Blowouts in roller derby — how bad is it?

Rose's home team championship last weekend were NOT blowout games. Photo by Alan Cook.
Rose’s home team championship last weekend were NOT blowout games. Photo by Alan Cook.

Too many blowouts. That’s what I heard this morning on a derby Facebook group. They were discussing a game from this weekend with a score of 611-115. People then started debating the new rule set, power jams, etc etc.

So I wondered: Is it that bad? Is this happening regularly? Enough to be a concern?

I took all the scores DNN has up from this past weekend and I calculated the score difference, by percentage. And now I’m making up a totally subjective ranking system.

A game with a score of 100-101 is THE FUNNEST game (101% score differential)
100-120 is a great game (120%)
100-140 is a good game (140%)
100-200 is sort of lame (200%)
100-400 is boring* (400%)
Anything worse than 100-401 is a super boring blowout and sort of makes you question if the winners are douchebags**.

By my rankings, how did this weekend go in roller derby? Pretty good. Of the 43 games played, 26 (60%) would have been fun to see. Only 8 (18%) were total blowouts (400%+).

Here they are (Format is: % differential, team and score, team and score):

101% Hammer City Hamilton Harlots 191-Glass City Killer Bs 192

103% Ventura County 186-Junction City 192
105% Team United Blue Ribbon Bruisers 123-No Coast Road Warriors 117
106% DoomsDames 113-Ho-Bots 120
114% Chautauqua County 191-Central NY Wonder Brawlers 218
120% Ventura County 159-Wasatch Bonneville Bone Crushers 132

Good game:
122% Holy Rollers 27-Hellcats 33
124% Chicago Outfit 185 – Blue Ridge 149
126% Green Mountain 129-Assault City 102
127% Your Mom 200-NYSE 157
130% Jacksonville River City Rat Pack 125-Gainesville 163
130% Oakland Outlaws 213-Richmond Wrecking Belles 164
132% Monterey Bay 163-Santa Cruz Harbor Hellcats 215
133% Detroit 147-Ohio 196
137% San Francisco ShEvil Dead 263-Berkeley Resistance 192
144% Black Widows 174-Switchblade Sisters 121
144% Team United 123-No Coast 177
152% Nutcrackers 270-Wicked Pissahs 178
156% Cape Fear Black Harrts 124 -Carolina Bootleggers 194
166% Nashville 246-Tallahassee 148
172% Burning River 149-Queen City 256
174% PPDD All Stars 138-Capital Punishers 240
178% OK Victory Dolls 221-Duke City 124
185% Ithaca 194-Central NY 105
187% Chicago Outfit Shade Brigade 193-McClean County 103
187% Finger Lakes 232-Broome County 124

Sort of lame:
201% Arkham Horrors 118-Cosmonaughties 237
231% Pikes Peak 136-Santa Cruz 314
247% West Texas 96-Oklahoma City 237
252% Cape Fear 265-Mason-Dixon 105
260% Detroit 285-Cincinnati 109
289% Manhattan Mayhem 91-Queens of Pain 262
289% Detroit Motor City 76-Ohio Gang Green 220
306% Hammer City 245-Glass City 80
310% Oly 304-Jet City 98

You’re boring me:
(No one)

419% Inland Empire 104-Angel City Rocket Queens 436
436% Twin City 397-Circle City 91
451% Sin City 80-Angel City 361
488% Tallahassee Jailbreak Betties 93-Nashville Music City Brawl Stars 454
659% Ft Myers 46-Tampa 303
873% Twin City Plan B 428 -Circle City Party Crashers 49
1350% Dixie 351-Tragic City All Stars 26
1423% Victoria 370-South island 26

All scores are from Derby News Network. I didn’t pick and choose — there are men’s games here, home teams, etc.

Also, I don’t have time (right now) to do this for this weekend last year, but upon initial glance, it looks exactly the same at this year. There are some really close games and a few wide spreads (Actually, there may have been more blow outs this weekend last year. I’ll try to find some time and update this with last year’s stats if I find an hour or two.). Which leads me to believe it’s not so much a rule’s change …

*Disclaimer: Boring roller derby is still roller derby and derby ain’t boring.
**Sad, true.

Roller derby finances: Comparing the top-ranked nonprofit leagues in the nation

We know how Gotham sizes up to Windy City on the flat track, but what about at the bank?

By digging through (publicly available) tax documents, I tried to stack some of the top leagues against each other to see how they match up. (Make your bets now)
Here are some overall observations I had after spending hours weeding through the numbers (which are from 2011 — the last available data. Things may have changed since then.):

-Few leagues are 501c3s
What frustrated me most was how little data is publicly available on this. Only about 50 leagues in the nation have ever filed 990s (nonprofit tax forms). Of those, 28* sound like WFTDA leagues. The others are juniors, renegade and rec leagues. Many of the 28 are leagues you’ve never heard of (Oh hey, Cowboy Capital Rollergirls.) Only about seven division one WFDTA leagues filed these forms in 2011.

-Most of the top leagues are profitable
Start with some good news: Six of the eight leagues I looked at were profitable — some were very profitable, earning 116 percent of what they spent in a year.

-We don’t get grants
Of the leagues I looked at, one of them got a grant and it was for about $4,000. That’s not enough. Together, these same eight leagues brought in about $2.4 million in one year. That means that 0.16% of these nonprofits’ revenues were from grants. That’s embarrassing, frankly. It’s likely because of these leagues, only one had a paid employee (the same league that got the grant). Grant writing is a lot of work for a volunteer, which might be the reason the community got so few in 2011.

-We don’t invest
There were some really cute budget lines of “investments.” One said that a league invested $12 and earned $2 on that investment in 2011 — I have just got to assume that they bought a few extra rolls of tape and that tape prices then went up. But seriously: With assets into the $325,000 range — why is the derby community not investing this money? Most finance-types would tell you that savings account interest doesn’t even keep up with inflation nowadays. We’re losing money by stashing it.

-There is no standard
The goal of this post is to show the derby community how some leagues do it. I chose the top-ranked leagues because, by the nature of it, they are typically older leagues and likely more profitable. What I found is some leagues spend a lot of their funds to support their travel team. Others use it to put on huge bouts for their home teams. Some fundraise a ton, others don’t list any money under “fundraising.” We know this sport is young and growing and I think few leagues would tell you they know the “right” way to support the sport. But I would wager the diversity here is massive. I would suspect if you took eight non-derby nonprofits that were in the same trade, their 990s would look similar to each other. Not so much here. Everyone is doing their own thing.

-Workshops can be fruitful
The best example of this, by far, is Rocky Mountain Rollergirls. Here are their impressive** stats:
-Junior derby programs cost them $4,743 but brought in $12,250 (+$7,507).
-Their bootcamps cost them $4,678 to run and brought in $39,305 (+$34,627!).
Grand total is more than $42,000 of bank. Other leagues also found workshops, rec leagues and other training opportunities lucrative, to lesser extents.

-Gotham doesn’t have the highest rent/mortgage
This surprised me, anyway. Windy and Bay Area pay more, it seems.

-WFTDA is (seemingly***) doing great.
With earnings of more than $400,000 in a year, the WFTDA seems to be healthy. I’m glad it’s now offering me free TV.

A note before we get started: The data I have is limited. For one thing, I can only compare 501c3 nonprofits, so although I hoped to compare the top 12 ranked leagues, some of them are not nonprofits (Oly, Rat, Angel and Minnesota). Also, different leagues fill out the forms in different ways, so some leagues separate every item down to how many t-shirts they sold (Gotham), and some leagues just lump all revenues together (Bay Area). Leagues like Rose keep their junior and rec programs under their one league, but leagues like Texas created separate nonprofits for those programs. Because of all of these huge discrepancies, we can only draw wide inferences from what these numbers mean. But it’s fun. So here it is:

So, who earned the most?
I’d say WFTDA, with $411,032. But, as for leagues:
Rose City Rollers                     $77,490
Windy City Rollers                  $73,857
Texas Rollergirls                     $28,121
Gotham Girls Roller Derby    $2,896
Denver Roller Dolls                 $657
B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls           -$3,024****
Rocky Mountain Rollergirls   -$17,060

Who spent the most?
Rose City Rollers                     $490,271
Denver Roller Dolls                 $367,769
Windy City Rollers                  $361,262
Gotham Girls Roller Derby    $341,859
WFTDA                                    $285,653
Rocky Mountain Rollergirls     $246,502
Texas Rollergirls                       $115,871
B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls            $29,740

Fattest piggy bank:
WFTDA                                      $415,824
Windy City Rollers                   $326,903
Rose City Rollers                      $205,112
Texas Rollergirls                      $144,771
Gotham Girls Roller Derby     $135,774
Denver Roller Dolls                  $74,794
B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls           $53,215
Rocky Mountain Rollergirls    $17,916

Windy City Rollers                  $161,898
B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls          $137,102
Gotham Girls Roller Derby    $121,640
Rose City Rollers                     $62,690
Rocky Mountain Rollergirls   $61,056
Denver Roller Dolls                 $33,000
Texas Rollergirls                     $18,090

Dues taken in:
Rose City Rollers                          $71,002
B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls               $61,233
Denver Roller Dolls                      $53,164
Windy City Rollers                       $43,668
WFTDA                                         $38,750
Gotham Girls Roller Derby        $35,920
Texas Rollergirls                          $11,782

Travel costs:
WFTDA                                            $50,177
Windy City Rollers                         $46,097
Texas Rollergirls                            $38,109
B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls                 $35,000 (approximate)
Rocky Mountain Rollergirls          $31,733
Gotham Girls Roller Derby           $23,051
Rose City Rollers                            $20,627

Most volunteers:
WFTDA                                       1,300
Rocky Mountain Rollergirls      150
Rose City Rollers                        150
Gotham Girls Roller Derby       100
Texas Rollergirls                        100
Windy City Rollers                     100

A snip of my spreadsheet.
A snip of my spreadsheet.

**Although Rocky Mountain KILLED IT with those workshops, they were in the hole more than anyone that year. I’ve requested an interview with the league and so far they have been busy and need more time to get me the information on why their fundraisers were so successful and how they still ended up in the hole. If/when they reply, I’ll add the info.
***That’s not an ominous “seemingly” I just don’t have last year’s data or this year’s data to confirm.
****Bay Area was in the red because of expensive venue rental for their bouts, according to the league’s finance director.  Also, they were robbed at gun point that year. Bay Area’s accountant filed the league’s 990 a bit differently than other leagues; for instance, their rent is more than $100,000 but they only list their total overall expenses in the $20,000 range.
General note: Sometimes I say I examined seven leagues, sometimes eight because Philly’s data from 2009 was useful, but they haven’t filed 990s since then. I asked them if they are still a 501c3 and they are.

5 common roller skate problems — and how to fix them

I’ve had some interesting skate dilemmas today, so I made a list of common skate problems and how to solve them cheaply.

Problem: My skate inserts ball up and are so uncomfortable.
Solution: Don’t tell your roommates I told you to do this. But if you don’t want to dish out the $10-30 to get new inserts, you can try ironing it. I don’t own an iron, those cost money, so here is what I do: First, I try to smooth the crinkles out a bit by putting the bad creases under a leg of furniture. Then, and this is truly disgusting, then I take a flat-bottomed stove-top pan and I boil half an inch of water. I first try to “iron” the foot cushion by pressing the bottom of the hot pan of boiling water on top of it and smushing it. When that does not work (and it probably won’t), I dip the affected area of the insert into the boiling water for 3-5 seconds. Take it out and then smush the bottom of the hot pan over the insert on a cool, dry surface. Repeat until flat. It works. Don’t tell your roommate you put your nasty-ass sweat-soaked shoe insert into one of his/her pans.

Problem: My waxed hockey laces (recommended here) don’t fit through my skate lace eyelets. 
Solution: I know! What a pain! Those things cost $4! You have to broil the mo-fos. Turn your oven to high broil and then hold the tips of the laces under the broiler for about 30 seconds. Quickly put them through your skates. This will shape them into an eyelet size.

Problem: My feet go numb in my skates.
Solution: If it’s not cold, this is because your skates are tied too tight. When I break in skates, I like them loose by the toe, then when you lace them, skip a eyelet halfway up (don’t cross, just move the lace through the next same-side hole) and then keep lacing. This lets you have looseness in the front, but keeps it tight around the ankle. That said, you want to eventually be able to lace your skates tightly and break them in, so, at some point, you’re going to have to suck it up and gradually begin tightening them until the leather stretches around your foot in a hug. If it’s because it’s cold, try a light wool sock and warming your feet up with some off-skates agility before practice. Get your feet sweaty before you put them in your skates.

Problem: I need to adjust my trucks and wheels before every practice.
Solution: ARE YOU LEAVING YOUR GEAR IN YOUR CAR? ARE YOU LEAVING IT ZIPPED UP IN YOUR BAG BETWEEN PRACTICES? Don’t do that! Leather and metal need to dry. This means you pack up your gear after practice, put it with you in your car, then when you get out of your car you bring it with you. Inside your warm house (your skates need a warm home too) you unzip your stinky gear bag and make sure all the gear is separated and able to touch air. One day your roommates won’t care as much. Start getting them used to it.

Problem: I break my laces every practice.
Solution: I addressed this in “The Cost of Roller Derby,” but the quick answer is to get toe caps that snap on (not the ones you put laces through, they will just break), get waxed hockey laces and to try to stop dragging your feet. If the $3-4 laces and $7-14 snap-ons are too much, my friend Vegemighty Slamwitch made her own toe-covers by cutting a bike tire in half, attaching it to her toe stop and then high up on her skate.

Those are some common issues. Feel free to comment below with any skate issues.

And one last thing: Oh MAN! If you didn’t spend the $20 to get WFTDA TV this weekend, you are missing out! Naptown v. Atlanta was CRAY CRAY! Many lead changes and it all came down to the last couple jams. As I said in “how to play watching roller derby” I usually aim for 10 minutes planks, 50 pushups. But this game had so many jams and got me so excited I did 11 minutes planks, 100 pushups and 100 leg lifts. SO CRAZY GOOD.

Proud of: Pushing through extra crosstraining work today. Grateful: Friends who get my obsession, to live close to so many resources, for great neighbors.

The cost of roller derby

I like numbers a lot. Today, I’m in the unfortunate situation of having to shop for health insurance. I do not expect to be [immediately] covered by an employer, and I worry about my health — and roller derby is 100% to blame. I’m a healthier person for derby, but I’m also more susceptible to injuries. So here I am, shopping online for health insurance, which looks like it will cost me about $180 a month (A MONTH) if I want a low deductible.

Thankfully, my practices, scrimmages and bouts are covered by my league’s derby insurance, but I worry about needing something extra. I can’t go into details, but even my derby insurance would cost me a penny if (God forbid) I broke something.

This got me thinking about the money I’ve invested into derby. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a good job for the last two years of derby. So, below is a breakdown of what I bought in the past two years, then I write a 5-point list of mistakes to avoid, then, finally a suggested shopping list for anyone out there looking for one (fresh meat).

This is me at one of my first practices ever on the left. In bad skates (vixens) with bad toe covers (ruined those on day 2) with awful knee pads and a terrible helmet (which later got gold glitter-ed. The gold shorts are great. On the right is me at a bout, with gear upgrades to my 495 skates and rector plates, 187 killer knee pads and elbow pads and wrist guards with a protec helmet (not shown … well). Less awesome pants.

Dash’s costs for two years of derby:
$25/mo dues (x24 months = $600)
$60/year mandatory insurance ($120)
$20/year mandatory liability insurance ($40)
$1/practice in gas (4 practices a week $312)
$60/away bout in gas and food and lodging (12 bouts $720)
$300 in additional, optional training (Northeast Derby Convention. Totes worth it.)
$50 My first pair of skates, pre-derby, getting ready for tryouts. Included wheels, bearings.
$200 First shitty skates I had to throw out after a year because they were so painful


$600 My skates. Riedell 495 with Reactor plates. I told myself “they have to be good enough so I never have to buy skates again!” — Had I bought the standard Riedell R3s and not the super-awful Riedell Vixens with their lead plates, I could have saved myself the $850 and just spent the $150.
$50/set of bearings: $150
$60/wheel set, $240

Outdoor wheels and bearing set: $70
$20/set toe stops x5 (Gumball should sponsor me. I chew those babies up.) $100
$3/set of laces x20 sets (I used to burn through those too, hence the toe protectors) $60
Pads ($80 knee, $25 elbow x2, $20 wrist x2, $40 in 3 mouthguards, $45 in 2 helmets) $255
Rubber toe protectors: $25 (Totally necessary for how I used to skate. Two sets.)
Gear bag: $10
Scrimmage shirts: $5/shirt x10 shirts = $50
Uniform bottoms for bouts: $35
Waterbottle: I stole mine. Free.
Rink fees for extra skate time, 1/week at $5 a session = $480

Total: $4,417
It costs me $2,209 a year to play roller derby.

Frankly, I thought it would be worse than that. And it is. I’m underestimating. This week I went to my rink about eight times, back and forth. It didn’t cost $8 like I said, but I felt conservative today. And this is a depressing post for me.

But here is why I’m writing this: I made major, fiscally painful mistakes. Maybe you’re new to derby and can take this as a warning of what not to do.

If I was brand new to derby, but somehow knew I’d be very dedicated to the sport for the long haul, here is what I would do:

1. INVEST IN YOUR KNEES. Very important. If you have to decide where to spend you money, spend it on your knee pads. It’s cheaper than surgery. I recommend 187 Killer Pro pads. I love them. They have saved me and they have not slipped in the 1.5 years I’ve worn them. My friends like Rector Fatboys. (Both $67)

2. Get great skates that fit. To do this, you must go to a knowledgeable source in person. You need to bring your feet shopping. Literally. Skates don’t fit like your converse. They are (I hope) leather and need to be tight because they will stretch to your foot. A good skate shop will tell you, “No, honey, it’s OK” when you say, “but it hurts! They’re too small!” For fresh meat, I’d say if you have a low low budget, go with the R3s. If you can spend more, it will save you more in the long run because you won’t have to turn in your old skates. The 265s are a pretty good bargain, especially if you mount them on cheap (nice, flexible) nylon plates to start. You can always upgrade to great plates later. I bought my 495s because they came with all the extras included, leather inners, sheepy tongues, straps around my ankles, etc. The boot was $300 and it was as cheap for me to add on the Reactor plates as it would have been to buy the (less awesome) “Torch” package because I already had wheels and bearings. Skate packages are not always the best deal.

3. Try not to buy cheap shit unless you have to. Things I regret buying:

  • My old ($20) toe caps from Etsy. They have holes you put the laces through … which defeats the purpose. I got clip-on plastic caps, which have saved my laces and my leather toes.
  • Shirts that aren’t black or white. Unless I can wear them to all practices, I don’t buy derby shirts anymore. I buy $3 wifebeaters (only black or white) at Walmart and have a bottle of black fabric ink and a bleach pen ready to put my name and number on with. Could have saved me $50.
  • Shitty gear. I spent $50 in my first gear set, which was all cheap stuff. The elbow and wrist guards lasted me about a year before they broke and started slipping (pretty good). I also got a shitty helmet at first. I could have saved about $70 had I bought the things I have now (pretty much entirely 187 Pro brand pads and a ProTec helmet).
  • Shoe laces that aren’t wax hockey laces. Hockey laces are $3 and last me about 3 months. The boot laces I was using cost me $1 and lasted me two practices (16 practices a month means $8 a month).

4. If something doesn’t work, report it. My 495 straps broke six times. The first time, I bought a replacement set for $20. The second time I told Reidell and they sent me new ones. And then they kept sending me new ones as they kept breaking and as their brand began re-making them to be stronger. Sometimes it takes a minute for a brand to get a new thing right. Reidell has been super accommodating and I’m really glad I bought their skates because I feel supported and I know they will be there if anything goes wrong.
The same thing happened with my 187 Pro wrist guards. About three months after buying them, they both ripped and I had to sew them together. I got a little upset and emailed them, telling them what happened and they were very accommodating too and sent me a new set (when I showed a receipt). I knew my knee pads were amazing, so I figured their wrist guards were too. I’ve had my replacement set for a few months and they’re doing great.
You pay a lot for your gear. If something goes wrong, speak up. The derby world is nice and usually accommodating to reasonable requests.

5. Cheap wheels are not bad. Just saying. I went to the rink the other day in my Radar Bullets ($80) and someone asked me about wheels. I told them I like mine and also the Super G blue 88s. They directed me to the local store where they were on sale for $60 for all eight. I also like ($45) Radar Flat Outrageous (wide, good for beginners) and the Reckless Evaders, which I found on sale for $75 for all eight. My last set of wheels, my Super Gs (which I just bought another pair of, knowing I’ll need another set in a few months), lasted about one year.

So, derby world, if I were to buy my fresh meat set up today, knowing I’d be dedicated here would be my shopping list (consequently, it’s what I own now, more or less):
$600 Reidell 495s and Reactor plates
$60 sale wheels — Atom Super Gs (blue)
$50 Bones Super Redz bearings (clean them monthly and you’ll have to replace them once a year. Get “3 in 1” cleaner for $3 and a $1 bottle of rubbing alcohol)
$3 pair of waxed hockey laces
$14 pair of rubber clip-on toe protectors
$165 in gear — 187 Killer Pro knee pads ($70), 187 Killer elbow pads ($20) and wrist guards ($20) and a ProTec helmet ($30) and a ProTechDent mouth guard ($25).

$40 in two sets of Gumball toe stops.

And that would total me at about $932 for gear. About $466 a year. Opposed to my $1,680 — or $840 a year. About half.

So there you have it folks. I watch Tumblr and follow the “roller derby” tag and the most frequent post I see is — “WHAT GEAR SHOULD I GET???!?!?!?!!?! (freak out)” — and that’s my answer. My very very long answer.

Now my question is: Is health insurance worth it. That might be a question for another day.

One thing I’m proud of: I took initiative today and asked to play in a home team scrimmage tomorrow.