In the end, I managed to see eight full bouts and portions of three others. I got to watch 12 of the 17 teams in attendance at least once. I will detail the weekend's events chronologically, with some final thoughts at the end. Since there's no way I could do full recaps for that many bouts, you'll find mini-recaps for each, marked with "***" within this post. Some of them, especially those for the bouts I only witnessed in part, may be just a few sentences. Others may be a long paragraph or two. At the very end, I will rank the five teams that impressed me most, as well as select my personal all-star skaters from the weekend. So, I suppose I should get on with it.
FRIDAY, MARCH 4
I woke up around 4am to prepare for my 5am ride to the airport in Detroit. When I walked out to meet my friend, I nearly fell. There had been no real mention of it on the previous night's news, but a sheet of ice covered every surface, and I hoped that the expressways would be clear. We carefully made our way to the on ramp, and we instantly knew this was not going to be a fun commute. It was barely 5:15am, and cars were backed up, with two accidents in the immediate line of sight. I-75 North was completely stopped, and we turned the radio on just in time to hear that the interstate was closed. We managed to get to an exit and picked our way across icy city streets until we were finally able to catch I-75, no more than 1/2 mile north of the third major accident in a four-mile stretch. Traffic heading up through Michigan was crawling at 25 mph, and I was very glad that I always leave very early for flights. After about 15 miles, we finally drove over some salt, and as the road crews caught up, the pace improved some.
I arrived at the airport around 7am, thanked my friend for risking her life and limb to get me there, and hoped for a very short security line. I quickly checked my bag at the counter, and ended up in a line only six people deep at security. In all, I went from the curb to my flight's gate in roughly ten minutes. The first leg of my flight, a little over an hour to Chicago's Midway, was perfect. I had an empty seat next to me and got to read most of the Sporting News Baseball Preview (Hooray Baseball Season!) before touching down for a quick layover.
Unfortunately, my luck evened out as I boarded the plane for the final four-plus hours to Seattle. The flight attendant mentioned that the flight was completely full, but I managed to get on early enough to find a seat on the aisle. Those of you who know me know that I am not a small man (6'3", 240ish), and the aisle seat makes a big difference. In the window seat of my row was another tall guy, although not as large as I am. The stream of people kept coming onto the plane. I knew that someone would be sitting next to me, and I watched intently, hoping it would be a smaller person. I saw the perfect candidate a few people back, a guy who was maybe 5'6" and 130 pounds. Unfortunately, the man immediately before him stopped at my row. If you picture the comic book guy from The Simpsons, but with curly, greasy hair and a week's worth of body odor, you know exactly who wedged himself into the middle seat. Of course, his seat could not contain him, and I thought about asking him to cover a third of my airfare for the third of my seat he occupied. He slumped against me as he slept for most of the trip, and that may just have been the longest four hours of my life.
Finally, I had arrived in Seattle. I picked up my luggage and checked in at the rental car counter. With the keys to a Chevy Malibu (not bad) in hand, I turned on the GPS and hoped for the best. I usually do pretty well with city driving, thanks to learning to drive on the Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago. I managed to reach my friend, Brian, and he said he'd meet me for lunch near the airport before I drove to Bremerton, which is a 55-mile trip through Tacoma and up the Kitsap Peninsula. We caught up a bit and ate some good bar food (giant chili cheeseburger FTW), then parted ways for the day.
The drive wasn't bad, with some ugly stop-and-go down I-5 to Tacoma offset by the beautiful scenery on the way up to Bremerton. I arrived to check in at the Baymont Inn just a bit before 5pm, and I was very pleased with my accommodations. My room was large and comfortable (despite the fact that my shower head was placed roughly chest-high), the views from my room and from the lobby were excellent, and the free breakfast was quite good as well. I settled in for a bit, but decided to get moving pretty quickly, as I wanted to catch at least a couple of the Friday night bouts. The roads were a bit dicey from a steady rain, but I made my way to the venue with little problem.
The Kitsap Sun Pavilion hosted the tournament. The main building held two tracks, set side by side and separated by a curtain. Track One featured a long set of three-high bleachers the entire length of the backstretch (and then some), a set of roughly ten-high bleachers on the end (between turns one and two), and a balcony "beer garden." The beer garden had a lone row of chairs, some tables, and a tall section of all-in-one plastic fold-down chairs (similar to those at the Seagate Centre in Toledo). Track Two's seating consisted of a shorter set of three-high bleachers down the backstretch and a rickety set of metal bleachers between turns one and two. Concessions and merch tables were set up along the two outside walls, parallel to the track straightaways. It certainly didn't have the feel of an arena, and the bleachers were not easy on my butt and back, but I think that tournament host Slaughter County did an excellent job in using the available space. A third track was set up for challenge bouts, which were held in a separate building, a few hundred feet from the door nearest Track Two. I did not venture into Track Three's building, as I was only interested in the WFTDA bouts.
I arrived just in time for the beginning of the 6pm bout, which matched Slaughter County Roller Vixens (SCRV) and Sin City. I settled in to watch the bout for a few minutes, then wandered to the other side to find a single piece of merch. Screama Donna of Circle City Roller Girls won the "Pick Your Prize" giveaway on our Facebook page, and she chose the limited edition Hellarad/Flat Track Revolution hip bag. I found my way over to the booth and bought one of the last few remaining, feeling more than a bit odd making such a purchase. I noticed that the evening's first bout (Bellingham vs. Santa Cruz) was down to its last 15 minutes. At the completion of that contest, I moved back over to track one and saw the remainder of SCRV and Sin City.
*** Bellingham vs. Santa Cruz: I didn't see enough of the bout to really comment on the ebb and flow of the contest. I also didn't even have my notepad out, so I can't speak to many of the details. Still, Santa Cruz found itself ahead by eight with a single jam worth of time on the game clock. Bellingham clamped down, and through great pack play and a speedy jammer began to narrow the margin. As the jam clock would down, the jammer headed in for one last pass. When the jam was called, the scoreboard showed a Bellingham victory by a single point. Tension filled the room as everyone watched the officials confer, and when they certified the score, Bellingham's fans erupted and charged down to the trackside, welcoming ecstatic skaters during and after the victory lap. WWS was off to an excellent start.
*** Slaughter County vs. Sin City: I watched most of this bout, including a decent chunk of the first half and the entire second half. SCRV were completely dominant throughout, storming to136-26 halftime lead over the ladies from Vegas. On'Da Sligh was easily the best skater on the track, taking regular turns with the star and virtually always getting the lead jammer call. She was extremely quick, and she pulled off some moves I had never seen before, including a couple of 360-degree spins that would put a Madden Football running back to shame. Toucan Slam and Asonya Face rolled up points as well, and Aretha BreakLimbs was a standout in SCRV's outstanding pack play. Sin City had a tough time putting much together and fell by a final score of 258-81. DVS Dicer was the most effective jammer for Sin City, showing a lot of toughness and determination to break through some very tough blocking.
*** Denver vs. Rose City: After checking out the various seating areas, I settled into the backstretch bleachers of Track One for the evening's marquee matchup. Denver (#6) was a slight underdog to Rose (#5) in the Derby News Network power rankings, but it seemed like a very even matchup. The first thing I noticed about Denver was that its skaters use their real names on the track (for away bouts only, I later learned). I have mixed feelings about this. I certainly think using real names makes roller derby seem more professional and more like a mainstream sport. On the other side, however, I think the tradition of derby names is one of the things that makes the sport unique and fun. Perhaps one of the best things about derby is that the leagues and skaters get to make these decisions, so that each may have it its/her own way.
*** Denver/Rose (cont.) The action was back-and-forth, with each team going on small runs throughout the first half, which ended with a 53-45 Denver lead. Jammer Andrea Hill played a key role in Denver's performance, coming through time and again with excellent performances every time Rose seemed to have the advantage. The first big momentum swing of the second half came via an 18-point power jam for Rose, allowing the Wheels of Justice to take a 77-71 lead with 18 minutes remaining. Heather Juska and Denver fired back just five minutes later with a big jam to tie the score at 84, and the teams kept it close for the next ten minutes. With just 2:30 remaining in the game, Denver clung to a two point lead. Denver pulled away a bit in the final two jams to win by a score of 112-98 and bring Friday's action to a close. This was one of the closest and most entertaining bouts I have seen. Juska and Hill turned in outstanding jammer performances for the Mile High Club, while Gabrielle Begeman and Shannon Dorato were forces in the pack. On the Rose side, Soulfearic Acid was sharp with the star. and White Flight and Scratcher in the Eye added some effective jams. I noticed Napalm Beth and Heidi Go Seek providing the muscle and tactical blocking for Rose.
*** Denver/Rose (cont.): A final point on this bout pertains to the announcing. I am fully aware that the announcers volunteer their services, so I try not to be critical. I'm not expecting Al Michaels, Vin Scully, or Ernie Harwell out there, but please don't detract from my enjoyment of the game. One of the announcers for this bout was constantly trying to be cute, using different voices, from a high-pitched squeak to a "Dr. Claw" growl, or screeching "White Flight!" as though he were trapped in a disco song. It really got annoying after a while, and I felt sorry for his partner, who was doing a very good job.
Having enjoyed a great start to the WWS, I made my way back to the hotel in steady rain. I stopped by my room to get my laptop and went to the lobby to take advantage of the WiFi. Many skaters were still arriving at the hotel at the point, and I killed a bit of time with email and Facebook until I got into a conversation with Jet City announcer Bulldog about the DNN power rankings. I wondered why my eyes felt so heavy at 11pm, then realized that I had been awake for 22 hours at that point and excused myself to get some sleep.
SATURDAY, MARCH 5
My body was still on Eastern time, and I found myself wide awake at 6am. After lying around for a bit, I decided to head down to the lobby and take advantage of the hotel's free breakfast. I eventually outsmarted the waffle maker and complemented my main course with bacon and hash browns. The food was excellent, and I noticed many of the skaters from various teams beginning to funnel in to eat. Just across the aisle from my table were two women in Denver Roller Dolls attire. Even though I am not good at walking up and talking to strangers, I interrupted them for a moment and offered praise for their team's performance the previous night. One of them, Andrea "Kendra Blood" Hill, introduced herself. I realized that just before leaving my room, I had posted a comment on DNN's Facebook post about the Denver-Rose bout, lauding Hill''s performance. We chatted for a moment about the funny coincidence, my trip to watch the WWS, and her team hosting the WFTDA Championships later this year, before I went back to my room to get ready for the day.
SUNDAY, MARCH 6
I lingered a bit longer on Sunday morning before making my way to the lobby for breakfast. I brought my camera with me, hoping to get a few shots of the beautiful scenery through the windows of the dining area. As I sat down with my food, people were streaming in, including most of the Philly Roller Girls. Perhaps ten minutes into my meal, someone walked in and put a very large inflatable zebra at one of the tables., so I got a picture of the zebra and some of the scenery in the background. I finished eating and wanted to talk with some of the Liberty Belles, but I chose not to interrupt any of their conversations. I made it back to my room to get ready, planning on making it to the venue for the first bout at 10am. I'm embarassed to say it, but I actually got caught up in watching Police Academy and completely lost track of time. I finally got on the road a bit after 10:30, making it to the Pavilion with a couple of minutes to spare before Philly vs. Jet.
(Breakfast with the Liberty Belles and the zebra)
*** Philly vs. Jet City: Aside from the big four (Rose, Denver, Philly, and Rat), Jet City was the only DNN top 25 team in attendance at the WWS, and I was looking forward to seeing them skate. Through the first 15 minutes of the game, it looked like a toss-up. Both teams played conservatively, and neither could open up an advantage much beyond five points. Shenita Stretcher sparked Philly with at least a triple grand slam (it may have been quadruple, but I lost track) to put her team ahead, 50-32. Philly seemed to find another gear, and it was never really close after that, as Jet fell behind 100-41 at the half and 151-49 with 15 minutes to play. The end of the bout was anticlimactic, as the Liberty Belles won, 185-68. Precious N. Metal and Snack Size were the most impressive jammers for Jet City, while Unshine did some good work at the front of the pack. For Philly, I could probably list the entire roster. Some of the skaters who cought my attention were Teflon Donna, Ginger Vitis, Shenita Stretcher, Persephone, Goldy, and Deevoida Mercy. I had met Deevoida Mercy at the airport in Seattle ad mentioned that I was excited to see her team play. When I shouted my congratulations to a group of Philly skaters walking by a while after the bout, she turned and yelled "Hi, Airplane Guy!" That brought a smile to my face.
*** Philly/Jet City (cont.): This is the second and final time that I will express my displeasure with an announcer. The house announcers for this bout were a male and female duo, and I thought that the woman did a fine job. The guy, however, just would not get away from the Liberty Belles' "spirit animals." As a fan, I don't want to know that a squirrel or a Jack Russell Terrier did something. I'd really like to know the skaters' names, so that I can keep track during the bout. Also, the animal puns and references just got repetitive and painful after a while. The other non-skating thing that got annoying during the bout was a small but loud group of Jet City fans. A couple of them had megaphones, and they just complained about virtually every call and non-call the refs made. I do give them credit for the fervent support of their team, but the refs in that bout did just as well as those in any other one I saw.
*** Dockyard vs. Santa Cruz: This was the only full bout I saw for either team, and it started off as a pretty tight contest. Dockyard held a small lead throughout most of the first half, and it wasn't until 12 minutes of the second half had passed that Santa Cruz snuck back into the lead, 72-71. From there, Dockyard imploded and Santa Cruz took over completely, outscoring the ladies from Tacoma by a margin of 66-7 over the next ten minutes. In all, Santa Cruz scored 89 points over the final 18 minutes to win, 161-86. Unfortunately, the small numbers and lack of names on Dockyard's uniforms made it very difficult to single out specific skaters for praise. I did notice Ida Spyze-Her doing some good work from the jammer line. For Santa Cruz, Lulu Lockjaw and Candie Hooligan were impressive with the star, and Queen Litigious won points both for her blocking and for her awesome name.
*** Denver vs. Sacred City: This was to be my final bout of the tournament, as I had plans late Sunday afternoon. I really don't have too much to say about this contest, as it was extremely one-sided. After Denver racked up 23 points on a jam by (who else?) Heather Juska, the score stood at 55-0 after just nine minutes of play. Sacred City did eventually put together a few good jams, but the halftime score was 145-21 in favor of Denver. For the next 15 minutes, the ladies from Sacramento fought Denver to a near standstill. From there, however, Denver's overpowering talent prevailed, and the final score was 237-50. For the Mile High Club, Julie Adams showed off her jamming skills, including a sweet spin-o-rama. Of course, Juska, Hill, and Sharpless were excellent as usual from the jammer line. Begeman once again dished out some punishing shots, especially at the back of the pack. She was just one of many outstanding Denver blockers, including standouts Deirdre Sage and Danica Dolezal. While all of Sacred's jammers were held in check, Slapjack caught my eye with some strong blocking against some wickedly talented Denver jammers. I was also very happy to meet announcer Val Capone from Windy City, whose work I have greatly enjoyed over the past couple of years.
*** Tournament Superlatives: These choices are solely based upon the action I saw and do not include anything I heard or read about other bouts. First, here are my five most impressive teams:
#5 - Jet City: Put up a fight against Philly and dominated two smaller leagues. Slaughter County got some consderation here, but ultimately lost points for not playing against any high-level competition.
#4 - Rat City: Rat City was game against two outstanding opponents (Denver and Rose).
#3 - Philly: The tournament's lone Eastern team hung tough against an excellent Rose squad and looked very sharp against Jet City.
#2 - Rose City: A loss to a great Denver squad was the only blemish, as Rose had solid wins over top squads from Philly and Rat City.
#1 - Denver: Swept all three games, and the win against Rose put them over the top.
*** Tournament All-Star Teams: My subjective choices, made only on the basis of bouts I saw. Within each team (first, second, third), skaters are listed alphabetically by derby name or last name. Each team is not necessarily made up of one jammer, one pivot, and three blockers, but simply of five outstanding skaters.
THIRD TEAM: Mel Mangles (Rose), ReAnimate Her (Rat), Jessica Rivas (Denver), Amanda Sharpless (Denver), X-Khan (Rat)
SECOND TEAM: Andrea Hill (Denver), On'Da Sligh (Slaughter), Scratcher in the Eye (Rose), Shenita Stretcher (Philly), White Flight (Rose)
FIRST TEAM: Gabrielle Begeman (Denver), Heather Juska (Denver), Smack Ya Sideways (Rose), Soulfearic Acid (Rose), Teflon Donna (Philly)
TOURNAMENT MVP: Heather Juska (Denver)
(NOTE: If any of the All-Star skaters would like certificates from Have Sports, Will Travel to commemorate their awards, please leave a note on our Facebook page, and I will contact you for a mailing address.)
(With Denver's Andrea Hill)
Sunday night, I wandered down to the hotel ballroom to check out the afterparty. That was probably a bad decision, as I mainly sat around, not knowing anyone. Skaters and those affiliated with the teams seemed to be having a good time, especially once the music situation was fixed. To me, there are three rules for fans pertaining to afterparties, and I broke the second and third ones. Rule #1 is "Understand the nature of the party." The afterparty is a celebration and a reward for the hard work the skaters and officials put in. It does not exist to thank you for spending your $10 or $15 or $55 and coming out to cheer. Even though there are a lot of women, it is also not a singles bar. Rule #2 is "If you don't know people, don't go." Aside from briefly talking to a few skaters throughout the weekend, I knew no one. Refer to Rule #1, people are there to celebrate, not to hang out with people they don't know. My general guideline is to attend only if you know at least 2-3 non-affiliated folks (your friends) or 5-6 derby girls. You don't do any favors by attaching yourself to the hip of that one skater you know all evening. Rule #3 is "Every league or tournament does it differently." I expected the WWS afterparty to be similar to a Cincinnati Rollergirls event, at which the skaters (although often in cliques) are mostly there to socialize. The WWS party turned out to be more of a nightclub-esque dance party, with expensive drinks and music too loud to effectively have a conversation. When in doubt about an afterparty, try to talk to those in the know ahead of time and get an idea of what things will be like.
I won't let the leagues or organizers completely off the hook. They should follow a simple rule as well: Don't invite fans if you have no intention of interacting with them. I'd rather miss out on a closed party than attend one where I'm not really wanted. Would you invite someone to a party at your house and then ignore him or her? Of course not. It's rude in that situation, and poor manners extend to the world of roller derby.
MONDAY, MARCH 7
I got to breakfast at the hotel early, then packed and checked out of the Baymont Inn. I began thr drive to the rental car drop-off near the airport, where Brian was to pick me up at 10am for a few hours in downtown Seattle before my flight.He and one of his young daughters met me there, and we made it over to Pike Street Market. I barely recognized it due to the construction going on to renovate some of the shops. I was still able to track down the delicious mini-donuts, while Brian bought some prawns from the famous fish-throwing shop. We then made our way over to Serious Pie, a gourmet pizza shop owned by local celerbity chef Tom Douglas. There were many very odd combinations of stoppings on the menu, but knowing I had a long day of travel ahead, I played it safe. My fennel sausage, roasted pepper, and provolone pizza was excellent. From there, it was off to the airport, where I said goodbye to Brian and quickly sailed through the ticket counter and security line.
The flights (to Denver and then to Detroit) were long and uneventful. Over the last few minutes heading into Denver, I managed to convince a very nice young couple from Nashville to take their son to a roller derby bout in their hometown. Other than that, it was nothing but compiling my notes for this post and eating honey roasted peanuts. I arrived in Detroit just after midnight, and friends drove me back to Toledo, where I got to bed around 2am. The alarm for work went off at 6am, but I awoke in a good mood. I had just spent the weekend in a state of Derby Nirvana. Unlike the music of the Seattle band that killed good music and ushered in grunge in the early 90's, the announcers were generally pleasant and easy to understand.
I'll wrap up my post by relating something that happened to me on my way to work on Tuesday morning. I was driving down my side street behind a small school bus. The bus pulled over nd stopped, but it did not activate the lights or stop sign. Isat a waited for a bit, but nothing happened. I finally went to pass the bus, and the driver suddenly blasted the horm and activated the lights and stop sign. I was startled, and I immediately pulled into a parking lot on the left before I could completely pass the bus. I looped around and pulled back onto the street behind the bus. I think that I subconsciously felt I could avoid a penalty by re-entering play at the "back of the pack." And that, my friends, is how I know I watched entirely too much derby this past weekend.