5 things to know about outdoor roller derby

When we first started, my last league skated in an old school building’s gym — 60 feet by 40 feet, maybe*. So, when the sun came out in Rockland, Maine, we traded our dusty gym in for the high school basketball courts (which would fit a WFTDA track).

For us, it was analogous to keeping a pony in a tiny dark stall for months and then letting it loose in a sunny hay field. “Finally,” I thought. “This is where we belong. On a derby track. A real one. … this is bigger than I thought.”

You can see I wore boot covers (99 cents) and they got torn to shreds. Photo by Eric Baseler, summer 2011.
You can see I wore boot covers (99 cents) and they got torn to shreds.
Photo by Eric Baseler, summer 2011.

But, like snakes and thistle in a field, with freedom come certain dangers.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Go early, be prepared
If you can’t lay a permanent track, you’ll need your rope/tape measure and chalk each time. And 20 minutes.

Also be prepared for the public. People see a bunch of women (or men, or children) on skates and get curious. If you have fliers for your next event, have some on hand. And if you have someone off-skates, maybe assign that person to be the spokesperson for the day.

2. Outdoor surfaces can hurt
Skin peels off your body so much easier on concrete, tar, tennis court. Make sure to wear capris, even if it’s hot. Bring the first aid kit every time.

3. They can hurt your skates too
If you’re a toe-dragger — even an occasional toe-dragger — outdoor surfaces can also rip your leather right off your feet. (No, not literally) You might invest in toe guards or duct tape.

4. New wheels not necessarily a necessity
If you’re on an even-enough surface, like a basketball court or a tennis court, you probably don’t need to spend another $30-100 on outdoor wheels. Outdoor surfaces like that do wear down any ridges you might have on your wheels, so if you have a boner for perfect, new wheels, well, you probably already have outdoor wheels and I don’t know why you’re reading this. If you’re frugal and don’t care too much if your wheels are beautiful, they shouldn’t affect them too much.

It’s a basic lesson in friction — gritty surfaces are tackier (hence why they excoriate you with ease). So, on a super-friction court, you should consider using a less sticky wheel. Outdoor wheels (the stickiest) are a poor choice for a basketball or tennis court, in my opinion. Sticky on sticky.

That said — if you’re on a super shitty surface, like bumpy tar, you will want outdoor wheels.

Personally, I used my old indoor wheels for outdoor derby, my outdoor wheels for skating outdoors for leisure and my indoor wheels for indoor derby.

5. You’ll need more water than you think
I drank more than a gallon once. Your teammates will forget their water. Also bring sunglasses and sunscreen.

6. Know when the sun goes down
If you’re skating in the evening, you might want to check when the sun goes down. And prepare, accordingly. I wrote about the Maui Roller Girls’ set up — they practice outdoors at night. Also, if you’re playing on public space (like a high school basketball court), check your city’s ordinances about noise, curfews, etc.

*Such tight walls.

The “mercy rule” breaks my soul

I have only one thought on the 2014 World Cup rules announced today, really:

It takes incredible hurdles to create magnificent victories. Our heroes don’t come because they face everyday circumstances — they come out of harrowing times.

Therefore, I loathe the mercy rule that Blood and Thunder announced today. According to DNN, it states: “If a team is leading by 100 points with 20 minutes remaining, the leading team will be awarded a ‘technical knock-out.'”

I think the mercy rule crushes the soul of roller derby fans. Part of the fun is rooting for an underdog and vicariously living through their victories (even if it’s just “SHE GOT LEAD JAMMER!). As a derby fan I love the second half. I know teams come back. I know they re-think, re-energize and re-evaluate their play and adapt. Part of the satisfaction I get is seeing the smarts of the sport — OK, Team B, you’re losing. Now what?

Because isn’t that what real victory looks like? — Figuring out that who you are isn’t good enough and that to rise to the task you must be better than you thought you could be. I think so.

And from a practical standpoint: Blood and Thunder also reduced penalties to 30 seconds (or, if the other jammer it out and scoring, the penalized jammer only serves one scoring pass in the box) — OK. I can live with that. Hypothetically, someone great could score 40 points in a powerjam minute. 20 points in a half-minute — assuming you could goat the jammer that long under this rule set. 100 points is still only five (magically awesome) power jams away.

Come on, Blood and Thunder, don’t take away the chance of a great story with amazing heroes conquering the seemingly unconquerable. It’s not who we are.

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Team USA tryout approaches, skater Grim D Mise turns to … a beauty pageant? Well, yeah!

In less than a week some of the best roller derby skaters in the East will try out for Team USA. Which means it’s time to catch up with Maine Roller Derby skater Grim D. Mise (read this first.), who I’m following through the tryout. The plan is to chat with her the day before the tryout, the day after and once she hears the results.

Here’s Grim:

I last talked with you in Mid-May. What’s changed since then?
I have new muscles in strange places.

Which places?

With one week left, what’s the plan for training?
Rest! Well, kind of. I’m still skating, I’m still Crossfitting, but the intensity is a lot lower. I’ve put my body through a lot over the last few months and what it really needs now is a chance to rest before the big day. I’ve also been extremely sick for a week and I’m only just now recovering from whatever virus I had. For the 2-3 days leading up to tryouts, I plan to continue with light cardio but I’ll mostly be stretching and foam rolling religiously.

What Grim calls "rest." Photo by CrossFit Vindicta
What Grim calls “rest.”
Photo by CrossFit Vindicta

How are you preparing mentally?
Visualization is one of my favorite tools of mental training. I think about roller derby pretty much non-stop and I often joke to my leaguemates about how when driving home, I get carried away with visualizing doing awesome and amazing things on the track and I constantly drive past my road. It happens at least once a week.

Most recently at the Northeast Derby Convention in May, I was invited to participate in an all-star scrimmage as part of, “Team Smarty.” Yes, that Smarty. It was a tremendously fun and helpful experience to be able to have before the Team USA tryouts. Skating with/against skaters of that caliber quickly exposed all of my weaknesses, and some that weren’t very apparent to me. One of the biggest being, self-doubt. Until that scrimmage, I honestly thought I was as confident as I could get on skates and I firmly believed I had a fairly solid mental game. NOPE. Turns out I had some work to do.

At North East Derby Convention. Photo by Joe Medolo.
At North East Derby Convention. Photo by Joe Medolo.

So I entered a Pin-Up girl contest at Northeast Chop Shop in Windham, Maine. What? I know. There’s logic to this decision, I promise. Basically, I had to figure out what filled me up with so much anxiety and doubt. I can list all the reasons here, take up a page or two doing so, or I can narrow it way down and simply say that I had to figure out how to get comfortable being uncomfortable, and being a contestant in a pin-up contest was a situation I was highly uncomfortable being in. Entering that contest was an opportunity to learn how to deal with my mental hang ups. My goal for the contest was to make it through without crying or throwing up. If I could do that, I would have felt successful. So what happened?

Photo credit: Mad Stork
Photo credit: Mad Stork

I told myself to have fun. I took home first place, some sweet prizes, and a SATIN SASH! I made some friends too (one of whom plans to try out for Maine Roller Derby in the Fall!). Focusing on having fun took off so much pressure that I was finally able to feel comfortable. Sometimes a situation calls for unconventional methods. This one certainly worked out better than I had imagined it would.

Are you going with anyone else from Maine?
Yes! My super ultra hyper amazing teammate, Spry Icicle (you know, the one who actually scored points against Gotham that one time we scrimmaged them?) is trying out as well. She’s MRD’s head of training and she’s swell.

Do you have any pre-derby rituals you know you’ll do?
This is a ritual both Spry and I share, but yes, we listen to music and paint our nails. For myself, there are two constants to this ritual: Metal and sparkles. Otherwise, I eat what I feel like eating and I might watch my favorite motivational video once or twice. I might also hula hoop.

Are you going to do anything else while you’re down there? Anything derby?
We are going down to Pennsylvania early to watch all the outstanding derby at the East Coast Derby Extravaganza. I’m going to be working the Turn Two Skate Shop table for most of the weekend while at the event, but I’ll be sure to catch as much of the action as possible.

Are there any skaters you’re hoping to see at the tryout?
Yes! Aside from obviously being excited to share the track with current Team USA skaters, some of my Rogue-mates (my banked track team, “Team Rogue”) will be there and a few of the Boston ladies are trying out as well. Also, and I hope her plan wasn’t to fly under the radar and then blow everyone’s mind away the day of tryouts, but Buster Skulls will be there and she’s got a killer shot to make the team.

You’re the jammer on the line for Team USA and you get to pick your four blockers. Who are they?
I’m pretty sure I may have suffered a slight brain aneurysm thinking about how to answer this but I’d love to see this blocking line up: Slaydie, Smarty Pants, Sassy, Bonnie Thunders.

Anything else you want people to know?
I mostly just want people to know how grateful and endlessly appreciative I am for all the support they’ve given me. I’m so lucky to  have friends and family like I do. It feels really good to have a whole state behind me and that feeling is something I plan to tap into during tryouts. Rock Coast Rollers, Central Maine Roller Derby, Bangor Derby, Maine Roller Derby, Derby Lite: Portland, Maine and New Hampshire Roller Derby (I know you’re not a Maine league NH, but you gals continue to inspire us Mainiacs and you’re always genuinely supportive) — THANK YOU!

Lastly, (here’s where it gets a little mushy) my fiance has been one of my biggest supporters since we met almost three years ago. I decided to stop drinking in preparation for Team USA tryouts and AJ joined me. He’s a huge source of strength when I need it most and without his loving encouragement and support, I’d be lost.

Barf! Grim and soon-to-be Mr. Grim (or TUGBOAT). Photo by Kissy Kicks.
Barf! Grim and soon-to-be Mr. Grim (or TUGBOAT). Photo by Kissy Kicks. (JK on the barfing. Sorta.)

Here’s a funny picture of a child who might be a better skater than you

This kid was at a figure/dance skating competition at my local rink last weekend.

skatekido

What struck me at the “tiny tots showcase” was:

-Kids fall during their performances
I don’t know why I didn’t expect them to. The audience was very forgiving.

-They are babies on roller skates
“Are you in preschool yet?” I kept thinking.

-The parent-heavy audience can be similar to ones at horse shows, pageants.

-SEQUINS

-Wheels look so huge on tiny skates

-Couples-skating 4-year-olds are the cutest thing that ever happened.

-These kids will be so much better derby skaters than you someday

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):

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

GREAT GAME:
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)

Blowout:
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

Rent:
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.

*WTF
**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.

So you’re going to a derby convention — 8 tips on how to get the most of it

I wrote a while ago abut the Northeast Derby Convention.  Now a bunch of my old leaguemates and fellow New Englanders are going. Here are some tips on how to get the most from it:

1. Make goals
Write them down before the conference. Write down the goals of the people in  your carpool so you can talk about them on the way home later.

2. Plan it out
Know where to be, when and what you need (notebook, pen, gear, sneakers…).

3. Give it your whole brain
Pretty obvious, but hard in practice. Being totally present for a three-day weekend is hard. It’s difficult to dedicate as much to the first drill of the first session as it is to the last of the last day. Know you paid a lot of money to improve your skill set and be entirely in it.

The other side of this is that your body won’t master every skill you will learn in a weekend. It just won’t. But if your brain understands the intricacies of each drill (and you write them down), you can save it for later when you have a couple hours at practice back at home. That’s your time to perfect what you learn in a whirlwind weekend.

4. Write shit down
You will forget all the awesome drills you learned unless you write them down. Even if you’re not the league secretary, write it down. Here is what you should write:

-The drill itself, including pictures that help you remember how it is set up (I like to draw them like messy comics, so I can see how a drill progresses from start to finish). Also include the goals of the drill … ie: “This is for the jammer to learn to take offense.”

-Any notes on form, especially for hitting.

-Notes about what things you found challenging, what you did well (I found notes from last year that said “you found it especially helpful to jump out of this” etc. and it helped me remember the drill.) Personalizing it makes it memorable.

-Anything you find inspiring that the coaches say. If you lead practices for your league, take notes on the coaching styles you find especially helpful.

-People’s emails. Especially people you admire and want to learn more from.

5. Play well with others
This is your chance to play with people who are not on your team. They will challenge you in new ways. Be nice and do your best.

6. Save the drinking* for Tuesday
If you are at a conference for social reasons, go for it. Drink the weekend away. If you paid all that money to get better at roller derby, you’re going to be better prepared to give each drill your all if you got good food, good sleep and maybe only one G&T.

7. BUT BE SOCIAL
Talk with others. People from other leagues have a lot of knowledge that you don’t have. Chat up coaches. It’s awesome to have derby friends all over the country/world. And go out! Just don’t go out until 3 a.m. if you have an 8 a.m. session.

8. Decompress
As much as you want to give your all to everything, you will need time to reflect, relax and rejuvenate. Make the time when you’re not in drills/sessions to keep yourself balanced and peaceful.

Have all the fun.

*Drink all the water.