6 ways my relationship to derby will change, post-pandemic

A roller derby skater smiles at the camera while a crowd behind watches on

Some leagues in my area are scrimmaging, some are slowly trying to return, others are still on hiatus … maybe forever?, and my league is spending time investing in the 50 or so women in my town who bought roller skates during the pandemic and waited to try out for our team. Unless your league jumped right back into scrimmages and bouts, you’re probably in some state of frustration as a competitive derby skater. I am, a little. It’s a good time to reflect on how things shifted.

Derby changed; it had to. Many skaters’ [and officials’] approach to the sport changed too. 

I’m making changes to my relationship to roller derby. I cringe at the decisions the January-2020 version of me made. That month, I went to a tournament with a severe head cold. We played the second half of a game with a two-jammer rotation and I felt like absolute death. The team bench was littered with boxes of my used tissues. That version of me never thought to not go to the tournament. Today-me would never do that again. 

Here’s what else is changing (and I’d love to hear what’s changed for you, in the comments). Heads up: This starts light but gets real real:

The opportunity cost of roller derby — aka racking up PTO

By May 2020 derby’s hiatus appeared on my pay stub. My accrued time off ticked up to numbers I’ve never seen. So this is what happens if you don’t constantly travel for bouts and tournaments. That pay stub gave me clarity. The opportunity cost of a season of derby tournaments was a three-week trip to … well, anywhere. 

This was the first of my Pandemic Derby Revelations: I’m not going to travel as much for derby in the future. 

I live in Maine. If you want to play an opponent, you’re traveling. When Maine hasn’t fielded a team for state tournaments, I’ve been on state teams Team Mass and Team Vermont. Vermont is a six-hour commute. I’m also a staple of my home league’s WFTDA-charter jammer roster … stepping away from travel may be significant to my team. Maine Roller Derby doesn’t have a travel team right now, but when that day comes, I plan to have an honest chat with everyone about what I can offer. I accept that may mean I’m not wanted on the WFTDA charter anymore. Should that be the case, I plan to help prepare the team for their bouts and coach newer jammers to succeed.  … You know, when I’m not taking surfing vacations with all my time off. 

I want to be a competitive player, and I also want to be able to take a break, and spend some time on other fulfilling activities.

And hey, maybe you don’t have paid time off. Another way to frame this is: rest. My league never took an off season longer than four weeks. We need rest sometimes – even *gasp* a whole summer.

I attend practices that serve me

Oof that sounds selfish! But it’s true. I used to attend every fresh meat practice, in addition to all-league and scrimmage nights (home team and travel team’s). Having 100% attendance made my little virgo brain tingle with dopamine … even if that meant several three-hour practices a month of going over boring-to-me basics.

My league is small, so there are times it’s important to be at practice – mostly scrimmage nights. I’m also a practice leader, so I will continue my twice/month obligation to my league. But on the other nights, like basic skills nights, I’ll be home (or doing other activities).

“The retirement plan” activity

Speaking of “other activities” — ironically, pre-pandemic I was working on a blog post about how to plot out a retirement. I have been quietly, furiously working on my retirement-from-derby plan for four years now. To be clear: I don’t intend to retire from this sport. But I’ve seen a lot of people leave who didn’t intend to retire. The lucky ones get to choose their exit day. I know I might not be so lucky, so I’ve been developing other hobbies to ready myself for a day where maybe I can’t roller skate. This came in handy for the two+ years my league shut down.

A good retirement plan fulfills the three essential aspects of roller derby: Community, exercise, fun. Regular exercise groups like Zumba – or even an activity like mountain biking – meet one or two of those IMO (exercise, maybe fun), book clubs meet two (community, fun). Finding all three – and an activity that matches your skills and interests isn’t always easy (I’ve twice been to rugby’s freshie days and it just didn’t stick). It’s the trifecta that keeps people in derby for 10+ years. Many people I’ve seen leave the sport say they’ll exercise, and after a few months they don’t … because they need the community commitment to encourage them to return to an activity. 

For me, I’m competitive, so I like Crossfit. While I do a lot of other activities including skiing, mountain biking and sea kayaking, Crossfit is another place where I get community, fun and exercise. It wouldn’t be “fun” for everyone, but I like the aspect of constantly learning new skills, like how to walk on your hands. 

Becoming more compassionate

January 2020 Dash would hate this post. She’d tell me that my skills will stagnate if I don’t go to every practice, and I’ll let my team and myself down if I don’t go to every travel-team game. The break the pandemic offered gave me a lot more compassion for people’s situations. I used to get upset that my travel-team teammates wouldn’t work on their fitness or endurance or strength outside of practices. Now I don’t care. If that’s not what fits in their life, or serves them, or they’re just not interested, whatever. I’m not going to hold it against them anymore. I’ll still let the new teammates know it will prevent injury, among other benefits. But we all have to make choices these days and derby just may not fit the way it used to for some folks.

“The retirement plan” friends 

In the 12 years I’ve been playing derby, I’ve seen a lot of people join a league with the expectations that they have a new family, a new group of people who will always be there for them, instant friends1. Wow, that’s a lot to put on an activity! When those people leave, I’ve heard them say how sad they are that they lost their whole friend group. They thought after they left the sport they’d still see their former teammates outside of practices and games … but they didn’t. 

This, IMO, is two things. The first: Those teammates are busy practicing three nights a week plus bouts on the weekend … they may not have much time to see you. The second is much harder to hear: You didn’t actually invest in friendships

A teammate is not, inherently, a friend. If you’d like to make a friend, you need to invest in that person. Ask them out for post-practice sodas, hang outside of derby, etc. For most of us, there will be a time when we don’t skate anymore. If you want to build your community, it’s important to bring your friends with you when you go by forging relationships that are stronger than situational friendships. 

Invest in people

There was a year for me when terrible things accompanied two bout days. On one of them, I played derby after a funeral. Again: today’s version of me would never continue life while something terrible was happening; I wouldn’t go to that game now. But then, I did, [and frankly, it was great for my mental health after a week+ of supporting people through mourning]. It taught me something. I’ll never forget coming back from a funeral, sitting on the bench looking at my teammates, and thinking, “none of this matters. Y’all are all that matters.” 

I’ve never remembered a game score. Not sure I could even tell you my highest point count per jam. I couldn’t tell you with any accuracy which games we lost, or won (except the couple that taught me bigger lessons). Because, really: It doesn’t matter. And this is coming from the most competitive person you’ll ever meet. It’s like Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Your legacy won’t be in your wins. It’ll be in the people you helped, cared for, made memories with. So figure out how to get yourself more of that. 

1 That’s a cult

Feature photo by Jim Vernier.

I want to hear from you. I want to know how the pandemic has changed your relationship to roller derby. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. -Dash 

Death to the jammer lap point: Interview with a murderer

A jammer gets 5 points

Today everyone got word, “jammer lap points will be eliminated.” We are all getting ready to wave goodbye to those 5-point passes. Super jams.

Before we do, I want to introduce you to the man who helped get us here. Code Adam is a long-time, high-level referee who now bench coaches Arch Rival All Stars. He is also the [proud] murderer of the jammer lap point (JLP).

In 2016 Adam conducted a thorough, unscientific study about the JLP and how no one gets them right. You can read his full analysis here, or his abridged version here. To try to summarize for you:  To track JLPs, a person needs to be able to track the location of two jammers at the same time — a relatively impossible task given everything else a jammer referee is responsible for. This, plus some funky situations leads to no one getting JLPs right. Adam’s study broke down the 2016 playoffs and champs, a place with many certified, high-level officials and found no pair of jam refs got these points consistently correct, with 130 uncorrected errors in the games — 18 of which were won by only 1 to 4 points. More on this below.

What’s it feel like, being a murderer? (I kid, I kid). But seriously, how does it feel to have the WFTDA (a vote by leagues all over the world) back you in your conclusions and take action on killing the JLP?

I’m very, very happy this happened. It is something I have been thinking and talking about for close to 3 years, much to the annoyance of those around me. I’m so glad I was able to effectively communicate my point of view.

Were you surprised that the derby community was relatively quick to make this change, once you proved that so many 5-point-passes are mis-awarded?

I was extremely surprised that skaters voted to get rid of them. I felt the only people who were on my side were officials, and they — rightfully — only get one collective vote among hundreds cast for rules changes. If any change was going to take place, I had to convince most skaters that this thing that had been with the sport since its inception was actually way more complex than any sport’s method of scoring should be. I acknowledged from the start that my study wasn’t scientifically rigorous, and I meant it more as just a jumping off point for others to start their own conversations about it. It seems like that was successful.

Why did you do this study in the first place?

Back in 2016, my officiating peers and I were putting a lot of effort into getting jammer points right: we developed methods of communication and thought processes that would allow us to track who was lapping whom and when. I found that this wasn’t enough, though. The chaos of the game crept into our best-laid plans and caused mistakes. As much thought as I put into it, there was no way to guarantee a point wouldn’t be missed or erroneously added. The more I thought about it, the more I realized what a complex thing jammer referees were being tasked with doing.

I didn’t have any real goal in mind when I started logging the mistakes I saw (and produced myself) at WFTDA Playoffs in 2016, but once I got rolling with it, I wanted to capture everything and share with the community a problem that I feel no one outside of my peers knew existed.

You beautifully outlined how it’s nearly impossible to get JLPs correct in a 29-page study. For people who didn’t read it — or had difficulty understanding it — could you summarize?

I wanted to shed light on the fact that jammers being scored on by other jammers was an extremely difficult thing to track.

  1. I laid out all the reasons from a rules/game perspective why tracking these kinds of points was hard not just for referees, but for spectators, too.
  2. I showed the results of a survey/quiz I distributed to all kinds of members of the derby community — from highly accomplished officials to skaters on the world’s best teams — in which they watched a single jam as many times as they wanted to identify how many Jammer Lap Points each jammer scored. Answers were all over the place, and only a small percentage of people got it right.
  3. I watched all 116 games from WFTDA 2016 Playoffs and Champs to log every single mistake with jammer points and the situations that led to them. There were a lot of mistakes, simply because there are so many different situations that can lead to them.

It all comes down to the fact that jammers can move independently of the pack, so referees and spectators need to keep track of where each jammer is relative to one another at all times. This can prove difficult, especially for a Jammer Referee who needs to keep their eyes on a single jammer the whole time.

I am a jammer. I am also a jammer-ref. As a jammer, I want to tell you that this elimination makes me incredibly sad. As a jammer referee, your study changed my entire way of thinking. The day before your study came out, I would have told people I 100% understand how to award jammer lap points and do so correctly most of the time. The day your study came out, I knew I was entirely wrong (and so was everyone else). What feedback did you get from the derby community upon posting this? 

I first posted this on the WFTDA forums in January 2017 (immediately after a new set of rules came out, so I wasn’t expecting anything to immediately happen with it), and I got generally positive responses then. Most people had not thought about the craziness that is jammer lap points (JLP) before, and it helped people evaluate the actual value they brought to the sport relative to the amount of mental energy it takes to track them.

So while the people on the forums were very positive, it’s important to note the forums are made up of people who volunteer to be their league’s representative on there: that gave me a very small, specific niche of the derby community that probably is not a great bellwether of what the community as a whole might feel about a large challenge to an existing institution. Given the timing with the recent rules release, I simply hoped the educational aspect would help reduce mistakes until the next time we got the opportunity to change the rules.

This last summer, wanting to generate more support for my cause before the imminent vote, I posted a slightly abridged version of my original write-up on Medium. I felt this got me a slightly wider range of responses, though the negative ones were never really more than expressing the opinion “it’s always been that way.”

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 10.32.42 PM

The biggest shock to me was your playoffs/champs stats. You wrote, “In the 118 games at 2016 Playoffs/Champs, 191 mistakes with Jammer Points were recorded, though 61 were corrected after the jam. [80 missed, 50 added – uncorrected]” Which is just incredible. Did that shock you? 

Because of the number of mistakes I myself was making despite dedicating way too much mental energy to tracking them, it wasn’t surprising to me that others who weren’t thinking about it as much were messing it up, too. In my study, I laid out 13 different ways something can go wrong when figuring out if a point should be awarded for scoring on the other jammer. On a long enough timeline, you’re going to see a lot of mistakes being made.

What was ultimately the most surprising to me was the results of the survey I distributed. Even when tasked with ignoring all other parts of roller derby, people who should be experts in our sport were not able to identify how many JLPs jammers were scoring. This illustrated the main issue to me: JLPs made the scoring rules of our sport inaccessible to anyone less than an expert, and no sport should have points being scored unbeknownst to everyone watching. It is apparent to me that the only way I can consistently track them as a spectator is if I ignore almost everything else; otherwise, I am just trusting the jammer referee to get it right.

JLPs made the scoring rules of our sport inaccessible to anyone less than an expert

I know others have discussed ideas like, “4 points only when the jammer is out of the engagement zone” or “1 point per pass” to simplify scoring. Was this the solution you wanted?

It was.

When toying with the idea of axing JLPs, I had considered the idea of earning a 5th point when the jammer completes a scoring trip and exits the Engagement Zone. This would give the other team incentive to force a call-off with the lead jammer still in the pack even if she has scored on everyone already. I never felt that strongly about it, though, and I wanted the focus to be on the thing that I felt was detrimental to the sport. The community was bound to only accept one large change to scoring at a time, so maybe this can come in the future.

There was a small push from some to keep JLPs but remove the idea that lapping position was “reset” when a penalized jammer returned from the box. (The current/old rules dictated the first time a jammer passed the other previously penalized jammer, a point would not be scored.) While this concept did cause confusion among a lot of people, this solution wasn’t sufficient for me. Most officiating errors with JLPs had nothing to do with this weird rule or penalized jammers, and the survey/quiz I distributed that returned wildly inconsistent answers among the community had them watch a jam with no jammer penalties. Had this change happened, we still would have seen lots of confusion regarding JLPs.

Not everyone would do what you did. Do you do data analysis for work? Or is this just a side passion?

You are being a bit kind by just saying “not everyone” would be weird enough to spend hours going through footage of 116 roller derby games to provide evidence for some kind of point. Working with data is the basis for my day job, and it informs a lot of how I operate elsewhere in my life. I knew challenging the status quo of scoring in this sport would require a lot of evidence to back up my claim; I couldn’t just offer my own personal experiences. I ultimately decided a complete list of everything from the most popular games of the year would be the most powerful message.

You laid out the reasons JLP needs to die, but are there any good arguments for it to stay? As a greedy jammer, I want 5 points for passing 5 people. Do you think it’s enough of a benefit that the other jammer is stuck?

I get that people want credit for every single person they pass, but it’s mostly arbitrary that they get an additional point for the jammer.

What effect do you think eliminating the JLP will have on the sport?

Most importantly, the sport will be easier to officiate and easier to spectate. It will be a lot more obvious when a jammer is scoring a point, and there is no need to allocate mental space to remember which jammer passed the other one more recently. Beyond that, I don’t think there will be much of a change in gameplay or outcomes.

From a gameplay standpoint, right now we just see a very small number of times each game the lead jammer will continue the jam a few seconds longer to catch the other jammer out of the Engagement Zone to score one final point. Eliminating the ability for that extra point will mean a few jams get called off a few seconds earlier. With the opposing jammer still in the pack, not scoring a JLP doesn’t change anything about what a jammer is trying to do: get out of the pack so they can make it around again for an additional chance to score points.

As far as the outcome of games, a referee from Gotham named Ref in Peace released a follow-up study to mine that answered the question, “What would happen to recent games if we changed all the 5-point passes to 4-point passes?” From his data set of 394 games, he found 2.5% of games had their outcome change, and all those games had an original margin of victory of 5 or fewer points. This essentially means if you had won your game by 6 or more points with JLPs, you would win the game without them. And if you’re winning the game by 5 or fewer points, one small thing could have gone differently in that game that would have made you lose. So they are not really helping the better team win, nor are they helping the opponent stay in the game. They’re just this arbitrary thing that does not add enough actual value to keep around.

Are you worried about these complications happening all over again when we get into star passes (jammer turns blocker = point)?

Not particularly. The Rules Committee should be able to handle the limited number of scenarios that can happen with star passes. The rules now have the casebook in which they can spell out specific scenarios in a way that still has them universally applicable. I am confident everything will be easier.

What else needs to change in roller derby?

I don’t feel as strongly about anything else as I did about JLPs, as there is nothing that is as widely misunderstood as JLPs were.

One thing related to knowledge of scoring that came on my radar recently was score reporting as the clock ticks down near the end of the game. In A Coruña, there was a final jam that ended with 5 seconds left in a very close game with both teams sitting on clock stoppages. The jammer referees put up the score immediately, but the final score tally from the jam was not on the scoreboard until long after the period time had hit 0:00. There is always going to be a delay in getting points visible on the scoreboard (what if a jammer referee had to talk to a referee on the outside to get feedback on whether points were earned, delaying the reporting even more?), but I think teams should not be forced to guess as to whether they should be using a timeout before they know if they are winning or not. An idea I came up with after seeing this game—and something that could be easily built into any scoreboard application — is if a jam ends with less than 30 seconds on the period clock, the period clock will stop until the scoreboard operator hits a button that indicates the score from the previous jam is fully entered, at which time the period clock and normal 30-second lineup clock will start up. This would give teams the opportunity to see what the score actually is so they can decide whether or not to use a timeout.

As a sort of aside, but I’m very curious: How did your officiating background translate to coaching? 

The fact that I have never played the game gives me these large blind spots into so many parts of derby, including how skaters think and what reasonable expectations are for on-track awareness. I offer a very niche point of view coming at it from a long-time official’s perspective, and I acknowledge it’s a very limited scope. It makes me feel like a football team’s low-level assistant coach who is just in charge of training the long-snapper on how to hike the ball to the punter: it’s an important role that can give a team a small competitive advantage, but even if that long-snapper only does his job half as well as I taught him, it’s not going to have much of an effect on whether the team wins.

Are the jammer refs at Arch’s games terrified? I would be.

Those jammer referees are around me all the time, so they have suffered through my complaints about JLPs off the track enough to know how to get it right on the track.

Has coaching taught you anything new about the sport? 

It would have been incredibly arrogant of me to come into coaching thinking I had nothing to learn about the sport when I have only officiated it. I have learned a lot about things as simple as what happens on a bench during a game to the complex nature of how specific jam-start strategies work. And whereas early in my career I was just the stupid referee congratulating himself for calling some small technical penalty that no one else in the venue saw and which didn’t offer the team any real advantage, I now fully understand how terrible penalties are and how detrimental they can be to a team.

Are you retired from officiating?

Unless something large changes, I won’t be traveling to officiate derby anymore. I largely achieved what I wanted to, and I don’t want to take a tournament spot away from a person who deserves and probably wants it more at this point. I still help out with local play for Arch Rival, though I imagine this will be my last season.

Wanting to get back into soccer but realizing I am now terrible at playing it after so many years away, I recently started officiating that. While the pay is better, I know it will never give me the community that roller derby did.

Code Adam has officiated roller derby since 2009, working as a skating official at three World Cups, 18 WFTDA Playoff tournaments, and 5 WFTDA Championship tournaments. Since 2017, he has served as a bench coach for the Arch Rival All Stars.

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.

Real names in roller derby: A case study

Enough of you have searched “women’s pro roller derby real names” to get to my blog, that — the thinker that I am — I figure you want to know about derby skater using their real names. Interestingly enough, my best friend, Mistress of the Knife — or, these days, Shevawn Innes* — recently joined Rose City Rollers’ Wheels of Justice and the home team the Heartless Heathers and plans to skate — get this — under both names.

She was kind enough to put up with me interviewing her:

This is Mistress of the Kni-- uh, Shevawn Innes.
This is Mistress of the Kni– uh, Shevawn Innes.

You’ve been skating under Mistress of the Knife for, what, 8 years now?

I’ve been skating on and off for that long but I didn’t pick a derby name till I was with my second league. I avoided picking one in the early days of Detroit.

Why did you make a derby name?

I showed up in Nashville and they wanted me to register a derby name so they could put it on the roster. I distinctly remember saying “can I just be myself?” Man they thought I was weird. I was told I had to have a derby name. I picked Mistress of the Knife because that’s what my beloved former (ship) captain had jokingly introduced me to passengers the prior winter sailing. Then there was the awkward time of people trying to shorten it, “Mistress” felt regal and dirty at the same time — not for me. Knife… now that I can relate to.

Me: "Want to stop the jammer Shev -- Knif -- wait, what do I call you?" Shevawn: "Baby, call me whatever you want" (hits jammer into infinity.)
Me: “Want to stop the jammer Shev — Knif — wait, what do I call you?”
Shevawn: “Baby, call me whatever you want” (hits jammer into infinity.)

But, to me at least, it’s always seemed that you haven’t cared what people call you. As your teammate I didn’t start calling you Knife until you moved here and then only because it’s confusing when people have two names.

I don’t care what people call me there is no difference between Knife and Shevawn. Turns out I’m the same person.

So why will you be skating under your birth name for the Wheels of Justice (travel team)?

Personally, I feel like the sport on a national — let’s also call this international —  level has gotten so amazing that I’m taking huge pride in my years of hard work paying off, so much so I would like to put my family’s name on that. Am I trying to ligitamize the sport? Yeah. I want to do this for a living — for a paycheck.  I wanna see derby in the Olympics. I want the “good people” and the huge sponsors to take this sport seriously and put a bunch of money into my friends’ pockets. Too legit?  Too legit to quit.

So then why skate under “Mistress of the Knife” for your  home team, the Heathers?

When I’m playing national derby I see myself as an ambassador for my city, my family and the sport of roller derby. I want to represent by being me. Shevawn Innes. When I’m home I’m home — I’m not an ambassador for my city if I’m in it. But I’m always an ambassador for the sport. When it comes down to it, I guess it just feels right.

What are your teammates saying about your choice?

No one has said anything. Well, except, “what should I call you?”

Do you think other people should skate under their real names?
If they want to. Everybody else can represent themselves however they want — that’s the beauty of this ever-evolving sport.

Do you think you have anything to lose by skating under your birth name?
Maybe some street cred. Maybe gain some.

OK, thanks for the interview, bffls.
OK, thanks for the interview, bffls.

*Innes rhymes with Guinness, announcers.

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.