Duke City Derby's skaters are at practice at the Heights Community Center a little early today. A photographer from ABQ Sports magazine is on hand to take photos, and even though he’s the one with the camera, it's the roller girls who direct the shoot. “We're all going to shake our faces,” a beskated player in the front row tells the photographer. “You'll have about a two-second window to take the picture.” Without further instruction, each skater madly shakes her head, and the photographer snaps away.
Roller derby leagues around the world are player-run and operate on a system of do-it-yourself enthusiasm. DCD is no exception.
Every Sunday, players attend a meeting where they vote on big issues affecting the league. There's a smaller board of skaters that runs public relations, coordinates practices and games, and keeps track of finances and insurance. And lest you think management is somehow lacking because there are no polo-wearing bigwigs pulling the strings, Duke City Derby skaters say the league is in good hands, thank you very much. “We have strong, confident, capable directors,” says treasurer and Derby Intelligence Agency blocker Carson B. Demented.
Duke City Derby's ambition and spirit have been hampered by financial troubles; the league walked away from Rio Rancho's brand-new Santa Ana Star Center after half a season there, unable to attract enough fan support to pay for the fancy new arena.
Public relations representative and DoomsDame 67 Stitchez says being player-run comes with its own trials and rewards. “It is in some senses a challenge, but then you get so much more satisfaction out of it,” she says. “What we earn, we totally deserved.” The league has put together an agreement to use the Convention Center as its home arena for the 2010 season. Derby skaters are spreading the word to try and fill stands. In DIY fashion, they do their own promotion, putting up flyers around the city.
The players say they can’t wait to see their elbow grease pay off. “We're putting together all this Convention Center stuff, and the day the doors open and all these people come in, we're going to just be so happy, because we did it,” Stitchez says. Led Zyppin, who rolls for the Ho-Bots, agrees. “It's nice to be able to take charge and say, I had a part in that." After graduating from DCD's 17-and-under youth roller derby league, Zyppin has assumed a leadership role this season.
“What we earn, we totally deserved.”
DoomsDame 67 Stitchez
The league has no coaches. Skaters learn to play from veterans, and Stitchez says they are eager to impart their knowledge and expertise. “Roller derby's just kind of a sisterhood in general,” she says. “If someone's new, you automatically share your experiences and knowledge with them, and I know it's true for all leagues.”
This philosophy is in effect at Duke City Derby scrimmages. When veterans take a break from competition, they remain focused on the frantic two-minute jams, calling out advice and instructions to their teammates. Sometimes, they'll pull a player aside for some one-on-one advice.
Skaters admit the governing system has its drawbacks; in particular, they complain about the length of their monthly player meetings, where the league gathers to discuss and vote on issues affecting Duke City Derby. “We have to vote on everything,” Carson B. Demented says.
Overhearing, her D.I.A. teammate Muffin interjects: "Do you think blue is pretty?" She's mocking the level of detail player meetings entail, but she might not be that far off; Carson B. Demented says they sometimes drag on for half a day.
There’s even more demanding work for the DCD representatives to the Women's Flat-Track Derby Association (WFTDA), a national governing body for roller derby. Muffin says she’s spent as much as 30 hours a week carrying out her duties as the head of the association's training subcommittee. “It was like a full-time job.” But just like Duke City, the WFTDA’s philosophy is “by the skaters, for the skaters.”
“You always think that this is the year everything is going to fall apart, and then someone like Leddy [Led Zyppin] comes along and says, No, this is going to be our best year.”
Muffin of D.I.A.
Muffin says the time commitment required to simultaneously manage and play in a sports league can wear on a player after a while. “The veterans, after a couple years, get a little jaded and burnt out.” However, she says new derby girls join the league with the enthusiasm needed to keep it functioning. “You always think that this is the year everything is going to fall apart, and then someone like Leddy [Led Zyppin] comes along and says, No, this is going to be our best year.”
Muffin says Zyppin, who is 18, does much of the work in running Duke City Derby. She led the negotiations with the company that operates the Convention Center—negotiations Zyppin says resulted in a half-price discount for the league’s new home arena.
Zyppin says that despite not having formal training in management, she uses what she learned working in a lawyer's office to help her in her duties. “That gave me the professional experience I needed,” Zyppin says. She adds that acting professionally helps her conduct league business. “Putting on the facade really helps a lot."
To skaters, running the league they play in is just business as usual. “You can't really weigh the pros and cons of being player-run, since every league is the same way,” Carson B. Demented says.
At the scrimmage, players mark the boundaries on the court. It appears effortless. A skater rolls by with a piece of chalk pressed to the ground, forming evenly spaced and perfectly curved lines around the track. With a venue secured and a solid top-25 national ranking, Duke City Derby's skaters continue blazing a trail in Albuquerque.