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Roller derby 2013 year in review

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Roller derby is in a constant state of flux. Remember way back when there was no such thing as passive offense, a scrum start, or an apex jump? Who can remember back far enough to the hazy days of the penalty wheel or three 20-minute quarters? Over just the last year there have been numerous developments in the Derbyverse, and here are just a few.

New rules; like really new rules

It’s already been a year since WFTDA roller derby let go of minor penalties and the two whistle jammer start. That’s right, blockers used to line up at the pivot line and jammers couldn’t cross the jam line until all the blockers passed the pivot line. The 'strategy' of slowly or virtually never crossing the pivot line used to slow down or eliminate play, completely, as demonstrated famously in Western Regionals 2011 by Rat City v. Rocky Mountain. It took two years to get new rules in place to keep the action moving and the single whistle start was the solution. No one could have foreseen the terrible fate of the long forgotten pivot line.

Numerical rankings

Women’s roller derby is still new and for that reason is still in transition. There was a time when rankings didn’t have everything to do with who beat whom but also included some sort of vote. Allegedly the vote was a way to ensure fairness, though it definitely had a potential to include favoritism.

Admittedly, rankings across hundreds of teams from all across the United States and ultimately the globe is a complex set of variables requiring computers and mathematicians. Well, WFTDA has those now and as of 2013 all rankings are by the numbers. This put an end to competition amongst regions which is why skaters no longer compete at Regionals. Instead they compete in divisions (1,2,or3) and in Divisionals. This is also why no one can win the bracket bonanza and almost every bout of 2013 Divisionals was an upset. The numbers made this a very exciting year to be a derby fan.

Back blocks; remember those?

Did anyone else notice that since the advent of no minors, back block calls have all but disappeared? Meanwhile, low block calls have tripled (these are not real statistics). For a minute there, during the transition, the new way to play derby was to charge into the opposing blockers back, knock her onto the floor, and then trip over her, so she would get the penalty for a low block. It was becoming a thing. As with any new rule change, there is a period of adjustment. Refs at the highest level brought back block calls back with a vengeance at 2013 Championships, most notably in the Denver v. ACDG game where Denver spent a considerable amount of time in the penalty box for back block calls. Famously, in the post interview, despite Denver’s ultimate victory, Rivas referred to Angel City as skaters from the “land of actors” suggesting that they were faking the back blocks to draw penalties. It could also be suggested that Denver (and many others) had become accustomed to the new 'low block strategy' that was a temporary side effect of losing minor penalties.

Rollercon 2013; still in Las Vegas

Every year Rollercon is more crowded than the year before and every year the promise is made that the congestion issue will be solved. And every year it is not solved. The same issues continue with MVP ticket holders waiting in line several hours to get into a class, with black and white scrimmages being cancelled because of overbooked tracks, and the challenge bouts... Skaters start signing up for challenge bouts in December of the previous year and the challenge bout schedule isn’t released until literally days before Rollercon. Most challengers won’t even see the schedule until check in.

It’s Las Vegas, sometimes people don’t show up when scheduled. So why is it, year after year, the NSO sheets are pre-printed with names and numbers? Why can’t they be left blank or easily changed? There was a time in years past when a skater just had to show up with a shirt of the appropriate color and a unique number, not the number of the missing skater, and they could skate if space permitted. Alas, that carefree time of good fun is all over at the Rollercon challenge bouts, or is it? Roller derby is nothing if not adaptable. Derby girls would not be deterred when it was time to skate and rather than fret over number drama dozens simply tucked the shirt of the correct color into their sports bra and wrote the pre-printed number on the flesh of their backs. When in Vegas...

RollerGirl.ca stretchy pants commercial

RollerGirl.ca is just one of several derby targeted and derby-centric commercials aired with high production values (high quality acting will come later). According to RollerGirl.ca, "when you are a derby girl, sometimes, you wear stretchy pants, everywhere.” This commercial, which showed a close up of a female butt in various stretchy pants, stood out because it addressed the crossover and bleed-through from a derby life to so-called real life.

Instant replay in a big way

Maybe two years ago, certain bouts or tournaments were live-streamed so fans could watch at home. Regionals 2010 from Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium had a high quality stream and what was then a superior vantage point: from above. Other bouts/tournaments had a tiny camera behind spectators so that home viewers could peek at the action as skaters passed between the 1-foot line of sight: pure aggravation. At Regionals 2012 in the Craneway Pavillion, a giant screen showed simultaneous action from a different angle. There were occasional instant replays which became more and more sparse as the crowd became more and more volatile. This year at 2013 Championships there were high quality and timely instant replays of well chosen exciting/controversial action whenever there was down time for official or team timeouts. It was almost like watching a game on television (weird). Still, WFTDA.tv hasn’t totally ironed out all the kinks, as the feed would crash in the last five minutes of every close, hotly-contested bout. The answer has been the same for years: WFTDA had way more viewers than expected.

Gotham, Gotham, Gotham, (Gotham)

Not an upset, or was it? Gotham won the Hydra trophy for the third year in a row. A record. And this is the fourth time they've won the Hydra ever, another record. More amazing though, was how close BAD came to not losing and even more amazing was how Texas had the lead on Gotham for something like five minutes. Why is Gotham the best? Because they train the hardest. Their coaches also train Team USA and they are at the forefront of creating, developing, and perfectly executing new strategy. Still, BAD only lost by 49 points and Texas by 26. This year, it wasn't a blow out for Gotham.

espnW declares parity (equality, as in amount, status, or character)

Apparently, this year, 2013, after Gotham’s narrow victory over Texas, espn declared roller derby a sport. But it wasn’t espn, it was espnW, a separate but equal espn sports site covering only female sports. And, espnW is not going to be covering women’s roller derby, they just did a special interest piece on how, as of Nov. 11, roller derby girls can be considered athletes. In fact, the title of the piece is "roller derby shows parity, improvement."

What this article posits is that athleticism in derby has increased and that roller derby is better overall. It's hard not to agree with that, but it can be said of any sport. Each year competition amongst athletes in pro sports is more fierce, the same as in derby. Look at Olympians from decades ago. Were they not then athletes as they are now?

So far as roller derby achieving parity, does no one remember when Rocky Mountain defeated the undefeated Oly Rollers at WFTDA Western Regionals 2010 and then defeated them again by 1 point at Championships the same year? Surely that was the moment roller derby achieved parity and athletic excellence. It was in 2010 when Rocky Mountain was making a team of former female Olympians give up and submit. It was the crossover threshold of roller derby becoming a full time athletic endeavor. Where was espnW in 2010? It was just a blog, a theory, a reservoir for female sports so they didn’t gum up the male sports world (read about it here).

P.S. Why are the espnW writers men? Doesn’t anyone know where they can find a female roller derby journalist who’s been around and knows a thing or two about the sport? Most importantly, in 2013, roller derby still doesn't need (nor want) the recognition of the so-called real world. Not unless the real world can keep up.

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