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Western Regionals: what does it mean for me?

Last weekend I teamed up with Wicked Skatewear at Western Regionals in Portland, Oregon. This was a special event for me for a bunch of reasons:

1) Portland is home to the Rose City Rollers who are kind of like big sisters to my league the Terminal City Rollergirls. When we were still skating circles in parking lots trying not to fall on each other, they came up to Vancouver and showed us what real derby looked like. “Wow, that’s what you call a wall hey?”

2) One of our goals for the All Stars this year was to make it to Western Regionals. In hindsight this may have been a tad ambitious seeing as we had only just become WFTDA in February and we are competing in the toughest region in North America. There is a reason they call it “Besterns.” We didn’t make the cut this year (for reasons I am going to talk about later on) but we still managed to represent our league with nearly 40 members making the trip down to watch some of the best derby in the world.

3) It’s Portland People! One of my favourite American cities. I have been on numerous derby road trips to Portland and always had a blast. The Jupiter hotel is the BEST – I always try and request the room with the Grand Canyon mural and you can’t beat blackboard doors covered in drunken derby art. Oh and you haven’t lived til you have attempted to eat a whole Voodoo Doughnut: “The Magic is in the Hole!” enough said: www.voodoodoughnut.com

4) I love Wicked Skatewear and there were rumours that they were bringing along a certain celebrity employee….

So yeah, this was destined to be a pretty amazing event even BEFORE the derby started.

And when it did start – woah! Amazing, athletic, super strategic, intense teamwork, aggressive, controlled – these ladies showed us all what it means to be regional champions. The highlight for me was seeing Rocky Mountain skate, I have seen them on the intrawebs but never in person. The thing I love about Rocky is that they are obviously athletes that have worked very hard to get where they are right now, but they still all have big characters and most of all they look like they are having FUN out there! It shows that you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other.

Anyway, I could write a blow by blow account of all the games; the big hits, the jams that never happened, the skating prowess of Rose City’s Scald Eagle. But it wouldn’t do it justice. If you want to see some of the best skating you will EVER see – watch the games themselves at www.wftda.com (my two faves were Rat vs Rose and Rocky vs Oly)

What I want to talk about is: “What does it mean for my league?”

The Terminal City Rollergirls started skating five years ago when derby in Canada was a non entity. We had no one around us to skate against, and trips across the border to play the powerhouse of Seattle’s Rat City were scary to say the least. Our first bouting season, we split into two teams and played Red vs. Black in front of a couple of hundred people. At the end of the year we decided to follow the prevailing trend and form house teams so that we could have some constant in-house competition. Thus the Riot Girls, Bad Reputations, Faster Pussycats and Girls from Bad Homes were born. In the “off season” (ie. when the ice goes into all our venues for the winter) we cobbled together a “travel team” of skaters that wanted to play outside of the league.

In our first couple of years of travelling we beat everyone we played. “TCRG is undefeated” we crowed. And then we headed to the pub for another beer and pound of wings. But things started to change; during the 2009/10 travel team season we lost a few more US games and then came the kicker – we travelled all the way to Toronto for Quad City Chaos to take on Montreal, Toronto and Hamilton and we lost every single game. Our bragging rights in Canada had been firmly squashed.

After three years of fierce in house competition our house teams were strong, but our travel team was not. We routinely heard people say “you have great skaters, but you don’t play as a team.” While we had been happily enjoying our greatness, the rest of the leagues had been skating against teams that pushed them and challenged them to be the best. This sport doesn’t sit still for too long and we were in danger of getting left behind.

But it was more than that, and this is where we get to the heart of the issue. It is now my belief that in order for us to be a successful travel team (with aspirations of becoming our leagues WFTDA charter team) we couldn’t just be something for those skaters that didn’t want to take time off in the winter. And more importantly, we couldn’t be composed of skaters that also played for house teams. In order for us to be the BEST team that we could be, we had to commit 100% to this team, all year round, for every single game.

My reasons for this are:
1) Teamwork: derby is no longer about individual skill, its about teamwork. If you don’t play together all the time, how can you develop that teamwork to a level where it is unspoken, fluid, instinctive?
2) Trust: when you spend half of your year conspiring against each other in house teams, how can you really trust that skater you are now paired up with?
3) Time: to be a competitive team we have to skate together for twelve months a year, not just when the house teams aren’t playing. That means having twice as many practices plus committee work.
4) Commitment: what do you as a skater want? do you want to stay in your comfort zone of playing people you know? or do you want to play this sport at another level, where you skate against teams that are going to beat you, that are going to hurt you, but will make you stronger than you ever imagined?
5) Growth of the league: having a separate All-Star team takes our best players off our house teams and allows those middle of the road skaters to shine and grow. This way we are training our future leaders and our replacements.

Our league has spent the last two years debating this.

But how does this relate to Regionals you ask?

Firstly, I was blown away by how many of our league attended the games or watched at home. In previous years it has been maybe 2 or 3 skaters that were interested enough to watch online. It shows me that my league mates are interested in derby outside of Vancouver, outside of the house teams. To me this says that we take our new place in WFTDA seriously, and we want our charter team to play against the big boys, I mean girls.

And secondly I hope that by having so many of our league members see what we are up against, they understand how hard it is going to be to get to Regionals in 2012. And in my mind the only way we are going to get there is to have a committed team of skaters, unencumbered by house team rivalries and extra practices, focused on achieving a goal that will involve hard work, discipline, determination and trust.

This week we voted in our new All Star team and tonight is our first team meeting. Things have changed a lot. This time last year the majority of skaters refused to contemplate only playing for the All-Stars (there were five of us that took the plunge). This time around 90% of those who tried out for the team said that they would only play for the one team if picked. Wow.

So with twelve months of blood, sweat and tears ahead of me, I will see you at Westerns next year – on the jammer line.

Later Skaters

Lulu
Co-Captain of the Terminal City All-Stars

This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. Know what you mean..
    Portland was my second Westerns and been to one Nationals, coincidentaly in Portland. Ive been a major advocate with members in my league to attend at least one major tournament live, webcasts are cool but nothing beats the atmosphere of actually being there. It certainly puts things into perspective and inspires to make the effort to be better. Derby in Canada has gotten better, but still is in no way close to what is being done in the US. Kudos to Montreal for being the closest to achieving that standard, and Im sure Vancouver is not too far behind. Travel, watch, experience, and enjoy, nothing beats being there and soaking it ALL in.
    Cheers

  2. The bigger picture of roller derby not just derby in our city (Vancouver) is what I intrigues every sense of my fresh meat body. I can’t wait to learn and geek right out! I live love laugh roller derby and it’s direction right now. Cheers to TCRG and Besterns2012.. I will be cheering for you gurrrrrls!

    Much love n respect,
    Jae9

  3. Hockey season and a lack of roller rinks have been the biggest things holding back Canadian derby. The tendency to focus on intraleague play (even in Ontario and Montreal) is another.

    Canada had a tournament of home teams that ran for three or four years before any travel team tournaments happened. Beast of the East is a great opportunity for home team players, don’t get me wrong. I just felt like tournaments for travel teams should’ve come first, or at least a lot sooner than they did.

    Atop all that, it’s simply more expensive to travel within Canada. You’re often closer to nearby U.S. major cities than your own. It wasn’t until 2008 that there was any insurance reciprocity (USARS’ policy didn’t cover any play past U.S. borders).

    This isn’t me being down on Canadian derby. I’m a big fan. Just an acknowledgement of the increased difficulties derby leagues have at becoming major competitors.

    Montreal isn’t the only sign of life besides your league. Tri-City Roller Girls in Kitchener/Waterloo Ontario and Toronto Roller Derby are both making their presence felt in the North Central region.

    The tricky thing for them is that while my league (Roc City Roller Derby) requires all travel team skaters to have a passport, passport card or EID, a lot of leagues that are further away from the border simply don’t have enough skaters who are prepared to get into your country legally.

    I see that changing over time, as their teams become “someone we need to play.” The thing is, even the much-loved Montreal Roller Derby have reported difficulties getting opponents to play them there. Americans in non-border states tend not to leave the U.S. unless they’re rich or really enjoy traveling. Tough cultural nut to crack.

    1. Hey Poobah

      I hear you! Definitely hockey season, cost to travel within Canada and American’s without passports has hindered our growth. I would love to have more cross Canadian competition, but in reality it’s just not possible (this is especially pertinent as we are struggling with funds for Team Canada at the moment.) We ran Derby Night in Canada in our second season and it was awesome, but teams from the East have realised it doesn’t make sense for them to blow their wad to come all the way out here when they can pop over the border and play great US teams. We are the same – this year we focused on fully subsidizing our teams travel which meant that we couldn’t afford to do Quad City in Toronto or really any travelling outside of the Pacific Northwest πŸ™

      This may not change in the next year (unless we find ourselves a sugar daddy!?!) but we can still grow and learn from playing teams near us in the states and bring that back to our local Canadian leagues. While our growth may be slower, it doesn’t mean that we won’t all get there someday!

      Thanks everyone for their comments. I am glad you found some useful info from our story πŸ™‚

      Lulu

  4. In Rose City our travel team skaters have the option of skating for only the travel team, but it’s never a requirement. Last season was the first time we had a large number go ‘TT-only’ and that number was (I think) 10 or 11. A few are considering going back to their home teams this season.
    Our two Team USA skaters are on home teams. White Flight is even a home team captain. I understand the reasoning behind wanting skaters to essentially make the choice between home or TT, but I really like that we leave it up to the skaters to decide. Also, our TT doesn’t only skate when home teams are not. There is an overlap of seasons. They are still required to make the attendance for both of their teams. It’s a lofty goal, but one that many skaters choose to take on and do so successfully.
    I don’t know quite as much about Rat City, but they have a similar TT-only option, and last season I believe that only about 3 of their skaters took it.

  5. Hey Sara,

    Yes I know that a lot of leagues do things differently and that was something we did lots of research into when we were trying to figure out which way to go on this.

    One thing that we pinpointed that is different for us is our lack of facilities. We don’t have our own facility. Therefore we are very constrained when it comes to picking our “season.” We can only put on bouts during April-August because the ice is in all our venues during the rest of the year. Thus our “home season” falls at exactly the same time as our WFTDA season. Also during the winter we play in a covered parking lot (think bumpy asphalt without a track) therefore the bulk of our training time is done in the summer.

    Basically what we found this year with 75% of our membership on two teams was that by August they were burnt out and the 25% on one team hadn’t really been challenged because we couldn’t pile more practices/games onto our home teamers.

    As with all things derby – this is an experiment! We will see how it goes πŸ™‚ In my opinion though, you never know until you try it!

    Thanks for letting me know about how things work with you guys. Can I ask why you are thinking about going back to your home team? Is it to get more skate time?

  6. Hey Lulu! Glad you enjoyed your visit to Portland. I’m sure you guys will be there at the Regionals in 2012. Being a small league in the UK we have a similar issue : After playing in mixed teams for the last few years, we are finally in the position of playing our first game as a team, all together. But after a few years of playing against each other it is a challenge now to forget that and start working together. Some of our girls have jammed against one of our strongest blockers so now they have to remember she’s on their side when they approach the pack. Along with the other directors, I’m chomping at the bit to get out there and show everyone we can play as a team. Take care and big luv to all of you in Canada from the Rebellion Rollergirls xxxx

    1. Hello Rebellioners!

      That’s really interesting to hear your experience with this. I know that for us it was one of the biggest challenges, getting the team members to TRUST each other after spending so long being competitors. When we only skated 6 months of the year, by the time we were just getting it together it was time to go back to home teams. I totally understand your excitement to show the UK how awesome you guys are TOGETHER, as a team – I know you will rock it πŸ™‚

      Good luck with everything and big hugs to all my fave English derby skaters. You know that UK derby is being talked about all over North America after London’s upset at Easterns? KEEP KICKIN ASS LADIES!!!! Made me proud πŸ™‚

      Lulu

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