Underdogs Strive to Catch Derby Champs
Unbreakable, unbeatable, a runaway champion—the challenge last year for any team squaring off against the Doomsdames was to not be totally flattened, to emerge with a respectable loss score.
Watching Kamikaze Kim, jammer for the ’Dames, push on soft spots in her opponents' defenses and rocket around the track is a sight to behold. But the beautiful thing about derby, says Head Ref John Morningstar, is that it's so taxing, no single player can carry the team. This year, the Doomsdames are losing two skaters from their four-jammer formula that spelled smashing success last year.
"They were playing against teams who were fielding either two-jammer lineups or three-jammer lineups," says Morningstar. "So as the game went on, the Doomsdames got relatively stronger, because the other teams would wear down and slow down."
Even though the ’Dames have other players who have jammed and can jam, the change could mean the D.I.A. (Derby Intelligence Agency) and the HoBots have a good chance of strengthening their plays to slow last season's victor. "We're going to have to make up for a lot," says Doomsdames blocker Mortal Wombat. But that doesn't mean they're not looking to walk away with the title again.
The Dames aren't the only ones with novices on their squad. Carson B Demented of the D.I.A. talked about the challenges of training a crew that's 50 percent fresh meat this year. "The veterans really need to get the newbies up to speed without neglecting their own skills," she says. Morningstar says D.I.A. is brimming with talent these days. "Their challenge is to put it all together in a team concept."
That team concept includes communication among blockers (the defensive line), whose job is to prevent the jammers from breaking through the line and scoring. A jammer that's being forced to the middle of the pack, unable to skate free, tires faster and becomes less effective the longer she's trapped.
"The better you are at what you do, the less chaotic it gets," says BOTulism, a first-time skater who was drafted into the HoBots after training herself how to skate at Roller King. "I didn't want to watch anymore. I wanted to play," she says. The long and lean skater's body type is in the minority among blockers, most of whom are shorter and have lower centers of gravity. BOTulism says her focus is on learning to hit harder, to knock girls down and to be able to skate in a crouch for longer periods of time.
Shouts and curses echoed around Club Fantasia's wooden tracks during the practice on Wednesday, March 4, the second to last full scrimmage before the derby rolls out its second full season. Not 15 minutes have passed before everyone is covered in sweat. The pack roars round and round. A derby girl goes down. The skater behind her leaps over the fallen player, who rolls off the track clutching her knee.
Later, another skates into the padded railing, knocking over several bar stools. Skirt askew, a short blocker comes flying off the track. "Head's up!" shout the derby girls on the sideline as she cannons onto the carpet and sprawls out face down, gasping.
In all three cases, the player was back on the track within seconds, ready to do her job for whatever time remained in the two-minute matches. Though the season hasn't yet begun, there's already a broken ankle on the injury tally. "I don't worry about injuries," says BOTulism. "If you worry about injuries too much, you're going to have a hard time playing. You psych yourself out. You can't be timid when you play."
Timid isn't the first word that comes to mind when watching these athletes blast around the track. "We started tottering around on skates not knowing what we were doing," says Morningstar. Though the skaters have ratchetted up their skills week by bruised and battered week, the Duke City Derby is still open to anyone who has the time and energy to commit. "Roller derby's grassroots. No one's looking to make money on this right now."
Team captains scout Sunday night practices looking for newbies who have passed the difficult skills test. The draft takes place quarterly, with the next one happening at the end of May, right in the middle of the season. "It's unusual," says Morningstar, "but we're trying to populate a fourth team." That team would be made up of Santa Feans who've taken an interest in the derby, along with members from established teams. Morningstar predicts the assembly of the fourth squad, though it will dilute some of the old crews, should help level the playing field.