincinnati's blockers lost many of the battles with WCR's packs, a few noteworthy performances stood out. I'll start with the bout MVP for the Silent Lambs, Poppy Chulo. Poppy showed the power and toughness to fight off some quick and powerful opponents, while often using her position as pivot to keep an overmatched CRG pack together. Bex Pistol played a strong all-around game, mixing it up inside some tight packs as well as using her quickness to establish and re-establish her position as WCR's strong offensive pack play splintered the Lambs' defense. Kitten Kicker provided some explosive hits that belie her slender frame. Unfortunately, these big one-on-one shots also lefther out of position on some occasions and led to numerous sojourns to the penalty box. I also noticed Maime and Iona Pare providing some good positional blocking.

*** For Windy City, there are plenty of kudos to go around. All three primary jammers (Ska Face, Wreck N Shrew, and Unicoroner) were very effective. By my count, a total of seven skaters jammed at least once for the Second Wind, and not a single one looked out of place. By far, however, I was most impressed by WCR's packs. I have never seen a B-Team play offense like that (and not many A-Teams). On only rare occasions could CRG keep a wall intact for more than a couple of seconds. WCR's blockers were seemingly never out of position, and they were also very skilled physically. The cream of the crop was Sunshine N Painbows, who has good size and exceptional speed. She could play for the A-Team of just about every other league I've seen. I was also very impressed by Ada Hatelace, Mel Content, and Mo Vengeance, to name just a few. Simply put, this is an outstanding team from top to bottom. If it were eligible for WFTDA ranking, I'd put the Second Wind no worse than 8th in the North Central Region.

*** After some between-bout stuff (marching band, mascot, cup pyramid contest) ended, it was time for the main event. Windy City's All-Stars (#1 in the WFTDA North Central Region, #9 in he DNN Power Rankings) were introduced, followed by CRG's Black Sheep (#5 WFTDA NC, #17 DNN). The Windy City All-Stars have never been defeated in NC Regional play, but the Black Sheep gave them one of their biggest scares to date in last year's regional tournament. While Windy City has continued to roll through 2011, CRG has looked lost at times. Obviously, I would have loved to see an upset here, but my realistic goal was for CRG to keep the margin within 50.

*** This bout started much like the first, with WCR playing for quick hitting jams. Jackie Daniels (in what would turn out to be her only jam of the night) took lead and called it at 4-0, thanks to nice work by WCR's Varla Vendetta, who recycled CRG jammer K Lethal. Athena Decrime put up a quick grand slam, as Deb Autry and Georgia on Yer Behind bottled up CRG's Hannah Ouchocinco at the back. On the next jam, Black Sheep blocker Ruff'n the Passer had a nice jammer take out to limit Varla Vendetta to a 1-0 advantage. K Lethal then broke through for lead jammer, but she ended up on the short end of a 4-3 jam.

*** Trauma came out to jam for CRG, and the her pack showed a tactic I had not seen from Cincy, taking a slow start and trying to create a wall at the back of the pack, just across the pivot line. Windy City jammer Zoe Trocious foiled the plan with a quick jab step and a hop right through the middle of a tiny gap in CRG's blockers. As she racked up three grand slams, Trauma was held in check by a strong WCR pack. The following jam was a battle of tall and slender (CRG's Wheezy) versus taller and slender (WCR's Ruth Enasia) at the jammer line. Wheezy had the early advantage, but she ended up taking the star to the penalty box. Black Sheep blocker Sk8r-Kinney did some outstanding one-on-one positional blocking to limit the damage, and CRG yielded a mere 5-4 edge to Windy City.

*** At the close of a quick 1-0 jam by K Lethal, WCR jammer Athena Decrime skated off to the box, leaving Hannah Ouchocinco on the line alone. The Black Sheep were pure poetry on the power jam. Hannah offered her patented, once-a-bout mega-juke to clear her first scoring pass, and Athena left the box only to return to it within seconds of hitting the track. The CRG pack did an excellent job trapping a blocker, and Hannah jumped the apex after turn one to complete another grand slam. The jam ended 15-0, and Windy City led 34-23 with 15 minutes to go in the half.

*** Wheezy started the next jam solo, but she was slowed when a blatant trip by WCR's Hoosier Mama just after turn two went uncalled. This allowed Athena Decrime to come out of the box and claim lead jammer status en route to a 4-0 WCR jam win. The next jam saw Zoe Trocious rack up 12 points and a fluid, strong CRG pack put the clamps on K Lethal, eventually frustrating her into taking a trip to the sin bin. Varla Vendetta started the next jam unopposed for Windy City, and Trauma put forth an heroic individual effort to limit the damage. Trauma forced not one, but two track cuts on Varla, the latter of which sent her to the box and prompted a jammer switch. On K Lethal's scoring pass, she received a phenomenal whip from Trauma that allowed her to zip through on a sweet inside pass.

*** With the score at WCR 58, CRG 32, the Black Sheep received a golden opportunity to turn the tide. Hannah started the jam unopposed, and WCR's Varla Vendetta was sent off again on a track cut only seconds after she re-entered the action. Hannah got a quick four points, then called it to give Wheezy a solo start on the following jam. The Windy City pack was up to the task, with Deb Autry doing some excellent individual work on the penalty kill. Trauma and Karma Krash eventually freed the CRG jammer with some nice assists, but CRG only picked up five points. A couple of uneventful jams brought the score to 58-42 in favor of WCR. Wheezy then showed remarkable speed and moves on her initial pass, while Sk8 Crime and Sk8r-Kinney set up a great wall at the back to strand Ruth Enasia. CRG had reduced the margin to a mere 11.

*** The next jam was truly the turning point in the bout. With just enough time remaining for one jam, K Lethal was sent to the penalty box, leaving Athena Decrime with a power jam. Windy City's Sargentina absolutely pulverized Cincy's Candy Kickass with a huge shoulder hit, and an already small CRG pack got downright lonely. WCR's pack trapped a blocker and brought things to a near-standstill, as Athena skated laps. By the time the jam ended, WCR had posted a 25-0 score, and the Chicagoans took an 83-47 lead into halftime.

*** The second half began with Windy City scoring 12 unanswered points over four jams. On one of them, the WCR jammer was knocked to the infield near turn three, stood there for a moment, then stepped back into play past turn four, well ahead of the CRG blockers. She realized her mistake and froze, waiting to be called on the major track cut, but no call was forthcoming. The official looked at her, and dismissively waved her back onto the track. Had it been a no-call, it would have been amazing enough, but the zebra seemed to say "It's fine. We just won't call the most obvious track cut ever." This is the same official, mind you, who missed the obvious trip mentioned earlier, even though it was directly in front of her. CRG lost a golden opportunity to close the gap with a power jam.

*** The Black Sheep finally broke into the scoring column on the fifth jam of the half. Sk8r-Kinney did some great work against Windy City jammer Zoe Trocious, first with one-on-one blocking at the front, and then in a nice two-skater waterfall with Nuk'em. Hannah took lead jammer and scored a grand slam to bring the deficit to 43 points with 24 minutes remaining. CRG quickly squandered that momentum, however, as Wheezy was called on a phantom track cut (guess which ref?) and sent on a one-minute sabbatical while wearing the star. Windy City won the jam, 11-0. The next six jams were rather uneventful, resulting in a cumulative score of 7-0 for WCR. One thing that did happen is that a very blatant multiple-player block by WCR against Hannah (right in front of me in turn three) was not called by... wait for it... the very same official.

*** Windy City racked up a 32-1 advantage over the next four jams, highlighted by Beth Amphetamine's 20-pointer. Hannah bounced back to win her next jam, 12-8. CRG then got back-to-back power jams, courtesy of Beth Amphetamine's shuttle run to the penalty box, and Wheezy and K Lethal picked up 17 points to WCR's one over that span. This brought the WCR's lead to 154-82, but with only three minutes on the clock, this one was not in doubt.

*** On the penultimate jam of the night, Zoe Trocious picked up a 10-0, as her teammate Deb Autry made a very smart play. She saw CRG's Jungle Lacy skating clockwise to return to the pack and blasted directly into her, getting the big hit and sending Lacy off to the box for the clockwise block. Hannah drew a penalty close to the end of that jam, and Athena Decrime lined up solo with a minute on the clock and an 82-point lead. For some reason, Windy City decided to run up the score in that situation, rather than just getting lead jammer and skating in circles until the clock was all zeroes. Jungle Lacy came out of nowhere to absolutely blast Athena, and a 14-1 jam put the final at Windy City 178, Cincinnati 83.

*** While I was proud of the way the Black Sheep played, a couple of things about that bout left a sour taste. While the officiating in general was solid, I have never seen one official as bad (and one-sidedly bad) as the one I saw in this bout. She was not a CRG ref as far as I know, and I have no idea of her name or from whence she came, but it would be a shame if she were allowed on the track for any significant bout in the near future. I don't think that her actions affected the final outcome, but had the game been a bit closer, they certainly could have. Secondly, with as much respect as I have for the talent and "professionalism" of Windy City, I was saddened to see them trying to run up the score at the end. Stay classy, Chicago.

*** Of the three main Black Sheep jammers, Hannah Ouchocinco was the best, and she is my co-MVP for her squad. She did have some troubles against an excellent foe, but she scored the most points and was the only CRG jammer to win as many jams as she lost on point differential. Hannah had (by my count) the fewest jammer penalties for CRG, and certainly hers had the least impact on the outcome of the game. She's not my MVP for any of those reasons, however. In this game, Hannah was the stopper. When her team went into a slide, it was nearly always Hannah who won the next jam to get some momentum back. She had some dazzling moves, but she was also steady and mentally tough in sweltering conditions and in the face of an outstanding opponent.

*** Wheezy had some great moments, showing excellent speed and agility. She got the crowd back into the game on quite a few occasions with some nifty moves. Unfortunately, she also had a couple of very damaging penalties (one that was not her fault, as mentioned earlier), and she didn't quite have the consistency in her play that she'll need to reach the next level as a jammer. K Lethal had a very tough game, showing a bit of the flashy speed we've seen from her in the past, but not nearly enough of the power and aggressiveness she typically shows. K Lethal won a mere two of her 14 jams, while losing ten.

*** The other co-MVP for the Sheep is Sk8r-Kinney. She was easily the best blocker in black for this bout. Kinney did the job, whether as part of a wall, or as one of the best solo positional blockers I've seen in roller derby. She's smart and strong, and it takes quite an effort for even the stellar offensive WCR packs to dislodge her from her position. Unfortunately, CRG too often went to the slow pack start and back wall strategy. This approach blunts their greatest strength, their excellent front two-walls and three-walls. By my informal count, CRG used the strategy either nine or ten times, only once keeping Windy City from lead jammer status.

*** Other blocking notables for CRG included the multitalented Trauma and the excellent work by Karma Krash at the front of the pack. Jungle Lacy and Buckhead Betty did some strong work in the middle, and Ruff'n the Passer took on Sk8 Crime's normal role as the enforcer at the back of the pack.

*** Windy City employed five jammers with some consistency. The three most active were Athena Decrime, Varla Vendetta, and Zoe Trocious, and all of them had excellent performances. Athena and Varla are well known, and they certainly earn their reputations as smart, tough, and quick all-around performers. Zoe Trocious may not have quite the same notoriety, but she is definitely an outstanding jammer. Ruth Enasia and Beth Amphetamine also got pretty regular turns, their long strides chewing up the open track.

*** As you may have guessed from my description of the bout, WCR's most impressive blocker was Deb Autry. She was everywhere, playing stout defense and offering some top-notch assists to get her jammers going. I'm actually amazed that I got this far without much mention of Jackie Daniels. She is one of my favorite players to watch, and a true triple-threat. In this bout, she only jammed once, and she had a rather quiet game in the pack. That said, you'll rarely catcher her hurting her team by going to the box or being caught out of position. Perhaps I should just type in Windy City's entire list of blockers, rather than trying to parse out the ones I thought were best. Well, nah, I'll just mention a few of them: Bork Bork Bork, Norma Lee Wright, and Georgia on Yer Behind stood out to me.

The post-bout meet-and-greet is always fun. I got to talk at length with Bex Pistol, Karma Krash, The Librarian, and Miss Print. I missed out on Wheezy until my short visit to the after-party, where I enjoyed our chat as always. I did get a chance to meet Jackie Daniels, which I've wanted to do since I first saw her skate in Grand Rapids. Unfortunately, I also missed out on a lot of the skaters with whom I wanted to talk. Trauma was pulled away by the coaches as I was waiting a few feet away, and Hop Devil was busy every time I tried. I'm not sure that I even saw Poppy Chulo, Maime, or Buckhead Betty. I would have liked to meet more of the Windy City skaters, and I also never caught Justice Feelgood Marshall, with whom I'd planned to chat.

So, moving on to my overall impressions of the evening, I'll start with a topic that's received a lot of attention lately: "bout production." I can't speak for anyone else, and maybe CRG has some research that says I'm in the minority, but I'm more and more disappointed every bout. I am a sports fan. I drive 3+ hours each way a number of times per season to the bouts, and I also tend to catch an away game or two. I do this because I love the sport of roller derby in general, and the Cincinnati Rollergirls teams specifically. I don't go to baseball games for the Sausage Race or the Kiss-Cam, and I don't go to football games for the halftime show. I certainly don't go to derby bouts for mascots nor cup pyramid building, and I'd be more than happy to never see people in face paint attempt a choreographed routine. I realize that the teams need halftime breaks and such, so a little of the above is probably necessary. Beyond that, however, I'd much rather have any of the following: a full-length B game, more time for meet-and-greets afterward, or a 20-minute head start on driving home and/or attending the after-party.

Secondly, the scoreboard situation is troubling. I think that the best seats at a derby bout are in turn three, looking down the backstretch. CRG must at least somewhat agree with me, as the first row of seats on that end were reserved specifically for season ticket holders. So why would a team put its most valued fans in a position where they can't even see the game nor jam clocks? I could not believe that the time was not shown on the electronic scoreboard beyond turn one. This made it very difficult to keep up with the in-game strategy and situations, and often left me feeling lost. I realize that the big, overhead scoreboard is unavailable, but can't we at least make it so that every fan can see the score and clock(s)? Floor seats for the first bout of the season sold out. I wondered how early I'd need to get my extras on days I'd attend with others. Every bout I've attended this year, there are plenty of empty seats, even down in that prime area. That might be a sign that the way CRG is doing things isn't working for the fans.

Even with my complaints, and the fact that I arrived home in Toledo at 3:10am, I enjoyed the evening. It upsets me that more "traditional" sports fans don't give roller derby a chance. I hope that CRG and other derby leagues will do their part by reaching out to others like me. Derby at its highest level is an awesome sport that requires great athleticism, endurance, and strategy. So why is it that fans of traditional sports who are not friends nor family of skaters (such as myself) are so rare? I've seen no less than the "Commissioner," Jerry Seltzer, publicly salivate over labor trouble in football and basketball as an opportunity to grow the sport of roller derby. When will people understand that baseball, football, basketball, and hockey are not the enemy? If roller derby wants to grow, it's time to go out and make friends with its sporting brethren. Once we open the door, I think there are countless others like me, who'll be glad to see CRG one night, a Reds game the next day, and the Stanley Cup Finals on TV the next night. Clivilles and Cole would have wanted it that way.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

These Dreams

I recently posted the question on our Facebook page: "If you could see any one sporting event in any one venue, anywhere in the world, what would it be?" Well, I couldn't stop at just one, so here are my top five:

5. FIVB Women's Beach Volleyball - Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

What's not to love? The best volleyball players in the world playing on a beautiful stretch of sand in Brazil? Sign me up. I have enjoyed both watching and playing beach volleyball since high school, and I used to attend the tournaments in Chicago, whether at Oak St. Beach or North Ave. Beach. I'd bring a ball and get in some pick-up games on the side courts, then wander over and watch the best (men and women) battle it out on the main courts. Oh, did I mention that this event is on a beach? In Brazil? I'd imagine it would be as much (or more) fun to watch the crowd!

"Bikini, miss?"
"Oh no, that covers far too much."

4. Billabong Pipe Masters surfing tournament - Banzai Pipeline, Oahu, Hawall

This one is more about the locale than anything. I could never in a million years learn to surf, but I think it would be a lot of fun to watch the best in the world do so. I'd love to be a part of the laid-back surfer scene, on a pristine Hawaiian beach, for just a few days. It's 180 degrees from my reality, as a great vacation escape should be.

3. The Midnight Sun Game - Growden Memorial Stadium, Fairbanks, Alaska

Every June 21, the Alaska Goldpanners welcome an invited opponent to Fairbanks for the most unique baseball game in the world. The opponents come from different states, and occasionally from abroad. The 2010 game featured a U.S. Military All-Star team. The game begins at 10:30pm local time, just as the sun is beginning to set in the north. At the half-inning break nearest midnight, the action pauses for the singing of the Alaskan Flag Song. The game often ends around 1:00am, as the sun begins to rise again in the north. The entire game proceeds with no artificial light. I think it would be amazing to see Alaska in the summer, and especially to watch a "day" baseball game at midnight.

2. The Championships, Wimbledon - All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, England

First, I would love to visit London, and really all of the U.K. But Wimbledon is so steeped in history and tradition. It would be wonderful to watch the best tennis players in the world compete on grass, to hear the ladies always called "Miss" or "Mrs.," to see the players dressed in reverent white. I'd want to eat the traditional Strawberries and Cream, and just to soak in the history of the 125-year-old tournament. I have been to the United States Tennis Center in New York (albeit not during play), at I think a true sports traveler should seek to attend all four Grand Slam tennis tournaments.

1. Game Seven, World Series - New Comiskey Park, Chicago Illinois

If my first two choices were all about the locale, this one is all about the event. No one will ever confuse the South Side of Chicago with a paradise. Baseball is my first, purest sporting love, and the White Sox are my team. When they made it to the World Series in 2005 (for the first time since 1959), I had four people hitting the Internet and phone lines for me, just hoping to be one of the lucky few to get through for tickets. The "cheap" seats were going for over $150 face value, and I would have paid it gladly. None of us were able to get through. I even considered buying scalped tickets, but the $1000-and-up price tag was something I could not justify. To see my team play in a deciding World Series Game Seven (especially if the Sox won) would be the ultimate sports experience.

It's your turn! Where would your dream sports vacation take you? What event would you see? Why is that at the top of your list? Please respond in the comments.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Hey Jealousy

I'm going to go off the beaten path a bit today. No roller derby recap, no jetting off to see another ballpark, just some personal stuff. I'm sure that just about everyone who might read this is either a current or former participant in at least one team sport. As some of you may know, I have a very extensive background as such.

My first experience as a member of a sports team came at the age of five, when I was finally old enough to join tee-ball. By the age of seven, I was a rare left-handed shortstop, who turned two unassisted triple plays in one season. A year later, I ascended to "minors" baseball, the first level at which kids can pitch. I played every position but catcher, right field, and left field. In my first ever pitching appearance, I struck out all three batters I faced, preserving an extra-innings win. As my body grew (and grew, and grew some more), my days of moving around the field waned, and I became strictly a first baseman and pitcher. In baseball orthodoxy, there's not much choice for a lefty who's 5'11" and 235 pounds at the age of 13.

By that time, I had spent six years playing in the "minors" and "majors" of little league, along with some travel all-star teams. I certainly wasn't a one-dimensional adolescent. I had taken (and aced) two community college classes and topped 1400 on the SAT (back when 1600 was perfect). I played chess as well as youth basketball and volleyball. I worked tirelessly to help Super Mario avoid fireballs. Still, I woke up and fell asleep every day thinking about baseball (and often Alyssa Milano, but that's beside the point). Baseball was my social network, my joy, extra time with my father (my parents divorced when I was ten), and truly my identity.

When I started high school, I joined the football team. I had never played organized football before, but I was big, and a lot of my friends were playing. I wasn't very good, but I was smart enough to learn the game quickly and make myself useful as a multi-position backup. Football was something to do while awaiting baseball season, a competitive outlet, and a chance for a socially-awkward kid to avoid the discard pile of unpopularity. I also played basketball that winter season, again occupying the role of the guy who's just good enough to play once in a while.

Finally, baseball season arrived. I went to tryouts...and was awful. My swing was off, my normally excellent defense at first base left me, and I was lucky to earn one of the last spots on the freshman team. A week later, I realized that I could not read much of anything on the blackboard. My first pair of glasses followed, and quickly thereafter my swing and my glove. I ascended to varsity partway through that year and eventually became a starter. The next couple of years were a constant stream of summer baseball, football workouts, football, basketball, and finally baseball again. Rarely did a week pass with no organized sports. I did well in school, and by the end of my junior year, everything was clicking. I was #1 in a class of over 400, nearly perfect on my ACT, and getting some attention from scouts after a very good junior season. I tried not to get too caught up in things, but I was already wondering if I'd play in college or be drafted by the pros.

In the second game of my senior football season, I was playing defensive line for a few plays. At the snap, I diagnosed a quick run play to the outside and tried to cut off the ballcarrier. Just as I stepped to the outside, the offensive tackle went for a cut block, and the crown of his helmet hit squarely on the inside of my knee. I severely dislocated my kneecap and suffered ligament and cartilage damage. After rehab, I made it back, only to suffer a slightly less severe injury to my other knee. By baseball season, I knew something was wrong. I was officially healthy, but I had no explosiveness in my legs. My power vanished, my batting average dropped, and I couldn't make plays in the field that used to be routine. The scouts weren't coming out to watch, and I knew that my baseball career was on the decline at the age of 17.

That summer was my first without organized sports in twelve years. Friends were slowly disappearing to different colleges, and I left the state with a full ride for academics. After getting a look at the horrible astroturf at my school's football stadium, I passed on an offer to play football as a walk-on. I held out the possibility of trying to walk on the baseball team, but found that I was out of my league. I "retired" from competitive sports at the age of 18. Even without the higher level of competition, I joined intramural teams in a few sports, later joining a fraternity for whose teams I was a mainstay. In law school, I played in law student softball and basketball leagues. Even after school ended, I found my way into softball leagues and pickup games. Team sports offer a connection few other experiences can match, and many of my friends today played on those teams with me.

So, why all the long and boring history of my athletic life? At the age of 29, I got a cut on my big toe. It didn't heal over the span of a week or two, and I went to a podiatrist. Two days later, I was officially a diabetic. Despite multiple rounds of powerful oral and IV antibiotics, nothing worked, and I eventually had surgery to remove the toe. All that summer, I sat by as my friends went off to play softball or volleyball. Eventually, my incision healed, and I joined my friends at the big season-ending softball tournament for our co-ed team. It was a sight to behold, as I pulled my car into the handicapped spot, hung my temporary placard on the mirror, and stepped out in my cleats and uniform, carrying my bat bag. I played in two games over the first day of the tournament, and I cannot describe the feeling of being on the field with my friends.

We played most of the second game in a steady rain. By the time I sat down and took off my cleats, my wet socks had created a blister on my previously-injured foot. My tournament was over, and I was heartbroken. When I got back to town, the long series of treatments began again. Eventually, my doctors came to the conclusion that I needed a more radical surgery to even the pressure on my foot, hopefully avoiding further problems and the possible loss of my foot. The surgery was a "success," in that it did exactly what it was meant to and healed without incident. Unfortunately, it left me with no hope of ever playing sports, as I cannot do any activity that requires pushing off with the ball of that foot. It's been roughly five years, and on good days, I can walk with no obvious limp. My foot, calf, and ankle hurt every day, although it's usually manageable.

Honestly, what hurts the most is not being able to step on the field with my friends and teammates. I have only attended a few of their games over the past few seasons, as I can't stand to sit there and watch them play without me. Even attending pro sports, my brain is always playing the game. As soon as the ball is hit, I want to sprint to position to field it. I get upset with the offensive lineman who misses a block, even if it's not for my team. Even watching roller derby, a sport I have never and could never have played (I'm terrible on skates of any kind), I tell myself: "I would have seen that hole," or "I would have blocked to the inside there."

I am envious. I am aggrieved by fate. I wonder how something so wonderful, so central to who I am, could be taken from me. But in the end, this post is not a sob story. I don't want you to feel sorry for me. What I want, more than anything, is for those of you who still get to play to treasure every moment. Cherish the conflict that defines winning and losing. Take advantage of the drive to be better every day. Most of all, be forever thankful for your friends and teammates. Nothing I have experienced compares with the feeling of working together with people you care about to accomplish victory. Having teammates is by far the best part of playing team sports.

A day will come when you no longer put on a uniform. Age, injury, or changing circumstances will find you. Your former teammates (what a painful phrase) may remain your friends, as mine have. I hope that they will be a blessing to you throughout your life, as mine are. Lifelong friendship is the truest benefit of playing sports. But no matter what, at some point, they will cease to be your teammates. Savor every moment: every petty squabble, every road trip, every crushing defeat, and every soaring victory. I have known that privilege, and my life is vastly richer for it. May you truly appreciate and make the most of your chance.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Spinning Wheel

Last Saturday, I made the familiar trip down to Cincinnati for a Rollergirls/Reds doubleheader. I picked up my friend Owen at our hotel, just a few miles north of the Cincinnati Gardens, and we proceeded to the roller derby bout, arriving a few minutes before the doors opened. I had my season ticket in hand, and Miss Print was kind enough to leave one at will-call for Owen. We made our way inside, Owen heading for the $1 beers while I selected floor seats in my usual spot (turn three, looking down the back straightaway). As he cracked open his first Hudy Delight (no truth in advertising to that name, he informed me), the skaters for the evening's first bout took to the track for warm ups. Miss Print stopped by for a warm hello before joining her team on the track, and then I wandered over to say hello to Rabid Derby Fan Earl at the textcast table. Owen and I chatted and watched warm ups for a while, he downing the cheap brews while I happily enjoyed a delicious brat from the concession stand. Eventually, we made it to the introductions for the first bout. From the floor seats, the intros sounded much like a drunken monkey deepthroating a microphone, punctuated by short bursts of applause. The Norwood High School Silhouettes gave an excellent rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, and it was derby time.

*** The first bout was a B-Team Battle between the Cincinnati Rollergirls (CRG) Silent Lambs and the visiting Naptown Rollergirls (NRG) Warning Belles, of Indianapolis. Naptown came out quickly, employing a strong three-wall at the front of the pack to take a 10-4 advantage on the first jam, which ticked away two minutes due to the lack of a lead jammer. Near the end of the jam, NRG's Slammy Faye took the star to the box, leaving CRG rookie Hot Slice alone at the jammer line when the action resumed. Hot Slice showed very good speed to the outside, and CRG's Bex Pistol and Cherry Choke did a nice job trapping a Naptown blocker to slow the pack. Joanie Gouge delivered a strong hit for NRG to limit the damage, but Hot Slice claimed a 7-0 jam score. After NRG's Racer Xtasy put up a quick 3-0 on Miss Print, the Lambs put together what would be their best jam of the night. CRG starting jammer Nastee went on the power jam as Piper Sonic took a trip to the sin bin. Nastee made it a jam to forget for Naptown's Ra-Jen Red, abusing her with a stellar juke, then dropping her to the floor on the very next pass. At the end of that jam, CRG led by a score of 26-17 with 11-plus minutes to play in the first half.

*** From there, however, Naptown took charge. Using a slow-start strategy that seemed to befuddle Cincy's pack, NRG took lead jammer time and again. Naptown's strong and disciplined three-walls (and occasionally four-walls) left virtually no holes for Nastee, Miss Print, and Hot Slice, and CRG's pack provided scant few offensive assists to free its jammers. When Nastee took the star to the penalty box with roughly six minutes to go in the half, Naptown blew the contest open. Racer Xtasy and Piper Sonic combined for 33 points on consecutive jams, as the NRG pack did everything right to control speed and open holes. At the four-minute mark, the ladies from Indy had scored 46 unanswered points to take a 63-26 lead.

*** CRG stopped the bleeding for a moment, as Cherry Choke provided a nice assist to give Hot Slice CRG's first lead jammer call in nearly ten minutes. Unfortunately, Cincy were not able to take advantage, and the jam ended 2-2. Immediately thereafter, Pistolwhippin Wendy took to the jammer line for CRG for the first time. Wendy was quickly sent off on a major, and Naptown posted a 20-0 score, behind Slammy Faye and some excellent pack play. A quick 1-0 jam for NRG ended the half, with Cincinnati trailing, 86-28.

*** The second half was more of the same, as Hot Slice yielded a power jam to Naptown with a track cut on the second jam. On the very next jam, Nastee missed badly on an attempted block of Slammy Faye at the front of the pack, sending the Naptown jammer out as lead on the way to a 9-0 jam. Were it not for some superb blocking by Pistolwhippin Wendy at the front of the pack, it would have been even worse. The first three jams of the half provided NRG with 33 points, while CRG scored as many as I did. A late jammer penalty on Naptown gave Miss Print a chance to toe the jammer line by herself. She got through the pack and got some help from Killian Destroy (in her first time with the Lambs that I can recall) and rookie Roxx Solid, who trapped a blocker and kept the pack speed to a minimum. Naptown's Deadie Page absolutely leveled Miss Print to put an end to the threat. CRG rookie Sulfury Assid took the star next, managing a 3-0 jam win as Cherry Choke and Poppy Chulo put up a nice front two-wall. This brought the deficit to 119-36 with just under 12 minutes remaining, but CRG finally had some momentum.

*** That momentum quickly fizzled, however, as the Lambs didn't put another point on the board for the remainder of the bout. Naptown didn't reel off any huge jams, but the margin steadily increased. Roxx Solid took to the jammer line for the first time, but came up on the short end of a 4-0. CRG's blockers tried to go into a defensive shell, sending all four blockers to the back of the pack. Racer Xtasy managed to go right around them, leaving Miss Print skating in place with no offensive help against a perfect Naptown three-wall. Cincy rookie Godzillary got a chance to jam. She showed off some very nice speed and moves, only to be sent off quickly on a major penalty. In her defense, it looked like the Naptown blocker ducked just as Godzillary made contact, drawing a high block major. (Thanks to Karma Krash for clarification on the high block signal, on which I drew a blank. It looks like "facemasking" in football, by the way.) At the final whistle, Naptown stood on the good side of a 149-36 thrashing. The Lambs managed only 10 points in the final 31 minutes of the contest. By my count, CRG acquired lead jammer on only six of 23 jams for the bout, winning the point differential a mere four times.

*** So many times in sports, we leave a game thinking, "If only for [blank], we would have won it." So often, one play, one moment is the difference between victory and defeat. This was not one of those occasions. Naptown's Belles outplayed the Lambs virtually from start to finish, and in every facet of the game. While NRG deserves a lot of credit, I can say without hesitation that I have never seen such a poor all-around game from the Lambs. CRG's pack play was atrocious, and it seemed ill-prepared for Naptown's slow starts from the pivot line. Worse still, the excellent in-game adjustments I have so often seen from CRG never materialized. The jammers, when they managed any daylight at all, committed penalty after penalty, making it impossible for their team to take momentum for more than a minute or two at a time. As such, I have no MVP to award to the Lambs for this bout.

*** For CRG's jammers, Nastee started strongly but lost the magic quickly. Unlike her previous game, in which her natural skills completely overwhelmed the opponent, this time she found an enemy up to the task. Forced to play more of a mental game, she looked a lot like a rookie. I still think great things are ahead for Nastee, but Naptown exposed her inexperience on this day. Hot Slice showed flashes of brilliance, but her knack for taking a penalty while wearing the star limited her effectiveness. Miss Print started slowly, tiptoeing behind walls of blockers. I was afraid that she'd be pulled from the rotation after her early struggles, as has happened in the past. The coaches stuck with her, and she rewarded them with more aggressive skating in the second half. Unfortunately, the style of play laid bare one of her greatest limitations, the inability to use power to create her own holes in the defense. Without savvy assist work from her blockers, Miss Print spent a lot of time staring at the (admittedly, nice) posteriors of Naptown blockers. Many others took a rogue jam or two for CRG, with mostly unremarkable results.

*** Cincy's blockers were out-of-sorts all night. Just about everything that could go wrong did. Gaping holes appeared in the middle of the CRG pack, and Naptown jammers often sped right by CRG's front blockers before they could react. The Lambs' pivots were outmaneuvered by those of NRG, and the ladies from Cincy paid the price in terms of poor speed control within the pack. Many inexperienced players got significant track time, and it was clear that CRG's contingent of blockers had not had ample time to practice together. Even many of the experienced CRG blockers fell victim to sloppy play and slow reactions. One of the few bright spots was the play of Lambs captain Cherry Choke. Her positional blocking at the front of the pack was steady, and she was the only CRG blocker who consistently played any offense when her jammers were stuck. Bex Pistol, Poppy Chulo, and Roxx Solid had their moments, but the Lambs were clearly missing standout blockers such as Nik Jagger and Geez Louise.

*** For the Warning Belles, there are plenty of kudos to go around. The jammer rotation of Slammy Faye, Racer Xtasy, Piper Sonic, and Trauma-lina was outstanding. Every time I looked up, there was more speed on the Naptown jammer line. Slammy Faye, while possessing excellent skills, impressed me most with her "grinder" style of play. She never coasted and was never content with an advantage, always pushing herself to be a little sharper, a little quicker into a cut. While many teams get a bit sloppy with a big lead, the Belles showed a killer instinct and clamped down ever more tightly. Leading the way in terms of the blockers was Joanie Gouge. She dished out some of the most punishing hits of the bout. Unlike many big hitters, however, she rarely left herself out of position to do so or put her teammates at a tactical disadvantage to go for a showboat hit. While I did notice many other fine displays of blocking by Naptown, the color scheme of their uniforms made picking out individual blockers in a pack extremely difficult.

*** After a short intermission (highlighted by a visit from the always-awesome Librarian and a nice, spicy chorizo), it was time for the main event. The visiting Naptown Tornado Sirens (WFTDA North Central #6, DNN Power Rankings #23) were introduced, to a smattering of boos and far too many cheers. Then, the CRG Black Sheep (WFTDA NC #5, DNN #16) took the track. Those in the stands seemed inspired by the intros, but we on the floor again heard something like "Humver FZBRGARF, Maaaaanummmmmmm ArchoooooGINFoooooooo." ("Number 85, Hannah Ouchocinco," to those who misplaced their Gardens PA-to-English Dictionaries.)

*** Speaking of Ms. Ouchocinco, she was on the track with the star to begin the game, as CRG's other star jammer, K Lethal, was unavailable for the game. Hannah and NRG's Blue Messiah skated to a 1-1 tie, then Wheezy took to the line against Maiden America. On the initial pass, Naptown's Dora the Destroyer pounded Wheezy, who showed off her toughness and agility by staying on her skates. It was enough, however, to spring Maiden America for a 4-0 jam and an early lead for the Sirens. After a couple of uneventful jams, some of Cincy's stars came out to play. Despite the fact that the refs missed an obvious major elbow by NRG's Ima Hurchu, Sk8r-Kinney and Trauma led a magnificent pack for CRG, which sprung Wheezy for nine points while shutting out Blue Messiah. After Black Sheep jammer Hop Devil (in her A-Team debut) came out behind on a quick 1-0 jam, CRG went right back on the attack. Hannah Ouchocinco absolutely abused Naptown blocker Eve Elle with a ferocious juke on the way to a 10-3 jam advantage, and CRG led 22-10 after the first twelve minutes.

*** Outstanding jammer Amooze Booche took to the line for Naptown, determined to stabilize her team. She combined a great move with a burst of speed to slip past Trauma and Kinney (who were the only two CRG blockers due to penalties), and if you watch CRG often, you know what a task that is. Amooze Booche converted a 4-0 jam, and the teams traded a few low-scoring trips after that. Just past the midway point of the first half, Hannah went down hard, reaching for her back in obvious pain. It was severe enough that the refs ended the jam, and her return looked uncertain. Wheezy stepped out into a mini-pack for the next jam, with both teams short a blocker or two, and put on a masterful show. She went around and through the NRG pack, while CRG's Karma Krash and Nuk'em picked off a Naptown blocker to maintain pack definition and slow speed. CRG capped off a 13-0 jam to lead by a score of 41-16.

*** Trauma came out to jam next for CRG against Naptown's Maiden America. Cincy's Sk8 Crime had Maiden lined up for a big collision, but NRG's Ana Slays Ya came out of nowhere to eliminate the CRG blocker and allow NRG a modest 2-1 jam win. The ensuing jam was one of the turning points of the game. CRG had the momentum and Wheezy was having a great game until she took the star to the penalty box with her. Naptown brought CRG's mini-pack to a crawl as jammer Willa Hoeflinch darted and dodged her way to four grand slams, reducing the formerly commanding Cincy lead to just four points with just over six minutes to go in the half.

*** The fans were relieved to see Hannah back on the track to jam, and she posted a tidy 4-0 among a trio of low-scoring jams. Wheezy came out to jam, and she went to the "burst through the seam in a wall" tactic she had used so well earlier. This time, however, she crashed squarely into the back of a Naptown blocker and was sent off on a back block. Willa Hoeflinch again reaped the rewards of the power jam, taking a 14-0 advantage. A 6-4 jam win by Hannah over Blue Messiah sent the teams to the locker rooms, Naptown leading 60-53.

*** The first eight minutes of the second half belonged to NRG. Amooze Booche started it off with a 9-0 jam, sliding back and forth like a slalom skier before finally putting a juke on a lonely Trauma at the front of the pack. Two clean 4-0 jams followed for Naptown, the latter saved from being much worse by Karma Krash's sharp blocking at the front. Wheezy finally opened CRG's ledger for the second half with a 2-0 jam, with Jungle Lacy dishing out some sweet blocks at the back of the pack. Penalties, however, remained the story of the night for the Black Sheep, as Hannah got sent off while wearing the star, yielding a 22-0 power jam for Naptown. The NRG lead stood at 99-55 with 22 minutes remaining.

*** With CRG's prospects dimming after a few uneventful jams, Trauma took to the jammer line. Suddenly, everything clicked for the Black Sheep. The Cincy pack locked up Willa Hoeflinch and slowed things down, and Trauma's long, powerful strides burned up the track. On one of her scoring passes, it looked like Trauma slid by the entire pack on one stride and on one skate! Of course, I (a huge, unapologetic Trauma fan) was going nuts, and when Nuk'em posted an 8-2 power jam, the lead was cut to 105-82, Naptown. Finally, the CRG crowd got worked up, after being far too quiet for most of the bout. Thirteen minutes remained, and we were ready to push our Black Sheep to the comeback victory.

*** That is, until the penalty monster struck again. A small CRG pack only got more lonely when Hannah took the jammer star to the box. With blockers trapped and forced to a near standstill by a smart NRG pack, Cincy were helpless to stop the onslaught. When the whistle finally blew, Naptown's tally crawled higher and higher. I thought it was a 20-point jam, but the scoreboard didn't stop until 30 had been added. NRG jammer Maiden America taunted the crestfallen CRG fans, as her own partisan cheering section erupted. Although over eleven minutes remained, the game was over at this point. The penalties racked up for both teams, and the scoring went back-and-forth, but the clock was CRG's enemy. Blue Messiah put up a 14-0 jam on Wheezy and CRG with a minute remaining, and the final tally was Naptown 167, Cincinnati 94.

*** Many factors led to the upset. The absence of K Lethal certainly hurt CRG, as skaters were shuffled into other roles. I can't say for sure that CRG overlooked a talented and fast-rising Naptown squad, but this had all the makings of a trap game. Naptown was the final remaining lower-ranked team on Cincinnati's home schedule (with Steel City, Windy City, and Detroit to come), and I know that I underestimated them. Penalties, however, made the biggest difference in this game. CRG's pack constantly struggled to have more than two blockers on the floor, and Cincy's jammers took some backbreaking penalties as well. Cincinnati scored 94 points in the bout. Naptown scored 86 on four power jams alone (Cincy only had two power jams, for a 15-2 tally, by my count). CRG's middle and back-of-the-pack blockers were not as sharp as usual, and they seemed to be flailing to make some blocks, rather than playing their usual sound positional game. Naptown's skaters also had something to do with the discrepancy. First of all, they seemed to play more under control. Also, they had a knack for, to put it diplomatically, drawing penalties. A hockey fan might call it "diving" or "selling a call." A soccer fan, after getting over the shame of being a soccer fan, might call it "what players do every time they get brushed." Still, it was there. Some might credit Naptown for seizing that advantage, and they didn't break any rules in doing so, making it tough to condemn them. I personally think the refs could have done better to sort out the (ample) real penalties from the theatrics.

*** As with the Lambs, no single skater stood out as an MVP for the Black Sheep. Many of the Sheep did good things on the track, but I felt that my choices were to give 6 or 7 MVP's or none. From the jammer line, Hannah and Wheezy got most of the work. At least once or twice every bout, Hannah will make a move that makes me wonder if it just happened. Sometimes, it's a lightning-quick stutter-step. Sometimes, it's a zig-zag cut. While she showed off both of those moves this game, the thing that impressed me most was her toughness. Shaking off an injury that threatened to put her out for the evening, she kept taking the star, fighting for every point in every jam. Wheezy brought a lot of energy to the track, and she scored 28 of CRG's 53 first half points. Unfortunately, each of them had two very costly jammer penalties as well. Trauma took three jams, the highlight being the previously mentioned 19-0 whirlwind. Nuk'em also went three times, all within the final 13 minutes, and with mixed success. Hop Devil started in the jammer rotation, but she never really caught her stride, and finished scoreless on three jams.

*** On the blocking side, it was tough to judge the quality of CRG's skaters, due primarily to the revolving door on the penalty box. Sk8r-Kinney was very solid, until an injury sidelined her late in the game. Trauma did well at the front, but often couldn't fight through a pack disadvantage to pick off a jammer. The same goes for Karma Krash and Buckhead Betty, both of whom were far better when they had more teammates on the track. Jungle Lacy did a nice job at the back of the pack, when there were enough blockers on the track to have a back of the pack.

*** Naptown again used a four-jammer rotation for its A-Team. As mentioned, Maiden America had the biggest jam of the night, but she was very good the rest of the evening as well. Amooze Booche had excellent speed and some deceptive moves, especially a couple of nice cuts followed by speed bursts to the outside at the front of the pack. Willa Hoeflinch did an excellent job converting power jams into huge point swings, using speed in the open track to get in as many scoring passes as possible. Blue Messiah had an up-and-down game. She showed a lot of talent, but often didn't convert her chances to points.

*** NRG's blockers were led by the very tough Ana Slays Ya. Shadi Layne and Asian Sinsation did a nice job of keeping things together when penalty trouble hit Naptown's pack. Dora the Destroyer and Eve Elle chipped in with some nasty shots.

*** Moving on to general impressions of the night, I almost felt like this was an away game for CRG. The crowd was even thinner than last time. I kept waiting for the big influx of fans that usually enters the arena midway through the first bout, but it never came. Exacerbating the problem was the fact that Naptown fans represented a decent minority and often a vocal majority. I have been to games (as a visiting fan) where the away team basically takes over the crowd (Bears at Detroit Lions comes to mind), and I recall postgame comments from home team players as to how disheartening tha situation can be. The CRG crowd had its moments, but the team was struggling, and the big boost from a vociferous crowd rarely came. Also, I know that I have discussed the PA system many times before. Last time I wrote, I even came to the conclusion that it was time to give up and accept the problems. After this bout, hoewever, I've changed my mind. It was horrendous, and the inability to make out most words was a major problem for me as a fan. The fans on the floor pay extra for their seats, so I hope that CRG will keep looking into ways to improve the sound for them. The crowd, sound system, and still-out-of-action jumbo scoreboard combined to rob the Cincinnati Gardens of its "big time" feel. I always used to think of the Gardens as a top-flight venue, a "real sports" experience just below the top venues such as the UIC Pavilion. This time, however, it felt miles away from that kind of experience, much closer to a convention hall or a roller rink that serves as home to a smaller league. I truly hope that CRG and its fans can re-capture that big-event feel going forward, as a true home-field advantage would be most welcome against some tough upcoming opponents.

We wandered the floor after the bouts, getting a chance to talk with Miss Print, Buckhead Betty, Hop Devil, Karma Krash, Wheezy, Trauma, and more. We didn't take up too much of their time, as I feel like a jerk keeping throngs of children from getting face time and autographs. Plus, I knew we'd be attending the after-party and would see people there as well. We made our way over to Molly Malone's and found a table, seeing some other fans but no skaters we knew. Owen's sister came over to meet us and hang out, so we chatted and had some excellent appetizers ( fried pepperjack cheese cubes!). I got up a few times to wander around and see if any of the skaters had made it over. A few made their way in and sat with people they knew in our part of the bar, but most of the rest were off in the back room for their semi-private gathering. I made my way back there to chat with Buckhead Betty and GlamourAzz, but eventually found myself without a conversation and went back out to my table. Miss Print came over to our side of the bar (near the DJ) and stopped over for a nice long chat. Otherwise, we basically relaxed, watched the end of the Reds game, and watched from very entertaining dancing once some of the skaters and other CRG crew hit the floor. Tired and sated, we retreated to the hotel.

On Sunday, we woke up and had a very mediocre free hotel breakfast. I was feeling a bit lightheaded, so I went back up to my room and lounged in bed to watch Sportscenter. We planned to stay at the hotel until the noon check-out, since the Reds game didn't start until 4pm. By the time we loaded the cars, I was really not feeling well. We drove to an outlet mall to drop off the womenfolk, and we decided to all eat there at the food court. A few bites into the meal, I could barely keep my head up. I eventually went to my car to lie back while they finished. By the time Owen checked on me, it was clear that I couldn't drive nor walk around at the ballgame. Owen drove me to a nearby hospital and waited until I was checked in, at which point I told him to take the baseball tickets and enjoy the game with his dad and his little sons. After being examined and given some medication for the dizziness, I sat around the waiting room until the Reds game was over, when Owen drove me back to Toledo in my car.

So, as in life, the weekend featured its ups and downs. The spinning wheels of quad skates on Saturday became the spinning room of Labrynthitis on Sunday. I was glad to see CRG, but disappointed to miss the Reds game. This is probably the first season since I was 5 years old that I reached the end of the first week of May without attending a Major League Baseball game, and it's possible that I won't make one until mid-June. Both CRG and I will need to shake off a tough weekend and prepare for bigger and better things. Unfortunately, I'll probably miss the next two home bouts, but I'll be cheering from afar. I'll have two more shots at the derby/baseball doubleheader this season: June 18-19 in Cincy and August 20-21 in Pittsburgh. Hope to see you there!