Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Obligatory Thanksgiving Blog

I personally do not love Thanksgiving; historically, it's pretty horrendous, and I am not a fan of a holiday dedicated to eating.  Just my opinion, you don't have to agree or disagree. But, in the spirit of "taking the season back" I'm going to reflect on all of the awesome things that I've experienced with our sport this year.

1.  People are paying better attention to their brain health.  Hallelujah!  Mark my words, we are going to experience way more issues with concussions.  Hey, everyone is getting onto the awareness wagon, including professional football players, so it's about time our sport did too.  I also see so many people upgrading their helmets from those crappy soft foam core helmets.  Yeah, I said it.  Get rid of those crappy helmets and invest in your brain's safety!  Seriously though, I am totally thankful that people are taking this a lot more seriously.

2.  In fact, I'm thankful for protective gear in general. This weekend I noticed one of my shin guards had a gigundous (Gigundous is trade marked by me btw) divot taken out of it.  This was the first time I've noticed it, but I'm sure the impact could have happened at any time in the last couple of months.  Why do I bring this up?  I'm thankful that the pretty spectacular kick to my shin guard wasn't even a memorable occurrence for me.  If I hadn't been wearing the shin guards, I'm pretty sure I would have a giant, uncomfortable way.  I've also found a pair of kneepads that don't slip down when I'm skating. Yea protective gear!

3.  I'm incredibly thankful for the volunteers that come out and support derby.  I am always amazed at the army of people who make this game happen. Derby leagues sweat and strain and train, but the volunteers are the ones that make us able to put on a bout for the public. I'm a derby addict, but I don't know what makes people who don't put on skates be as dedicated as I am. I tip my hockey helmet to all of you.

4.  I'm thankful for the WFTDA feed for playoffs and champs.  Oh pipe down. I know there were issues with the feed...I was cursing at my computer right along with the rest of you, but have you noticed that the QUALITY of the feed has gotten so much better? It looks pretty damned professional.  When Hotrod let the Texas jammer sneak some points off her scoring pass, you could see her expression perfectly, and it was priceless. Things have changed from the days where you could barely make out one player from another on a team.  Is it perfect? Oh hell no, but it's headed in the right direction.

5.  I'm also thankful that people are starting to figure out that derby is not what you do to get in shape. You have to get into shape for derby. I've been saying this for a couple of years now, and I know others have believed the same, but I'm starting to see it from more and more players. People are cross training, doing yoga, working on their flexibility and strength. Of course, not everyone has completely bought into that philosophy. It always blows me away when I see derby skaters huddled outside and smoking before a bout, or worse, during half time. FACE PALM!  Why don't you just take one wheel off of each skate, if you're going to handicap yourself like that?
Photo by a Boy Named Tsunami

6.  I'm thankful for derby photographers, because without them we would have no awesome pictures of jammer face. Do I need to expound on this one?  Just when you feel like you might be handling derby like a rock star, you see the photos the next day. Hello reality check!  Some of the pictures make me smile, most of them make me cringe. I am very thankful because those cringe-worthy pictures keep us grounded.  If you find yourself really disheartened by your derby action shots, just remind yourself that it only a moment in time. You might have done something amazing in the next shot, but maybe that shot wasn't lined up well, or in focus, so it never sees the light of day.

Now, go enjoy your turkey day! Hooray for the off season!

Friday, November 22, 2013

What Do You Do After Derby?

 My fellow fresh and meatie, Ballista Blockheart had her last official bout as a rollergirl last
2009 at Regionals
Saturday.  I was so proud of her in her last game.  I remember back when we both started derby...back in the olden days where people still lined up on the pivot line and the term "scrum start" hadn't been invented yet. My goodness, was that only 2009? Sheesh, derby time goes faster than regular time, doesn't it? Ballz, as we all call her, was my partner in crime. We both passed assessments at the same time, passed pack abilities at the same time, and played in our first games together.  I would not have made it through the roughest parts of my derby career without her good-natured smile and laugh. She has been my rock for almost five years, and I'm both happy and sad that she will no longer be derbying. 

But...BUT that doesn't mean she's hanging up her skates.  Ballz is talented shuffle skater and enjoys being on wheels for all reasons.  She's going to keep teaching skating at the local rink, and this lady can teach, because I couldn't do a mohawk turn to save my life before she showed me how. After her bout, Ballz made it crystal clear that she wasn't going to ever stop skating, and wanted to write a blog entry encouraging ex derby skaters to not give up on fun skating.  Below is her entry.

Leaving Derby? Please Don't Stop Skating!

We're older...and wiser? Maybe?
I often read about people “hanging up” their skates, or their skates “getting dusty”.

Um, what?  I find it hard to believe you spent any time in derby unless you love the act of skating. Lots of people retire from derby, but who says you have to stop skating? There are so many reasons (and so many ways!) to stay on 8 wheels...

1.  As you already know, skating is great exercise, so find a way to keep doing it. Skate at a local rink. (Be sure to find out which session is right for you.) Go to a speed practice (if available). Skate at a local park, on a greenway, or in a neighborhood. (Bring music!)

2.  Lots of cool and amazing people skate. Have you been to open session at your local rink(s) recently? Most rinks have a great group of “regulars”. If you haven't already, introduce yourself and get to know them. It's likely you will find people there to bond with, just like you did in derby. If the closest rink is too far away, go twice a month instead of weekly. It will be worth it. 

3.  You can skate with your kids/parents/significant other. There are so few activities you can do together with your family. Sign your kids up for a class. For that matter, sign your spouse/partner up for a class, too. (Get them some protective gear.) On date night, go skating and be sure to do the Couples Skate. :) 

4.  You might find some (gasp!) new kind of skating which you enjoy. Is there an adult night at your local rink? Try some shuffle/jam skating. Can you keep up? :) Are there “road skaters” in your area? Some of those groups do weekly trail skates. If your rink offers classes, you might even want to consider becoming an instructor.

 I don't think most skaters intend to quit, they just get out of the habit when they stop playing derby. Don't let that happen--find a way to keep some skating in your life!

Ballista Blockheart

Monday, November 18, 2013

Why is Derby so White? No, Seriously, I Want to Know.

First of all, I would like to thank each and every person who contributed to this blog entry, from the photographers, skaters and refs.  Thank you for your input.

When I interviewed DBC at Asheville this year, one of the things she said that made me chuckle was
Photo by Bill Rhodes
her first impression of roller derby.  Her friend had asked her to join derby, and her response was "Derby? Isn't that the crazy shit white people do?" It was funny, but it started me thinking about race in roller derby. Even at the Play offs, I looked around and noticed almost all of the teams were predominantly white.  How did this happen?  Roller skating isn't an exclusive hobby for white people, so why were most of the team out there manned by white women? Of course, I can't just keep my thoughts to myself, so I started bothering friends of mine to help me answer that question. I am lucky enough to know Paris Kills from the River City Rollergirls team which is located so close to Raleigh, that we travel back and forth to scrimmage each other for practice.  I asked Paris to weigh in on this idea, and then I put it up on Facebook for others to contribute as well.  Below are the responses.


"The River City Rollergirls are the most ethnically diverse league in the WFTDA and have the most minorities on their all star team.  We had since the 2010 season, 7 African Americans, 2 hispanic and two Asians on the All Star team Charter. We were the first WFTDA all Star team to have enough Minorities that we could have a full pack on the track that wasn’t white.  No other WFTDA All Star Team to date can say that.  The first time I realized that we were indeed the most ethnically diverse league was our first appearance at ECDX when one of my team mates came back to the team and informed us that someone had said we had too many black girls on the team.  This got me to thinking and researching and I realized that yes… we were indeed the most ethnically diverse team.  This made me sad because we aren’t a major team in the WFTDA. 

How does something like that happen in the capital of the Confederacy, where we have a museum of the Confederacy and people with Confederate flags still flying high in their front yards?  It’s all about the marketing and what people see. Please name the last WFTDA Tournament Poster or promotional item that featured a minority skater.  When it comes to interviews I am happy to say I was one of three Minorities that have been interviewed since its inception.  While there are more and more minority skaters out there, there are usually one, maybe two on an all star team. These are the teams that are seen by hundreds and thousands when they play in tournaments and games that are broadcasted/streamed internationally.

It’s not completely the fault of how things are marketed though.  Some minority girls, especially African American girls, are prissy and they don't want to mess up/sweat out their hair. They don’t want to be physically fit; they want to be cute, not sweaty.  However, that is just some not all. The main way you recruit more minority skaters is by person to person interaction.  Answer these questions.

1. Where are your promotions being held when you go out into the community? 
2. Are they in a predominantly white area?   
3. Who goes out to promote when you promote as a league?
4.  Is it the same 5 tatted white girls with blue hair?  
5.  Do any of your minority skaters go out promoting and recruiting?

Even if your team only has one minority skater, it’s important for her to go out and be seen when you have a big event.  If minorities don't see that there are others on the team like them, they are less likely to want to be involved or will shoe horn the sport as something "crazy white girls do." It’s hard being the only one (aka the Token.) If minorities see that they aren’t the only one, they feel more welcomed and willing to participate. Most people don’t understand that feeling, however as a child I was not only a military brat having to pick up and leave and readjust to a new area every two years, but I was the only minority in my class room a lot of the time.  As I child you don’t realize you're different, but as you get older it becomes more and more obvious as stereotypes start to sink into our thought processes.

At River City, when we go out into the community we always have a multicultural group of skaters out there.  I have to admit when I went out places, I made sure I looked my absolute best and my hair was on point because again, it’s one of the main things I hear. "I don’t want to mess up my hair." If you’re out there and your hair’s on point, they realize that it’s possible to still play and look good for work the next morning. It’s silly I know, but it’s only weird if it doesn’t work.  And it’s worked time and time again.  As a transitioning INTJ thinker of tomorrow to an ENTJ leader of today, I found that the more proactive you are, the more you walk up and talk to someone when you’re out, the more you engage the customer, the more they want to come and see and then do. Roller Derby is a viable sport, if it’s promoted as a sport.

More questions you should ask yourself when you wonder about why there aren’t more minorities out there:

1. How many minority skaters are sponsored by skate companies?
2. How does your league present derby? As a sport, or a family, or a girl’s only club?

All of these are factors on how the sport of Roller Derby is perceived by minorities. Minorities are more inclined to join a sports team, but try to avoid cliquey group activities with what they perceive is a "bunch of white girls" who they see as catty. It hurts to hear, however, it all plays into stereotypes.  I’m African American and some of the first things someone asks me in an attempt for conversation are: "How many kids do you have? Have you heard the new Two Chainz album? Can you believe what TI did?" Unfortunately, I then have to correct them by informing them I have no children, and I don’t listen to current rap music, and I am a purveyor of Scandinavian rock. This makes them instantly uncomfortable because they have stereotyped me; they know they’ve stereotyped me, I know it and now we have that uncomfortable silence and no conversation. By breaking stereotypes and presenting the sport of Roller Derby as multicultural sport in advertising, in interviewing, at promotional events and on the big stage with, tournaments, and print ads we can actually increase the amount of minorities coming into the sport. "
Paris Kills

"I am obviously a minority being Mexican and all, I have been the only one in my old league but never felt differently. Now that I've moved from VA to CA I still don't see a lot of minorities in my new league which is weird because being Mexican in California is the norm. I mean there are a hand full but I would have expected the majority. It doesn't bother me but I couldn't tell you why."
Bomb Gnarly

"I know one of the things that was a stand out for me was going to a league and seeing that there is one other black person there and they treated me worse than anything. She actually came out and said she liked being the only black girl on the team and wanted to keep it that way. After awhile she basically ignored me or threw little barbs out during tean meetings. Most girls chalked it up to personality differences but then another AA female showed to fresh meat a few months later and she treated her bad as well. She eventually moved to another league."

Photo by Gene Lazo
"Unfortunately, I think a lack of minorities is what keeps minorities away. when I told my mom I was playing she said "do we play roller derby?" I am the only minority on my team and many times the only one on the track. When we traveled to Alabama last year,  I experienced racism like never before from players and fans. Sometimes it makes for a lonely team sport. Once, when our league discussed bus advertising, someone said " That's not our demographic." This makes me wonder who is our demographic? I don't think our culture excludes minorities, but it may not draw them in either. From a personal note, I would love to see a roller girl image that doesn't have European features. Unless they are live and in person, roller girls don't look like me."  
Do U Juana 
"Hello- I am a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  (Smoky Mtn Rollergirls based in
Photo by I-Lie Kit Ruff
Bryson City, NC) has several tribal members from my tribe and others. I have tried hard to find other Native Americans in this sport- and this is why Navajo superstar Mick Swagger is one of my heroes. I have joked with her about having an all-native team, and how scary that would be lol. I even recommended to Nike N7 that she be an ambassador to represent female Native athletes and they said "Nike does not support roller derby". Maybe we don't want to be represented by Nike anyways. 

Regardless, I feel privileged to have so many awesome tribal ladies on my team. I think our diversity makes us stronger, and sends great messages to communities around us about unity. Our last two home bouts were held on the reservation- And at half-time we had traditional dances at one. It was amazing. I have pictures. Anyways, please tell me if you hear of other tribal members who skate."
Sesamean Streak

"This is the only sport that I've participated in and I have forgotten about the color of my skin. It wasn't always this way. When I first started playing, I was the only non-white skater on a new team and no one seemed interested in becoming best of friends and that was frustrating to me. However, after being involved in this sport for almost 2 years, I realized that they may have been jaded. In this sport see new recruits stop before they stop and it irritates some people more than others! To them I was freshmeat and didn't know nothin bout playin no derby! Anyway- I moved, joined a new team in a more diverse area and my race didn't seem like it was a problem. I'm now on a team with only 1 other minority and I kind of forced myself into the group during my first practice . I love this sport and I have other things to focus on besides my skin color."
Georgia Scorch'er 

"I realized once I started traveling as a referee that I rarely saw other refs that looked like me. I only know of 3, maybe 4 others and only one of them is a woman as well.

It doesn't bother me because I am well used to being the "token" in a group, and being the only different looking one isn't going to stop me from doing what I love to do. However, that will deter others. For example, there is a league (I decided it would be best to omit where because it will be very easy to figure out, thanks) where there are only white skaters. My cousin is athletic and and excellent skater, but will not attempt to join the league because she doesn't want to be the only black one there. What's sad is that she didn't even know about the league until I told her--I don't even live in the same state!!

Photo found here
I believe that most minorities look at Roller Derby as a "White People Sport"--why is that, well it's the same reason that tennis and golf was classified as that before The Williams sisters and Tiger Woods, there aren't many that really shine and are well known throughout the entire derby community. Even now the only black derby skater that is considered "famous" is Quadzilla---where is a female equivalent? I know there has to be one, because I have met many skaters of different ethnicities who are amazing.

How can we change this? From the derby side we can only do so much. Skaters and Officials of color need to realize that they are derby ambassadors and must reach out to show that Roller Derby is for everyone and to encourage others to step outside of this racially divided box and just enjoy a kick ass sport. It is up to the individuals to become open minded and look past the color of each other's skin."
Shorty DuWop, Referee, River City Roller Girls Richmond, VA

"I started in 2008. Beyonslay was blowing people up on the track and I encountered people who figured any black skater was a potential Beyonslay. It was meant as a compliment, but I'm a separate person, let me make my own way. There were some positives. I have a lot of trouble talking to new people, but I automatically had the shared experience of being the only or one of a few in a league. I actually used that to break the ice with a complete stranger at my first Rollercon in 2009. I was in an elevator with a skater from Bay Area. She looked cool and intimidating in her awesome satin jacket and wanted to do better than squeaking out "Hi." I thought about it and settled on, "Are you the only one in your league, or are there others?" She turned around, smiling and warm and said, "I'm the only one!" We chatted for a bit and agreed to keep in touch. It was a pretty cool experience!"

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Sweet and Sour of Meeting your Derby Crush

Our sport is in such a weird period of its development; everyone in our sport is accessible to everyone else.  If you're at a major derby event, such as Champs, playoffs, Rollercon or ECDX,  the chances of you being able to stand next to, talk to, stare at, or just plain stalk one of your derby idols are high.  Sometimes this can be an amazing experience!  It's fun to stand next to your derby crush and get a picture while mouthing the words "Oh MY GOD!" at your friend taking your picture with her i-phone.  Who cares if that picture is blurry! (of course my friends take amazing pictures regardless of what kind of camera they have at the time.)
Or photobombed....dammit! BTW Ruth is nice.

Most people have a derby crush.  I personally have a new one every season. We study these players relentlessly; if there is footage easily available, we watch it over and over again.  If they're putting on a clinic somewhere nearby, we're in the car at the buttcrack of dawn to get there and learn!  We follow them on Facebook and Twitter, we read the interviews with them and we try to practice their moves when we have time at practice. We are their adoring, if not a little creepy, fans. We want to be just like them...yes please.

Unfortunately, not every amazing skater is an amazing person.  Sad, but true. Some people are just incredibly talented at being on eight wheels; they're magical when they're on the track, but they fail as nice people.  The question is, do they have to be good people for you to admire their skills?

This is a question that comes up in all popular sports; should we idolize people just because they're talented? The answer, of course, is maybe.  I can want to skate like someone without actually liking who she is as a person. A skater doesn't owe me anything just because I happened to pick them out to admire, unless they're trying to sell me something.  Hey, if you're trying to sell me something, you'd better be charming and nice to me in public. You can motherfuck my existence in private, but you'd better be a smiling and hospitable celebrity while I'm there and willing to buy your product.

What if we see our derby crush doing something douchey at an after party? It happens, especially after a tense derby tournament. People aren't always at their highest level of emotional maturity after three days of grueling derby. We may see them get drunk, flip someone off, or undertip a server.  It happens all of the time. In fact, we see our league members sometimes do the same thing. The difference is, we don't expect our league members to be perfect, but our derby crushes should always be pristine. Is that fair? The answer is no, but it's how we feel. How quickly love and admiration can turn to scorn.

So, how do you keep your derby crush from getting tarnished?  The best thing you can do, if you truly want to hero worship her, is never really talk to her.  Get your picture, smile, cheer her on when she's kicking ass on the track, but don't go further than that. Keep your derby crushes light!  Give them a high five, gloat when they pull off something amazing, and study their style. The only way most derby crushes can survive scrutiny is being at arm's length.

And remember, you might just be someone's derby crush too.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Email isn't Emo-Mail

It's hard.  So much of a league's communications tend to be over email, because we are busy busy busy people!  I love email, because I can go back and get the information I need if I forget a date, or a time, or a pertinent piece of information.  Hooray for email!  Unfortunately, email has its own baggage and pitfalls for communication, and misunderstanding the tone or the intent of the email can cause hours and hours of butthurt to reverberate throughout the league.  I'm all about ending the butthurt, or at least minimizing it, so here are a few things to remember BEFORE you send someone an email.

1.  Some people have a permanent chip embedded on their shoulders.  I know that every league has one person or another who seems to be looking to be offended by something you've written.  Be very careful when sending this person email!  Of course, you're not going to be able to anticipate every imagined offense caused by your "insensitive" email, but you can probably head off quite a few disasters if you're especially careful about email sent to that one special snowflake.

2.  Remember that email is never private.  Email is the easiest thing to share, ever.  Don't deny can forward it easily and copy and paste it into a chat faster than you can say "NSA." If you don't want your opinion of certain people in your league or policies to become possible public knowledge, don't email it to someone. Hey, we've all done it, so I understand that it's not always avoidable, but send those bitchy emails with care.  You never know when they're going to come back and bite you in the electronic hiney.

3.  Don't use all caps. YOU ARE YELLING WHEN YOU USE ALL CAPS.  Enough said about that, right?  Seriously, all caps are just like someone yelling in my ear when I see them in an email. Don't be that league member.

4. Your tone can't be "heard" in an email. Unlike all caps in an email, tone is really really hard to convey in an email.  Sometimes you can say something that can be taken several different ways, and of course most people will take it in the worst way ever.

5.  Spell check that mofo. Spelling counts, typos count, fixing typos count and resending another email to correct your mistakes just makes the whole event less serious.  You lose a lot of gravitas when you have to send another email to fix a typo or a wrong word.  I should know, my phone likes to substitute all sorts of wonderful words when I'm not looking.  (Bad phone!  Of course it isn't me typing that wrong word. Damned homophones.)

6.  Reply no matter what. People don't necessarily want an immediate answer, but if you never answer an email, people either feel ignored, or worried that the email got lost in a spam filter.  Be kind, you should especially be kind to your league mates since they have the ability to slam you on the track on a pretty regular basis.

7. Think before you send it. Do you really think you should send this email?  Did you read it carefully?  Did you answer out of anger and disgust?  If so, hold on to that email and WAIT (yes I was shouting) a couple of hours to send it before you make a misstep.  Sometimes you don't need to IMMEDIATELY answer every email.

8.  Remember not to be offended by email you get.  Yes, we've all gotten that occasional email that hurts our "feeling."  Take a deep breath and read that email again.  Was your league-mate trying to be a dick? Probably not. Try to stifle that butthurt before it blossoms into BUTTHURT GIGANTE! 

Always avoid the Butthurt Gigante.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Do you noodle at practice? How to doodle noodle.

I am a fidgety person by nature, and the older I get, the more fidgety I think I get. I'm one of those people that learn best by doing, and I hate sitting still and just listening or watching things.  In other words, I'm a kind of nightmare for any teacher than has tried to teach me while I was sitting in a desk. That being said, you put skates on my feet and I want to move move move!  Once I have my skates on, I don't want to sit down, stand still or just kind of shuffle around the floor.  One of my former coaches called my need to be in motion restless foot syndrome, but he didn't realize that I was actually moving with a purpose.
This is a doodle doodle

Yeah, that sounds kind of goofy and arrogant, but it isn't....arrogant.  It's definitely goofy.  Because we have such limited practice time, I tend to take advantage of every minute I can on skates. If our coaches haven't told us what to work on at that moment, and there are a few spare minutes before the rest of the team gets their gear on and out on the floor, I will work at some skill in footwork.  I am never happy with my footwork, and I have a mental list of things I need to work on, and WANT to work on; during those few spare minutes, I try to work on some little skill to try to conquer it.  Lately, I've been working on my one footed transitions from front to back.  Is it something that will make me a better skater?  Maybe.  Do I need to take up league practice time to do it?  Absolutely not, but during those short and unoccupied minutes, I try to work on my personal skills.
 So, how do you noodle-doodle without disrupting practice or distracting others?  First of all, pick your noodling times.  The best times it seems to get some noodle time on the track is when people are gearing up. Get your gear on fast!  Gear up before everyone else does and take advantage of the free time on the track.  Another prime time to noodle is during an extended water break.  Some leagues have longer water breaks than others, so if your league is one of these, get your water fast, and spend the rest of it working on your footwork skills.  If your noodle list includes contact, see if you can find a partner in arms to work on things during down time.  Combine your noodle time to make a hell of a casserole!

Now, you don't want to be a douchebag and disrupt a practice because you're bored and your feet are bored.  Don't interrupt the coach by fidgeting, don't go off and do your own thing because you're bored, and don't drag other people into your noodling if you're all supposed to be listening or watching people do a drill.  Don't doodle or noodle between jams at scrimmage either; you should be talking to your team and figuring out your next plan of attack.  Be polite about your doodling; remember that people get easily distracted by moving objects, noises, or just about anything at derby practice.  Don't be a distraction.

Yes, you can always noodle at open skate, but like I said, I'm interested in using up every little bit of practice time I can. Don't forget to move with a purpose as often as possible when you have your skates on!