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Roller Derby Thu Oct 28 2010
'Tis that time of year once again, when roller derby fans from across the nation will pack up their t-shirts, banners, and beer koozies that proclaim their love of the sport and a particular team. These derby faithful will hop in cars and vans, board airplanes, and hightail it to Chicago, this year's host to the Uproar on the Lakeshore, the 2010 WFTDA national roller derby championships, which take place Friday, Nov. 5 through Sunday, Nov. 7. Beer and nachos in hand, the fans will gasp, cheer, and yell as they watch 12 teams duke it out for the honor of being named the best derby team in the nation. (See this past post for a list of the competing teams and the championship roster.)
Given the tense rivalry between many of the teams and some controversies in game play, there will more than likely be plenty of opportunities for fans to freak out. At the 2009 championships, the Windy All-Stars faced challenges when they countered the controversial "slow pack" or "Western" style of playing embraced by the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls and Denver Roller Dolls.
Basically, this style allows for skating clockwise (backward from normal play) and slowing the pack way down--sometimes to the point of complete standstill--creating a brick wall of Blockers for the opposite team's Jammer to slam into like Kool-Aid. The unorthodox strategies aren't illegal per se, but they are throwing other leagues into a tizzy and causing an uproar among some audiences, who argue that the pack's lack of motion is incongruous with the principles of roller derby.
In this video from the 2009 WFTDA National Championships, the Windy City All-Stars (in black) play the Denver Roller Dolls and use Denver's own methods (a slow, barely moving pack and counterclockwise skating) against them. It may look a little confusing, but watch as the WCR blocker starts smacking into Denver players, then hop-skates backward just after the whistle blows.
Slow packs aside, there will also be plenty of feats of athleticism and all-out aggression at the tournament. Hopefully there'll be less punches to the head (as Rocky Mountain's DeRanged did in last year's championship--which got her expelled from playing the rest of the tournament) and more fun displays of derby ingenuity, such as these Oly Rollers' fantastic leg whip.
I recently spoke with the All-Stars' team captains, Varla Vendetta and Beth Amphetamine, about their season thus far and their hopes for the upcoming championship.
Derby Dame: Your season has been a fairly even-keeled 7-5, and the All-Stars are currently ranked No. 1 in the region and No. 10 in the country -- not slammingly fantastic, given the team's high rankings in past years, but definitely not too shabby either. How do you feel about the All-Stars' season?
Varla Vendetta: We're really proud of how much we have grown together as a team. Injuries and retirements led us to develop a huge chunk of new talent as our rosters were shuffled around. With the schedule of top-10 opponents we set up, that could have been daunting. But our girls really stepped up to the plate and seized the opportunity to evolve their skills under immense challenges. It's been good both for the new girls and the vets.
DD: What was a real curveball of a game this season?
Beth Amphetamine: I really enjoyed playing Rocky Mountain. They have been getting better each year, and it was interesting to see them deliver such a great performance. Sadly, that performance involved beating us, but it was a great learning experience.
VV: Agreed! Many of the West Coast teams have brought different elements into the derby landscape, and we did not adapt quickly enough in that game with [Rocky Mountain]. Fortunately, this game came about halfway through our season. After it, we made a lot of tweaks that helped us have a strong regional tournament. No one likes to lose, but the loss helped elucidate areas we needed to work on, so we recognize the value in that.
DD: So, the All-Stars have had to deal with a lot of turnover due to injuries and retirements, which definitely can hurt a team's momentum. Yet you've come out pretty well. What's something you picked up as a team this season?
BA: This year was the first time we didn't have an insanely dominating season. I think we learned how to play close games, or even to lose games, and not lose our focus or confidence.
VV: Yes, this year was definitely involved the most mental training. It's very difficult to prepare for where the mind goes under pressure, like how to come from behind. Through successes and failures, I think we've all learned better how to check emotions, set them aside, and focus. Our mental focus became much sharper toward the end of the season.
Uproar on the Lakeshore, the 2010 WFTDA national roller derby championships, is Nov. 5-7 at the UIC Pavilion (525 S Racine). Tickets are $31 daily or $78 for an all-weekend pass. Trackside (aka "Suicide")/VIP seating is $123 for an all-weekend pass (no daily VIP tix). Tickets may be purchased online or at the door.
The Derby Dame is Gapers Block contributor Kara Luger, who skated as Typhoid Mary with the Windy City Rollers and the Pikes Peak Derby Dames.