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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 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 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.


*** 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.