BotB IV Diary, Part V: The Microcosm of My Conflict

Welcome to WRDN’s continuing Battle on the Bank IV Diary, a wrap-up of banked track derby’s national invitational tournament. This six five-part diary will highlight six five games and use them to comment about the event—and the state of derby in general—from a different perspective.

How did I have the best AND worst derby weekend of my life? What does it mean to take pride in your team—and your city? Why was the closest game of the weekend boring to me? And what does it mean for derby to see a superstar in the making? To find the answers to these and other questions, read on…

Previous BotB Diary Entries: Part I · Part II · Part III · Part IV

The Microcosm of My Conflict

San Diego 67, Texas 52

On the evening of June 12, some hours after Team Legit claimed the Battle on the Bank IV championship trophy, I dispatched this tweet out onto the Internet.

At the time I was experiencing a very strong conflict of feelings about roller derby, and I was trying to sort out who was at fault for this conflict: Me, or the game. This has been a conflict that I’ve carried with me for a while, but it’s one that’s been getting stronger and stronger in the past few months.

This conflict came to a head during Battle on the Bank IV. The sequence of events that took place in the 24 hours after the last game on June 11 (the BotB consolation semi-final between the San Diego Derby Dolls and the TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls) caused me to seriously rethink everything I knew about the modern game—for better and for worse.

The tricky bit, as I’ve tweeted, was finding the right words for it, finding the right way to express my elation and frustration for derby. As it turned out, the words were right in front of me all this time: Those 24 hours were an exact replication of everything that was causing a rift of confusion through me. A microcosm of my conflict, if you will.

So what’s my deal? To find out, let’s go back to June 11, 2011, where San Diego and Texas were ready to see who would advance to the BotB IV third place game…

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The Lonestar Rollergirls were famously upset by the up-and-coming Arizona Derby Dames on the first day of the tournament. Some of that had to do with Arizona’s improvement over the last year, for sure. But a larger share of that loss was likely due to TXRD losing a big, veteran chunk of their team over the past year, including their top jammer Smarty Pants, who jumped to the Texas Rollergirls and their WFTDA travel team.

San Diego lost a few of their big names as well, but they were still the defending double-champions. There was also an interesting wrinkle with the timing of their game against TXRD, as the Wildfires had just lost their semi-final game against Los Angeles an hour beforehand. Texas had not played an entire game all day, so you’d think they’d be more fresh and raring to go.

Once the game got going, though, San Diego quickly punched through a Texas team getting penalties hand over first. The halftime score of SDDD 43, TXRD 7 should tell you all you need to know about how the first 15-minute half went down. The next six minutes running into the second half weren’t much better for the Austinites, with the scoreboard showing 56-18 at that point.

But the saying applies to their banked track team, too: Texas is still Texas.

TXRD became the benefactors of a few timely San Diego penalties. After scoring 21 unanswered points, Texas found themselves right back in the game at 56-39 with four minutes left. The crowd noticed this momentum shift, and reacted accordingly. Suddenly, it was a game.

Alas. Though TXRD ultimately outscored the Wildfires 34-11 last nine minutes of the contest, their first half failures proved too much to overcome. San Diego ultimately found themselves advancing to the third place game the next day, denying the originators of modern derby a win at Battle on the Bank for the first time in the history of the tournament.

That was the story for Texas that weekend in Phoenix. They had a tough time of things from the word go, getting the short end of the stick with the structure of the brackets—which were drawn up by their first-round opponent Arizona, it should be noted—only having two chances to put a dent in anyone. Plus, they very well may have beaten San Diego (or Arizona, for that matter) had they been able to stretch their legs out in a full-length game. Regardless, Texas still went 0-for-2 at Battle of the Bank IV.

But after their loss to San Diego, TXRD didn’t look like a team that went 0-for-2. Outside of turn 2, the entire Lonestar Rollergirl All-Scar Army gathered for a group photo.

Thing was, this wasn’t any ordinary group photo.

Does this team look like they lost?

Everyone was happy. They were excited. They were beaming with pride. Here was a TXRD team that didn’t look like they lost—this was a team that looked like they had won, and were damn proud of it.

This moment of celebration struck a chord with me.

As the team was sharing hugs, smiling to the cameras, and dishing out high-fives to passers-by, I recognized how proud they were of being who they were, and how proud they were of being from where they were. This was in spite of their results on track.

While standing there, I started to feel the same pride and joy for roller derby as the team was feeling the pride in joy they had with each other. It was wonderful. I also began to gain a new appreciation for the state of Texas.

Funny thing about that: I have little reason to like the state, personally. It’s a hotbed for questionable political and social beliefs, and also the state responsible for not one, but two Dubbyas. Two too many, if you ask me.

But as TXRD was posing for that group photo with with the Texas state flag in tow, all of a sudden I found a reason to be proud of the state of Texas as much as those girls were.

This feeling was multiplied when I realized that what I was experiencing could only be a sliver of what Texas was feeling at that moment. With everything their team has been through (recently and historically), with how hard the individual skaters have worked to get here, and with how much they love playing the game to spend the time and money that they have to keep playing it; I can only imagine how big this experience was for them.

This was an extraordinary moment for me. The derby fan in me was overwhelmed with happiness and joy. And that derby could make me love something that I normally wouldn’t? That’s derby, baby.

At that instant, I could not be more thankful for derby to be the way that it is.

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Actually, I take that back. That instant was later in the evening.

An evening of derby would almost certainly not be complete without its corresponding afterparty. The official one at Battle on the Bank was, with little doubt, one of the best parties I had ever been to in my life.

However, there was a point in earlier in the day where I felt my attendance at the party would be put into jeopardy.

Around lunchtime Saturday, I started to get a headache. I didn’t have access to aspirin or ibuprofen, so I toughed it out while watching the late games. But it persisted. As the day passed by, it started to get worse.

As Texas was posing for their group photo at the end of day’s on-track action, my head was starting to throb in pain. Damn the aspirin, I thought. I was going to need a drill to get this thing out of my head. It would have been less painful.

I started to worry. The afterparty was just as much a reason why I drove 400 miles to Phoenix than was the road trip or the roller derby. Was I going to have to sit it out? Even if I did go, was my headache going to make me irritable and un-fun? The trolley to the bar awaited outside the Colosseum, and I had to try to make a decision around the brain pain.

But it was a pretty easy decision, in the end: The only thing I could do was man-up and get to the afterparty, headache be damned. I was going to force myself to have a good time, even if it killed me.

So onto the trolley I went.

Here’s a little-known fact about delivery trucks: When hollowed out and furnished with seating for 12 in the rear, there’s still room for a stripper pole.

The party on the way to the party. Pictured far right: Your intrepid, headache-laden derby blogger. (Photo credit: Richard Kimbrough Photography)

There were some very lovely ladies in the back of this truck-turned-party trolley, with one in particular none-too-concerned with keeping her shirt on. She was also pretty good on the pole, it must be said. I guess she gets in a lot of practice.

I can’t say I completely enjoyed myself  (*ahem*) during this trip, mostly because my head was ready to explode in on a moment’s notice.

Still, I have to say that I represented myself quite well on the pole. I climbed it, did a monkey flip on it, and even walked up it using the side wall of the truck as leverage. I still need to work on my leg spins, though. Pretty sure my headache hindered me in that department.

Anyway…

When the truck arrived at the bar, my headache was not getting any better. I had hoped a walk to a nearby drugstore would get some painkillers in me, but they were all closed for the evening. I had to make-do with some bottled water from a gas station, hoping hydration would do the trick.

No dice. The headache wasn’t going away.

Bound to my fate, I had no choice but to tough it out. I made my way into the bar, almost praying that the headache would go away on its own. Desperate, I ordered my starting drink of choice—a screwdriver, appropriately—to see if that would help.

Almost as soon as I downed my first hit, my headache disappeared.

Immediately.

I was astounded. It was as if my brain was asking for a drink the entire time and made a big stink about it until it got one. I don’t think I had ever have something like that happen to me before. My experience has always been, alcohol makes headaches worse, not better. (Eventually, anyway.)

With my new-found vitality, I partied.

Now, I enjoy a good party. I’m not that heavy of a drinker normally, but when I’m in “party mode” I like to forget that I’m not a heavy drinker and take them down early and often. I can only do this when I’m also dancing like a lunatic, lest I become an angry drunk (which no one likes). Luckily, the band was just leaving, opening up the floor in the corner for dancing. I happily got things started.

As $2 PBRs were being emptied and more and more people arrived, things really got going. Megatron and the Derby Deeds crew showed up, and soon after their song came up on the jukebox. Dumptruck was also there, as is required by law in many states. I also spotted a contingent from the OC Rollergirls, as well as pretty much every single L.A. Derby Dolls Enforcer (the ref crew) in existence.

Things were rocking. The right music was playing, the right amount of liquor was flowing, and the right people were there to take it all in. The hula-hoop contest was in full swing, and everyone was  having a blast.

But when Texas got there…

You know that song, “Deep in the Heart of Texas?” The Lonestar Rollergirls were singing that all night. They were also doing it all night, if you replace “Texas” with “tongue” and “heart” with “a teammate’s mouth.” (The “Deep” part needs not be replaced.) As it was, the ladies from Texas gave me even more reasons to love the Lone Star State that night.

Hell, I even picked up the Texas flag and waved it proudly while I danced the night away. I wouldn’t have done that 24 hours prior to that night. I wouldn’t do it now. But I’d do it if I was full of good-times and was watching some very pretty roller derby girls making out with each other on the dance floor.

When things were all said and done, I said my goodbyes, stumbled to a taxi and made my way back to my hotel. As I thought about what had just happened, almost all of my troubles and worries about roller derby took a back seat.

I just knew at that moment, I could not be enjoying life, or derby, any more that I could ever have that evening.

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So yeah, TXRD “won” the afterparty.

Unlike your normal afterparty, though, there was still another day of derby left to go: Championship Sunday. The remaining four teams would play for the top three spots in the last two full-length bouts of the tournament.

The third place game turned out to be a yawner, as San Diego beat Arizona in a 170-point blowout to take third place. That contest set the stage for the main event of the weekend: Team Legit and Los Angeles were set to do battle in the championship game.

It was no secret that L.A. really wanted to beat Legit. The Ri-ettes trained hard for the six months leading up to Battle on the Bank, and they weren’t going to let some rag-tag team of all-stars stand in their way. You could tell from their warm-ups that they meant business.

And the championship game turned out to be a fantastic one from start to finish. It was close until Legit pulled away in the fourth quarter, earning a victory for Team Legit. It was the perfect game to cap what was just about the perfect weekend of derby for me.

But then…

As the seconds wound down towards Legit’s triumph, I noticed something different about the L.A. skaters. It was a combination of the looks on their faces, the change in their body language and the overall “mood” of the team.

I’ve seen other teams and other skaters look this way a few times here and there, this look stood out for me because it was something I wasn’t used to seeing in person at the end of a derby contest, and certainly not with an L.A. team I’ve followed for years.

But it was there. As I realized what I was seeing, the moment of pure derby joy and elation I experienced the day before with Texas—both after their game and at the afterparty—was flipped on its head. Just like that, I felt as if someone had punched me in the gut, deflating my derby spirits as low as I had ever felt them go.

As the Ri-ettes stood on the infield to congratulate the winners, the look subsided. But I knew deep down inside, they were still feeling it. That only made it worse for me.

However, while the skaters were feeling this emotion in part due to the outcome of the game, I was feeling it because of the state of roller derby. Our emotions were shared, but for different reasons.

There was only one word that could describe both what I saw the L.A. Ri-ettes experience at that moment, and to sum up my feelings about roller derby as a whole at that moment in time:

Disappointment.

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The same day Team Legit won the Battle on the Bank championship, another championship game was taking place. You may have heard of it.

The Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks were in the middle of the NBA Finals and June 12 was game six of the series. This game turned out to be the deciding game of the finals, as Dirk Nowitski and the Dallas Mavericks captured their first NBA Championship.

I happened to catch the clinching game on the TV in my hotel room that Sunday evening. The sports fan in me was thrilled that the right team and the right guys (Dirk, J-Kidd, Mark Cuban) won the title. I was also happy that Lebron James was denied a victory.

Of course, the big story of the NBA this year was that Lebron James, one of basketball’s biggest stars, jumped ship from a middling Cleveland Cavaliers team to the big-money Miami Heat, who also had the likes of Dwayne Wade and Chris Paul on the team. “The Decision” to abandon his loyalties, chase big money, and hop to an “easy” path to a championship turned Lebron into a national basketball villain.

Still, you can’t totally blame him. The ultimate goal of any athlete is to be the best he or she can be, or in this case, win the ultimate prize of the sport. The championship is all that matters to many NBA players, and they work their asses off every day to try to earn a chance to attain it. Although many folks in the basketball world think Lebron tried to shortcut that process, at the end of the day it’s not an easy feat to be the best team in all of basketball. ‘Bron-bron just saw an good opportunity and took it.

The players on the Mavs and the Heat worked hard to get to the finals of their championship game. But as is the way in sports, only one team was going to win, meaning one last team was going to leave the 2011 basketball season with nothing to show for it.

Does this man look like he had fun playing basketball?

But that’s how sports work. Even if every player on every team works as hard as they can to be the best that they can be, there can only be one winner. There’s the thrill of victory, and then the agony of defeat. While the victors celebrate, the defeated dwell in…

Disappointment.

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When L.A. lost the championship game against Team Legit, the Ri-ettes were visibly disappointed. As well they should have been. They put in a lot of work during the first half of the year, put together a tough schedule to prepare themselves, and even went as far to state that their goal was to win it all at Battle on the Bank. But they didn’t meet that goal, and it showed in the moments after their loss to Legit.

That’s not exactly why I had my gut-punch moment after their defeat, however. I wasn’t bummed that the Ri-ettes lost—I was a neutral observer during the finals, as I had picked Legit to win it all from the start. During the finals, I was just there as a fan of the sport of roller derby. The action on the track didn’t disappoint.

It was at that moment that I realized more than anything else, it was the action off the track that disappointed the sports fan in me.

Consider the Lonestar Rollergirls. Texas came into the tournament wanting to put on a good showing, just like any other team there. They may have even had thoughts of winning it all. But when it was all said and done, they lost both of their games to teams they were capable of beating.

Normally, a team that doesn’t win a game at a sport’s biggest event of the year should be disappointed in their efforts. But after the defeat that sent them home, there was Texas gathering for a group picture, with faces smiling and pride beaming. Here was a TXRD team that didn’t look like they lost–this was a team that looked like they had won.

That moment of celebration struck a nerve in me.

Speaking from personal experience, there can only be one truly “happy” team in competitive sports: The team that wins.

Back in my high school days, I played football. When I was on the freshman team, we worked our asses off wanting to be the best football players we could be. As a result of our efforts, we went 10-0 that season. Our team was having the time of our lives.

When we made the step-up to junior varsity during our sophomore year, we continued to work our asses off. We opened the season at home in our brand-new football stadium. We were stoked that we would get to play the first-ever football game inside of it. Expectations were high, and we thought we were up to the challenge…

But we lost.

I wasn’t in any mood to celebrate after that game. None of my teammates were, either. All of that hard work, and what did we have to show for it? Nada. Zip. Zilch.

I will never forget the sickness I felt inside of me after that loss.

Our coach knew exactly what we were going through. He said, “it’s a bad taste in your mouth, isn’t it?” I noticed how everyone, including me, was spitting as if there was something inside of us that we couldn’t get out. It was an ingrained feeling of…

Disappointment.

So here was a TXRD team that went 0-2 at Battle on the Bank, banked track roller derby’s biggest event of the year. If L.A. worked really hard and was visibly disappointed that they lost, shouldn’t Texas have looked even the slightest bit disappointed?

Even if wasn’t a disappointment at the same level as L.A., if my team or I were in the same position, I don’t think I would have still been in the mood to pose for a team picture where everyone was all smiles. I can’t think of any other sport, at almost any level, where the losers would do that.

This made me question Texas’ motives. If they weren’t too down about losing at Battle on the Bank, then perhaps they didn’t have that much invested in the tournament. Maybe they didn’t work that hard, or didn’t put as much weight on the tournament as they did in years’ past. Or maybe, they didn’t really care as much as about winning or improving themselves as much as they could.

Whether or not any of that is true, only the girls on the Lonestar Rollergirls know. But that’s certainly the impression I was getting from the team, looking back in retrospect, while they were celebrating themselves at the end of Saturday’s action.

I know from experience that if you work hard at something and don’t succeed, you become disappointed. And the level of disappointment is directly proportional to the amount of effort you put into something. If you don’t put too much effort into something, then you’re not too upset that things didn’t go your way. Because hey, all that matters is that you had fun.

At that moment, I could not be more spiteful at derby for it to be the way that it is.

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 Actually, I take that back. That moment was later in the evening.

As I watched the Dallas Mavericks celebrating an NBA championship that night, there was already talk about the traditional victory parade through the streets of Dallas. It’s kind of like the NBA version of an afterparty.

Even though the Miami Heat and their fans were planning for their afterparty before the NBA Finals started, somehow I think that there weren’t any Heat players or supporters in a party mood after their team lost. (That’s saying something, considering Miami is a party town.) In fact, I don’t think any of the teams that lost during the playoffs were in any mood to celebrate with the champions.

At the NBA Finals afterparty. Lebron James, Miami Heat fans, and referees are noticeably absent.

While thinking about all of this, I thought about the Texas Lonestar Rollergirls and their afterparty “victory.”

In highly competitive sports, there’s only one team that “wins” the afterparty: The team that wins the game. This is usually a default win, since no other team is in the mood to celebrate with the winners.

Yet, those in derby circles love to talk about the who “won” the afterparty, as if it holds equal weight to the action on the track. “Yeah, Team Legit won the biggest banked track roller derby tournament in the young history of the sport, but TXRD won the afterparty!!” To that I say, TXRD went winless in the only place that matters to the sports fan: The track.

I cringe with disgust anytime I hear someone mention that a team “wins” at the afterparty. As a sports fan, I couldn’t care less about that shit.

I don’t follow sports to find out who did what at a party, or what drink deals a player got after they went to the bar after the game. I follow sports because I want to be entertained by two opposing forces giving 110%, leaving everything out on the field (or court, or track), because they want to win the game more than the other team. Anything outside of that has nothing to do with sports, and in many circumstances can detract from the sport itself.

But derby is different. If you win, you’re happy. If you lose, it’s no big deal, at least we had fun! While that’s wonderful from a social standpoint, from a sports perspective it wrecks the entire purpose of playing the game competitively.

If it was just about playing the game to have fun, every contest would resemble a Pee-Wee football or youth soccer game. Fun for the participants and their families, but boring as hell to an outside observer with no interest. (I talked about this in Part II of my BotB Diary.) While there’s nothing wrong with having “fun” while playing a game, there’s a big difference between doing it just for the fun of doing it, and doing it for love of the game.

I look to baseball as a perfect example of this difference. The baseball season is a grind like no other in sports. It has the longest season (six months), the longest game schedule (162 games), and even the possibility to play two games in the same day. Batters will be put out 75% of the time they step up to the plate. Fielders need to be prepared for a hit on every possible pitch, even though nothing happens on 100 pitches or more a game.

Playing the game of baseball is an exercise in frustration. Most people couldn’t put up with standing around and waiting for nothing to happen, or rarely getting on base.

But you know what? Baseball players do it, but not particularly because they love playing baseball. They do it because they just love baseball. Their love of the game trumps the good or bad that comes from playing the game itself. There are parts of playing the game that are not particularly “fun.” But in the long run, players have “fun” because they love the game they’re playing.

This makes me think about the ulterior motive of derby skaters in general. If they don’t care if they win or lose as much as people do in other competitive sports, and if many skaters value afterparty victories as much as they do bout victories even in a tongue-in-cheek way (or in TXRD’s case, a tongue-in-mouth way), why are they really playing roller derby?

If they’re playing roller derby because they want to have fun, then that means that derby is just the ways and means skaters use to have a good time. That means that having fun is the main reason why they’re playing derby.

But if that’s true, that means many skaters don’t primarily see derby as a way to improve their skating skills and focus on bettering themselves to win their next game. That can only mean that they don’t care if they get better at the game—and therefore, help the game as a whole get better—because the second playing derby “stops being fun,” people stop playing it.

That’s the realization I came to as I looked back to TXRD’s group photo and their actions at the afterparty. They were there having the time of their lives, like everything there was one big party. But as a result of that, the sport of roller derby is growing much more slowly than it should be.

If you don’t agree with me on that point, I won’t try to argue with you. But think of it this way:

You can take the roller derby out of a fun party and still have a good party. But can you take the party out of fun roller derby and still have good roller derby?

If you didn’t answer “yes” to that question, then you’re part of the reason why I hate how derby is the way that it is right now.

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As I was driving home from Phoenix, I thought about all of the amazing things I saw at Battle on the Bank IV. But I couldn’t help but think about all the things that I feel is helping to hold roller derby back from showing real, competitive growth.

This conflict of emotions toward derby stuck with me for a good week after the event. Even now, anytime I see something good about derby I can’t help but compare it to the things I think that are not good about derby, even if that comparison isn’t justified.

Really, I don’t know what to think about the modern game now.

But that’s why my tweet mentioned that it could be my fault I’m thinking this way—if everything about derby culture really isn’t getting in the way of the true growth of the sport, then I may be being cynical towards derby for no good reason at all.

On the other hand, everything I’ve seen in sports, both through personal experience and through watching other sports on a regular basis, would seem to suggest the derby culture is doing everything differently than sports culture.

That’s something that the derby community is proud of, that derby is different. They’ll bring that up anytime they want to beat their chest and show the world that their game is put up for comparison to other games. But there’s a danger in doing that, one I’m certain most people don’t realize:

“Different” doesn’t always mean “better.”

In the 24 hours after SDDD beat TXRD, I saw that different could be better, but it could also be worse.

The derby fan in me had the best weekend of derby it’s ever had. The on-track action, the budding of upcoming teams, the camaraderie, the afterparty, the people, the culture…it was all there to be taken in and absorbed like a wet sponge.

But the sports fan in me left Phoenix with doubts and concerns—be they justified or not—about the current path the sport is on, and whether or not the players will stop playing it when it stops becoming fun for them.

If you boil all of it down, all I want to see is the sport of roller derby played to its full potential and at its highest possible level. I have the “ideal” sport all thought out in my mind and no matter how I look at it, I can’t believe that will ever happen if skaters and teams are just as concerned about planning for the afterparty as they are with training for the games.

All I want is for the derby fan in me and the sports fan in me to be one in the same.

Right now, it’s not.

Archived footage of this game is available at Derbydolls.tv:
San Diego vs. Texas

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12 responses to this post.

  1. I somewhat agree with your main point but I think some perspective needs to be thrown into this.

    1. You were watching banked track derby. Not that there’s anything wrong with banked track derby, but (aside from LA and SD (and why you saw what you wanted to see out of LA)) they don’t place much importance on interleague games. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, I enjoy home games. But, if your focus is on your home team but then once a year, you travel to another city to play some derby and have some fun, you’re not going to be too disappointed if you lose. You’ll just move on to the having fun part.

    It’s a little different in flat track. Interleague is the main or only focus of most competitive leagues. Go to championships and see if you come away with the same feelings. If you do, then you’ll have a better argument.

    2. The main issue when comparing Lebron James to TXRD is that Lebron James has been playing basketball since the age of 3. He’s been working his ass off his entire life dreaming of an NBA championship. He was the closest he’s ever been and he lost.

    That story is significantly different from the TXRD’s skaters who have been playing the sport a couple years (to have fun or to get in shape or because a friend is doing it) and Battle on the Bank was just another event for them.

    Comparing the NBA Championship to a consolation game at Battle on the Bank is not quite fair.

    You just aren’t going to see the same passion out of roller derby until skaters have been playing the game their entire life.

    Reply

    • 1. I agree that banked track is a different beast this early on in its history. But I’m not oblivious to WFTDA play. Here’s a counterpoint for you.

      One of the greatest flat track games I have ever seen was the 2009 WFTDA Eastern Regional final between Gotham and Philly. (This was back in the old days of roller derby where teams would not take a knee and actually move forward at the start of a jam.) It was a very clean game with few penalties, and it was a nail-biter from start to finish. The last jam of the game went the full two minutes, and Philly beat Gotham by picking up a last-gasp blocker point and ghost point to win the game, 90-89.

      Immediately after the final whistle sounded and the teams realized who won and who lost, Philly celebrated and went into a dogpile. Then Gotham celebrated and joined them in the same dogpile.

      This was really cool at the time at happened, and I suppose it’s still a fantastic “derby” moment. But then the sports fan in me asks, “wait a minute, why is the losing team so happy for the winning team?”

      I’m not saying there’s something wrong with the losers congratulating the winners in a show of sportsmanship. Goodness, no. Thing is, this phenomenon isn’t exclusive to roller derby:

      It’s hockey tradition for the losers of a playoff series to line up and shake hands with the winners to congratulate them and wish them well. In this situation you can understand why the winners would be happy, and the losers would be devastated.

      Even though Gotham lost the game, they still knew they were going to Nationals. So they didn’t really “lose” on that day, it just made their run at the championship that much harder. But still, the WFTDA regionals and the championships are pretty high up there on the ladder of derby competitiveness; like I said in my post, if that was my team or me, I’d be really bummed and in no mood to dogpile the team that just beat me.

      2. Another counterpoint:

      Here we have some baseball players who have probably only been playing the game for 3 or 4 years. Watch that video, look at the initial reaction of the Japanese players and try telling me that passion only applies to players who play sports professionally.

      Amateur sports can have the same fire and competitiveness as pro sports. Just look at the Olympic Games, for pete’s sake. But those athletes don’t do it to have fun or to get in shape or a friend is doing it. They do it because there’s a drive to be the best athlete they can be.

      I feel that drive is missing from a good percentage of people who play derby. If someone just wanted to have fun playing a sport that they like, they’d normally join a recreational league and have their fun there. Problem is, rec leagues don’t exist in derby, in the capacity that’s needed to accommodate these kinds of skaters.

      So they get lumped in with the ones that want to do well in derby, and you’re left with a single talent pool that both looks forward to the afterparty and trains for the Roller Derby World Cup. In my opinion, both groups would be better served–and the sport of roller derby would be better off–if they were separate.

      Reply

    • Those kids in the LLWS haven’t been playing their sport as long as Lebron James has been playing his but they’ve basically been playing it their entire lives. Age, amateur/pro status, is not the issue. The issue is how big the sport is in your life. If it’s a sport you’re serious about that you’ve been playing for most of your life (which is true about the little leaguers), you can’t help to take a loss harder than when you’ve had 25-30 years of life experiences before you ever even knew about the sport we’re talking about here. I mean, come on. You keep bringing up meaningless games as your grounds for this argument. A consolation game. A game between two teams who have already advanced. Those aren’t the games that end in catastrophic disappointment. When you’re an adult, you have the ability to put those games in perspective and get over a loss in a few seconds. It’s not holding the sport back in any way. There are much larger issues to tackle. You and I both know firsthand how serious these women take the sport. Smiling or partying after a loss doesn’t mean they’re taking it any less seriously. Skipping practice and drinking before a game means they’re not taking the sport seriously. You think that’s happening at Gotham? Denver? Oly? Philly?

      Reply

      • You think that’s happening at Gotham? Denver? Oly? Philly?

        No, I don’t. But that’s exactly my point.

        The good teams are good because they want to be good, and the players on those teams train and focus accordingly. Sure, there will always be time for partying and celebrating. But that should be completely secondary to wanting to be good at roller derby. All I wanted to try and say with this post is that there are probably too many individual skaters, or perhaps even leagues, who put the focus on having fun over wanting to be good at roller derby. While there’s nothing wrong with that by itself (to each their own), when it comes to trying to grow the sport and make it better, if more skaters work as hard as do those on Gotham, Denver, Oly or Rocky, that would improve the game across the board more quickly. That’s what I care to see more than anything else.

        Also, I’ve seen numerous football, basketball, and soccer games end and players on the losing team smiling and joking with their friends on the winning team. Are you telling me that’s holding back those sports?

        No. There’s nothing wrong with competitors showing mutual respect for one another after a hard-fought game. But the difference is that in those sports, they don’t continue the post-game ceremonies by getting drunk and partaking in a hula-hoop contest during the afterparty. There’s nothing wrong with players in sports getting together off the field for some personal fun during an off-week or the off-season, but generally they do it with their teammates only, and on their own accord. That’s sports culture.

        Like I said in the post, I can’t imagine that the ideal form of roller derby, whatever it ultimately turns out to be, will have the same party culture we have in derby now. I actually have a theory as to why things are the way that they are right now, but it would require bringing up a subject I dare not touch out of respect. I have no doubt that if I talk about it on this blog, it will generate a shitstorm like no other. So I won’t! (At least for now…)

    • Also, I’ve seen numerous football, basketball, and soccer games end and players on the losing team smiling and joking with their friends on the winning team. Are you telling me that’s holding back those sports?

      Reply

  2. Posted by Brad Example on 2 September 2011 at 8:54 am

    I get where you’re coming from, but I don’t entirely share your conclusions.

    In addition to what Derbytron said about playing derby your whole life, the current state of the sport is explicitly *amateur* — if you are paying to play it, rather than the other way around, then of course you’re playing it because you enjoy it, not for some abstract “betterment of the sport.” And there’s no reason you can’t enjoy the afterparty as much as the skating. I agree, you don’t prepare for the partying as hard as you practice on the track, but you can’t skate 24/7, which leaves a few minutes in the day to pick out your partyin’ clothes.

    Now, if you want to see skaters registering disappointment at a loss, look no farther than my own league, DRD, after being knocked out of contention for the WFTDA championships last year. That was one somber team, let me tell you. But most of MHC also loves to dance, so they weren’t going to let the loss ruin their evening at the afterparty… and this year they have been working their tails off to earn a trip to Champs (which, after all, we’re hosting). You *can* have it both ways.

    I’ve been enjoying reading your derby musings, Windyman, but it seems to me that you have a very clear idea of how things *ought* to be, from the perspective of a traditional sports fan, and it disturbs or angers you when they don’t match your expectations. Well, maybe it’s because I’m not a traditional sports fan (though I’ll watch an occasional NFL or MLB game with my dad and brother), but I’m more than happy to let the derby community find its own way to world-wide renown — and I’ll help as best I can with professional-caliber announcing.

    Reply

    • Brad Example said:
      I get where you’re coming from, but I don’t entirely share your conclusions.

      This is all I really wanted out of this post, and in fact this entire blog. It’s okay for people to disagree as long as they can understand each other.

      Brad Example said:
      In addition to what Derbytron said about playing derby your whole life, the current state of the sport is explicitly *amateur* — if you are paying to play it, rather than the other way around, then of course you’re playing it because you enjoy it, not for some abstract “betterment of the sport.”

      Here’s why I choose to play roller derby: I love this game, and I love it so much that I want other people to see what’s so great about it. The only way that can happen is if people see the best possible roller derby that can be seen. So I want to be the best skater that I can be to show people what derby is all about and hook them for life.

      I don’t do it for “fun.” I do it for the satisfaction of knowing that I’m giving my best shot at improving the game that I love.

      Brad Example said:
      You *can* have it both ways.

      Until we see derby it where it can’t be had both ways, how can we know that the way it is now, even in its amateur status, is better or worse?

      I’ve been enjoying reading your derby musings, Windyman, but it seems to me that you have a very clear idea of how things *ought* to be, from the perspective of a traditional sports fan, and it disturbs or angers you when they don’t match your expectations.

      I’m not going to lie: You’re 100% correct in that assessment. (It’s not like I’m hiding what this blog is about.)

      But shouldn’t derby players have their own expectations? If someone goes into derby just looking to have fun, that’s cool. Once they have their fun and leave the game, that’s it. While the individual skater is happy, it doesn’t do much to grow the game.

      But what about the skaters who tried to make or made the world cup roster? They set expectations SUPER high, and as a result they’re going to represent the absolute best roller derby has to offer in the United States, and around the world. The quality of roller derby will no doubt go up worldwide as a result of their efforts.

      Their high expectations for not only wanting to play roller derby, but represent their country, is all of a sudden making roller derby that much better.

      This goes back to what I was saying in the post about the difference between loving to play baseball, and players that love baseball. I imagine those who tried for a world cup spot worked their asses off trying to make it (such as), and probably didn’t have “fun” training for it. They did it because they wanted to improve themselves and represent themselves against the best the other countries have to offer the roller derby world.

      I’m really looking forward to the world cup, because I believe it’s going to be one of the first moments in the history of the modern derby revival where the game crosses the threshold from being “fun for the players” to “good for the sport.” All the hard work (and “un-fun things) professional athletes need to do to achieve what they achieve means that the people who watch them play are treated to the most amazing things in sports.

      Because the harder the athletes work at being as good as they can be, the better the sport they play becomes.

      Reply

  3. Posted by Brad Example on 2 September 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Forgive me, but I’m trying to understand what you mean by “Until we see derby it where it can’t be had both ways, how can we know that the way it is now, even in its amateur status, is better or worse?” It almost looks like you’re saying that you want some derby team to very publicly fail due to too much emphasis on partying, to contrast with a team that doesn’t? Or are you calling for some number of leagues to ditch the party atmosphere, to see whether they perform better?

    The top leagues in the world right now, two of which are right here in Denver, all seem to embrace the dual nature of the sport. And all those leagues have skaters on Team USA for the World Cup. Do you think that by canceling our afterparties, DRD will gain the ability to outskate Gotham?

    Reply

    • Forgive me, but I’m trying to understand what you mean by “Until we see derby it where it can’t be had both ways, how can we know that the way it is now, even in its amateur status, is better or worse?” It almost looks like you’re saying that you want some derby team to very publicly fail due to too much emphasis on partying, to contrast with a team that doesn’t? Or are you calling for some number of leagues to ditch the party atmosphere, to see whether they perform better?

      In a way, I suppose I am asking for the ditching of the party atmosphere. But I’m not suggesting that I want a derby league to fail in the way that you’re insinuating. I guess what I was trying to say is that the only thing derby people know is the way that derby has always been: Competitive, but still fun. If we were to consider what would happen if roller derby was just competitive, would that make the game better, or worse, or the same?

      Going back to the world cup, as I’ve been reading all the stories on Derby Life about the Team USA skaters, none of them mention having fun, or partying, or anything like that. All the skaters are talking about hard work, accomplishment, competitiveness, and the betterment of one’s self. That’s where the focus of those skaters are at, and they realize they’re a part of the first generation of derby skaters that are going to take the sport to the next level.

      But if there are other leagues or skaters that just want to have a good time and throw a great party after the game? By all means, go for it. I’ll be there as a party-goer looking to have a good time. But I won’t be there as a fan of roller derby.

      Reply

  4. I was very tempted to “tl;dr” this, but I didn’t want to be dishonest: I did actually read it, even if I thought I was going to keel over and die of old age before I got to your point.

    I think that it’s very arrogant of you to judge so harshly the emotions that come with victory and loss based on your attendance of a freakin’ afterparty, and encourage you to consider that everyone handles these things differently. Some people are actually mature enough to go out and have a good time despite a disappointing loss in a sporting event — be it amateur OR professional.

    If you think afterparty shenanigans are what makes or breaks a derby league, you are hopelessly myopic.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Dr. Frak-N-Stein on 2 September 2011 at 7:53 pm

    WindyMan, I come back often to read because I think your insights about strategy and tactics are excellent. You’re thoughts on what sports fans often look for are quite good. However, I have to say, I completely disagree with you on this one.

    I’m not in the camp of LeBron James fans or even those who understand his actions. I’m more of a Steve Yzerman fan. I admire those that sweat and toil not because they win, but because they love what they do. The reward comes from playing the game, not from beating someone else. I still believe in “the team”, just as I believe in “the game”. The day that derby players start bolting to other teams for bigger paychecks, fatter product endorsement payouts, or faster trips to the championships by stacking a team is the day I stop watching, just as I rarely watch NFL, NBA or MLB. There’s no heart in those games anymore. No one there loves the game, they love the paycheck.

    You perfectly nailed the analogy several posts back when you drew a comparison to professional cycling. Banked track cycling can be amazingly exciting, but professional cycling has given us another lesson as well. There were those in the field that wanted to win. They wanted to win at all costs, they were willing to do anything to win, and in the end their use of performance enhancing drugs to beat everyone all but eviscerated that sport. (McGuire, A-Rod, MLB, I’m looking your way too.) Not that I’m implying derby has a p.e.d. problem, but that when a game fails to value fun, it just becomes a job where the ends justify the means. Winning is good and competition is good, but winning and competition without heart is pointless and not something that I hope we in the derby community ever aspire to.

    Anyway, just my two cents. Keep up the good writing. Always thought provoking and good for all of us to consider.

    - Frak

    Reply

  6. Posted by Jelli Knight on 5 March 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Totally agree with Dr. Frak-N-Stein “The reward comes from playing the game, not from beating someone else.”

    You seem to think that a lack of disappointment = a lack of effort, and more over that a lack of sour-face = a lack of disappointment. Not sure where the heck you got those ideas from.

    If my team ever got a chance to play against Gotham we would work our asses off training and playing and we probably would end the game without a single point to our names, but with a huge smile on every player.
    If our team played hard and fair and got beaten by a better team…i don’t see what there is to be disappointed in? I can wish we’d won, sure, but why would i be sour? i don’t even understand you.

    The reason for this (which is the whole reason i hate slow derby) is also what makes derby different from other sports.
    I play for the Darwin Roller Girls, one of the most isolated leagues in the world. We’re lucky if we get to play 2 games a year, so we enjoy every second we’re on the track. If you live far away from a derby league, you will probably never get a chance to play. It’s not like tennis or baseball where you can grab some friends on the weekend and mark out a field.
    Derby has only existed for a short time, and it’s died out before. The entire sport could very well die out in a few short years. Leagues split and crumble. Every time i get on the track i do so knowing that it could be the last. Injury or illness can put you out of the game for good.

    We’re all sharing this brief shining, glorious moment in which derby exists, in a place it exists, and while we’re still able to play it. That’s why i can thank you for kicking my arse and mean it with all my heart. And the after party is our way of celebrating, not the win, but the fact that derby exists and we get to play it. If you’re going to waste your precious seconds on the track with regrets, or slow derby nonsense, or taking the ‘fun’ out of derby, it seems really disrepectful to all the players who’ve been taken out by an injury, or live overseas, or would give anything for a chance to be there and play on a banked track.

    So we dance while the sun is shining. Train and skate with everything you have, and enjoy every second. And when it’s over, win or lose, smile for the camera, buy some shots at the after party.

    Reply

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