RollerCon 2013: A Fanboy’s Experience

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Photo of Dilly Dally tomahawking the line by Chris Bojanower. Team SeXY vs. Chupacabras Peligroso, RollerCon 2013

RollerCon 2013: A Fanboy’s Experience

I coach an awful lot of roller derby. I also play a lot of roller derby (derby gods willing). I’ve been doing this a relatively long time. It’s events like Roller Con 2013 in Las Vegas that remind me that, first and foremost, I’m a fan of roller derby.

In every game I played at RC13, I found myself on the bench marveling at the skillz (with a Z) of the players on the track. People I’d never seen nor met, people I’ve known for years, people I got to know during that week in early August.

Roller Derby ain’t what it used to be; and I’m not talking about the Golden Age days of touring bank tracks and Ann Calvello. I’m saying that the derby being played today is light-years different from the derby I was watching and playing in 2007. I remember sitting trackside at the apex of turns three and four at the 2007 WFTDA Championships in Austin. It was FAST! It was like watching full-contact speed-skating. I was amazed that the jammers could even keep up with the packs, let alone lap them over and over again.

The game has slowed down a lot since then, but I think that lateral agility and body control have picked up where blazing speed left off. Almost everyone is skating and blocking backwards now, spinning out of hits, plow-stopping so hard that it’s a wonder skaters aren’t chiseling up pieces of the track more often.

The hits might not always be quite as epic as Rice Rocket’s legendary Slay-Ride, but I think there’s a heck of a lot more contact during any given jam. Jammers have found a lot of really inventive ways to deal with scrum starts. At the same time, it’s getting more and more difficult to move blockers off their spot.

Basically, more people are getting better and better at roller derby, and that is happening at an alarming rate. If you aren’t evolving as a skater every day, you better just get out of the way. Beware… Dilly Dally and Lex Celerator are coming!

I had the honor of coaching a couple of on-skates classes and an off-skates seminar on bench coaching. I was blown away by the talent and coachability of players in my classes. There were 75 skaters in my Partner Blocking class, and it seemed like every time we just got started on a drill, skaters were looking at me like, “Okay, we got it. That was great! What’s next?” Give me those same 75 skaters for a month of practices and we’d give Gotham a run for their money! During my Perpetual Motion Practice early on Saturday morning, skaters drenched in sweat and clearly exhausted were practically begging for more skating after two hours of some of the best punishment I can dish out. It was a real pleasure standing in the center of that track and working with the next generation of skaters who are about to start putting us old-timers out to pasture.

Derby skillz are adjusting to ever-evolving gameplay and derby is thrilling to watch again. One of the best bouts I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen hundreds of bouts) was Rocky Mountain’s one-point, last jam victory over Denver at Roller Con. Denver’s defense was just unreal. Akers and Serelson are the definition of a shut-down, blocking combo. Rocky Mountain was relentless, though, with Sweet Mary Pain and Gaygan leading the charge. Down nine points going into the last jam, Rocky was able to pull off a dramatic victory behind back-to-back natural grand slams. Even though, Denver was down two blockers going into that last jam, the way their defense was playing, it seemed like a minor miracle to see any jammer buzz through three passes while her blockers were busy working overtime to stifle the Denver jammer. (There were whole jams where Denver’s packs held Rocky’s jammer to less than one lap–not less than one “pass,” mind you–less than one single lap around the track.) A one-point win with that level of intensity for sixty-plus minutes… It. Was. Epic.

Let’s not forget that one of the coolest things, by far, for a fan boy like me is that I got to actually PLAY DERBY with some of my favorite players; people I’ve been watching from afar for years. I mean, it’s not like I will likely ever get to play catch with Joey Votto, or play eighteen holes at Augusta with Tiger. But, at Roller Con, I get to play derby with the best players in the game. I get to watch Scald Eagle basically dance through our whole pack. (It’s hard enough to block someone like that when you’re not sort of star-struck and in awe of her footwork.) I get to get steamrolled by Demanda Riot (who will be happy to tell you, “I’m gonna run you over,” right before she runs you over.) I don’t get to get schooled by Smarty Pants near often enough, but it’s a brand new, crash course in derby every single time. And, I’ve played in plenty of games with Streak and Quadzilla and Debaucherous Prime. Nonetheless, those mofos are SICK to watch and even more fun to play with.

I’m a little biased, because she started her career here in Cincinnati, but Trauma might be my favorite player to watch right now. The Kansas City triple threat is easily one of the best five players in derby. That’s not my biased opinion; that’s a simple fact. She makes everything look easy, even at the highest levels of competition. She’s laughing while she’s beating the crap out of you. She creates enormous matchup problems whether she’s blocking or jamming, and anyone who’s ever played with or against her knows it.

Then, of course, there’s Ivanna and Trish. For a long, long time (in derby years), I don’t think there are too many players I like more off the track–and fear more on the track–as Trish the Dish. She specializes in literally launching opponents into the air; and if she connects, it’s gonna bruise. Ivanna S. Pankin was one of the first and is still one of the best. I don’t think I’ve met anyone smarter or wiser in all of derby. When it comes to the big picture: face it; she’s more right than you are. She invented the single biggest annual derby event in the world. It’s not enough to wrangle 5,000 obnoxious derby nuts over the course of five days, but she pulls it of in the middle of a Las Vegas Strip Casino!!! Want to know why the lines keep getting longer? Want to know why the challenges fill up so fast? It’s because Roller Con is an incredibly successful and well-run production that is keeping up with the growth of the fastest growing underground sport in the world.

I coach derby because it is a calling. I just can’t help it; something about this sport has latched onto my brain. I play derby because it’s the most fun I’ve had since I was a twelve-year-old playing Nerf Football in the vacant lot behind our apartment building. I watch derby because I’m a huge fan, by definition, a total fanatic, a crazed, obsessed lover of this sport. All that comes together at Roller Con, and reminds me why I let roller derby ruin my life.

Quad loves you, Roller Derby. Quad loves you, too, Roller Con.

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