I have a saying.
“The best thing about Tucson is the road headed north to Phoenix.”
Seriously, I don’t like that city. It has several bad associations with me: an ex-girlfriend, I took and failed a couple of bar exams in Tucson, and most of all, the U of A. Ugh, the U of A. Just the idea of going to that city puts a bad taste in my mouth.
That negative association took a rest when I headed down there a couple weekends ago with the Phoenix RattleSkates to skate in a couple of flat track exhibition bouts against the Tucson Dry Heat Militia during the 2011 Dust Devil Tournament.
While we were there, Lawless and I had a chance to chat with Tucson Roller Derby skater Sami Automatic. We skated with her at March Radness and she was another camper whose skills got her chosen to skate in the LA v. SD bout. She explained that the Dust Devil Tournament was the first nation wide roller derby tournament and started in 2006.
It was the first flat track tournament that I’ve ever attended and the two track set up was pretty impressive. There were teams there from all over the country and I was crazy excited to be in the building to see the second day of competition.
The RattleSkates were slated to compete against Tucson in an all men’s bout then again in a co-ed bout where we teamed up with the ladies of Arizona Roller Derby and the Militia with the ladies of Tucson Roller Derby.
I was amped to skate in an organized bout. This would be the second one I would compete in. I skated in my first officiated bout with the Tucson guys in early December of 2010 against the Colorado Rolling Bones so I was familiar with their talent.
These guys can skate. They have a relentless Jammers in Dick Quad and solid Blockers in Kick Me, Bonus Jonas, and Rotten Rodney. These guys were challenging to deal with on the track.
Kick Me is patient, controlled and deliberate in his blocking and I want to learn how to skate sideways and transition off of blocks like that guy. He makes it look easy.
Bonus Jonas is pesky, agile and can change direction while positional blocking like its nobody’s business. I found myself crashing with him on many occasions.
Rotten Rodney is a big boat of a man who was always waiting for me in the front of the pack if ever I made it by the rest of his teammates and its tough to move him off that inside line. I swear, every time I Jammed and thought I was home free out of the pack, no doubt the next thing I found myself saying in my head, “F**k, Rodney again.”
Tucson controlled the bout from start to finish starting with a 19-0 Jam in the very first Jam. Ultimately, they came away with the win. We made a couple of runs here and there but by the time they were up by 40 points, the score didn’t matter anymore and that was for two reasons.
Number 1: It was late in the game and it didn’t look promising that we would come back.
Number 2: Half the RattleSkates were ejected from the bout by that point.
Myself included. I was the first one they rolled the red carpet out for to exit the playing area. Shitty. Disappointing. Frustrating. I just drove an hour and half to this god forsaken place and my play limited me to 1 half of skating and I had to watch my team play with nothing I could do.
I was out the door 2 jams into the 2nd half because I stacked up 5 majors in the first half. That left me very little wiggle room for the second half.
I wiggled too much.
I take responsibility for the fact that I wasn’t solid on WFTDA Rules. I had given the document a few runs through to get the basic differences between WFTDA and WORD but the application of the rules is what screwed me. I was learning on the fly and there were some major differences between flat and banked track derby that had me a little uncomfortable.
The biggest one was all the damn whistles. There’s the whistles to start the jam, a whistle for when Lead Jam is established and all the whistles in between to remove skaters from the track for committing majors. For those not familiar with WFTDA, they blow a whistle at you and send you off the track as soon as you commit the penalty. It’s not like WORD where you finish out the Jam and serve it on the next one.
I’m used to hearing 3 whistles. Blocker Start whistle, Jammer Start whistle, and End Jam whistle. Not WFTDA. Those refs are whistle happy. Every time I thought the Jam was ending it was really to send a skater off the track. I couldn’t get myself into a rhythm.
The next issue was all the changes in track personnel as a result of the skaters being sent on and off the track. Since the Jams last 2 minutes, you could be sent off the track to serve a 1 minute penalty and then possibly end up skating back on for the rest of that same Jam. First there’s 3 blockers, then there’s 1, then there’s 2, then 3 again. And if the Jammers are serving penalties you have to be aware of when one is going off the track to turn the Jam into a Power Jam right in the middle of things.
Too much thinking. Can’t compute…. DERBY OVERLOAD! DERBY OVERLOAD! It made my head explode.
The last thing was getting used to not having that extra blocker on the outside line. Where I would usually have a rail on the outside of the banked track, all I had now was a rope under a piece of tape to guide me. I was sailing out of play way to often and it rendered my blocks ineffective.
I also wasn’t staying conscious of that outside line when I was being blocked. A number of my penalties were for cutting because I was hit out and I failed to notice it.
The first bout was just a shitty performance and I offered very little other than keeping the penalty box seat warm for the next RattleSkate that would make his entrance. I was happy when it was over. I was so disappointed with the way I played I immediately uploaded the video of the bout to my laptop and watched it to try and learn from all the mistakes I made. I was gonna do better in the next bout.
The second co-ed bout was way better. I just calmed it down and played a more controlled game. The nerves from the first bout had settled and I had a better understanding of the rules and their application.
I was having more fun. I didn’t take this game as seriously.
Not the case for the Tucson team. This is where that bad taste for the city of Tucson made its way back onto my palate.
I participate with the RattleSkates very sporadically because my time is devoted to AZDD. When they need me, I’m there ready to skate, so I’m not up on what goes on behind the scenes. I walked into some turmoil between Phoenix and the Tucson teams that I wasn’t totally clear on. I really didn’t care, I just wanted to skate. I had an idea, and it became clearer before the 2nd bout started.
Before the co-ed bout started the apparent Tucson leader, Rotten Rodney, was being resistant about the team rosters. To my understanding he made it clear that one of our skaters, Evol Ernie, wouldn’t be allowed to skate in the co-ed bout because he wasn’t on the roster.
The same point was made to another one of our guest skaters from Oregon, Speed Dealer. Sorry, you’re not on the roster, you can’t play. I was standing right there when Rodney dismissed him and that’s when I saw it for myself.
I thought this was in bad form. Total dick move. Really? For a exhibition co-ed bout that doesn’t mean anything, you’re gonna exclude people from our team that are ready and willing to skate?
Ernie drove an hour and a half down to that shitty-ass city to play in two bouts and you’re gonna tell him now after he waited since 11 am this morning (bout started at 4:15) that he can’t play?
Speed Dealer being from Oregon, C’MON MAN! Show some hospitality for our guests. Let’s have some fun and promote the fellowship of roller derby.
The Dry Heat Militia need to loosen up a bit; cause they’re not a real militia. I don’t know the full story, but I witnessed why our Phoenix team has an issue with the way they’re running their team. It was pretty plain and simple to see: They’re exclusive.
There’s no room for that in men’s derby. They need to ditch the attitude I saw them exhibit to their fellow skater, opponent or not.
I wonder if they realize that we’re riding on the coat tails of the women. The only reason the Phoenix and Tucson men’s team exists is because of the support our respective women’s leagues have given us. This sport belongs to the women so I don’t see the utility in excluding guys from a bout who are gonna put on a good show for the fans. Ernie and Speed Dealer have crazy skills on their skates.
That should be objective #1: Putting on a good show. We’re already skating against the grain because we’re dudes. Why are we being dicks to eachother in a co-ed exhibition bout?
That was the point that made all of this really annoying and petty. If we’re playing in a sanctioned bout that means something, by all means, please, be adamant about the roster. Advocate for your team. But c’mon man, this bout doesn’t mean anything, its an exhibition, and its co-ed. Why is it an issue to say, “sure, you can skate.” Especially because we were hurting for bodies. The bout almost didn’t happen.
By their actions, the Tucson team gave me the impression they were more interested in winning and promoting their team, than skating and promoting men’s derby.
I later come to find out that Quadzilla asked to be a guest skater on the Tucson team and they declined.
Wow, Dry Heat. I can’t imagine who they think they are that they wouldn’t allow Quadzilla to participate. I hate to break it to the Dry Heat, but they’re small potatoes. As I said, we all are. Its bad enough they’re from a crappy town like Tucson, I don’t think its smart, nor do they have the room to turn down skaters. Especially on a team of 8 or 9, I think.
I’m dissapointed I didn’t get the chance to skate against Quadzilla, knowing the opportunity was there. I’ve seen his videos on YouTube and a chance to share the track with a skater of his caliber would have been pretty dope. I think the fans would have enjoyed it too.
My final thought on this whole ordeal: The Militia are awesome skaters. They have way more ability and skill than the Phoenix team. That’s my honest assessment, but their talent was overshadowed by attitude. That’s really what I’ll remember most about the Tucson team. How petty they we’re being about who could or could not skate in a meaningless bout; not the fact that they were tough and challenging opponents.
Who knows. I could have things totally wrong, but I’m only sharing the experience that I had.
The women are better than us at derby and they’re better than us at promoting it and making it grow. Lets not be better than them at petty drama bullshit. Guys shouldn’t be better than the ladies at that. The Dry Heat should change their attitude or I think their talent will be appreciated as much as Terrel Owens’.
The bad taste in my mouth was aggravated by the dry mouth the Dry Heat left with me for their group. I have an understanding now as to why their founders decided to disassociate themselves with the remaining group of skaters. Best of luck to them, they’re awesome skaters, but no one’s gonna want to participate with them if they’re selective as to who they participate with. They don’t have that luxury. There aren’t enough guys that play this sport.
Ok. I’m moving on now.
A few points concerning one of my first experience with WFTDA and how it compares to the banked track.
First, WFTDA Rules suck. And I don’t just say that because it was one of my first real bouts under those rules and I racked up 7 penalty points that got me ejected; I say that because they suck.
There are a lot of intricacies that take the fun out of the game and the strategy that is implemented to bend the rules is confusing at times. I don’t think its as fan friendly as the bank. I have a lot to learn about it and I truly do want to get better at the flat track game. I’m not dismissing it, I just think the rules blow.
I will compliment the flat track skaters because I think their surface is more physically demanding of them. Man, its hard Jamming around that track when you don’t have a bank and gravity to assist you. As a Jammer, I enjoy using the bank for building speed and for beating Blockers. I had no such luxury in these bouts. When it comes to endurance, the flat track skaters are superior to the banked track skaters.
Second, I enjoyed playing with the ladies of AZRD. I’m eager to play more men’s derby, but I coach and skate with women, so that’s where I’m at home.
Men are more concerned with being individual superstar standouts and laying destructive hits. The women play together and I found myself more in sync with the AZRD ladies than I did with my own teammates at time, and I think that’s because these ladies are much more familiar with basic strategy.
My favorite Jams were when I was Blocking with Pardon My French. Awesome Blocker. She goes in with a plan, she’s clear in communicating it, and she sticks with it throughout the Jam. I felt I played solidly when I was following her lead.
I was most impressed with Sigmund Droid. She’s a squirrely little Jammer and I think she scored a majority of our points. She finds the right paths through the pack, and if she happens to run into a road block, she just finds another route. I enjoy seeing the small people succeed.
I hope I get another opportunity to participate in something like this again very soon. I had a kick ass time learning this variation of derby (albeit, the hard way) and meeting more people from the derby community.
I’m salivating at the mouth to get the chance to skate in a bout again. I’m addicted to the feeling that come with competing in derby, but I’m not sure when I’ll have the chance to quench this thirst again.
In the meantime, I’m studying WFTDA.
Time to really learn something new.