No Balls, Some Glory
I’m psyched to be going tomorrow to the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia to watch the quarter-finals and final four of the Women’s Flat Track [Roller] Derby Association (WFTDA) national tournament, aka the Declaration of Derby. The tournament begins today and ends Sunday with the awarding of the Hydra trophy to the winning team.
Roller derby? Hell yeah!
To paraphrase a hackneyed phrase that appears in some form in almost every mainstream media article on modern roller derby, it’s not the roller derby of my youth. That is to say, the sport of “classic roller derby” I watched in the early ’70s on UHF TV was a scripted spectacle in which an impressive degree of athleticism was secondary to fighting and pro wrestling-style hero-and-villain posing.
Modern derby is played as legitimate sport. Unsurprisingly to me, it works. When the modern derby movement started in 2001 in Austin, TX, the founders initially planned to play it as spectacle. They quickly found it was more fun — not to mention safer — to play for real.
The movement spawned several hundred leagues and has gone international — all amateur. Most of the leagues have all-women players — with men participating as coaches, referees, announcers, and statisticians. But that’s not the only reason my post title includes “no balls”: in fact, derby is one of the few team sports where there is no ball.
Most leagues use the flat track because it’s much more economical in terms of setup and storage than the banked track used in classic derby. Plus, it’s easier to find opponents. The men’s version of the sport is just starting to grow, by the way.
That brings me back to the tournament. The participating teams contain the best players from their respective leagues— travel teams.
The temptation is to pick the higher-seeded teams, but I’ll go with one upset — Denver over KC.
The marquis game, assuming Gotham beats Detroit Friday, will be Gotham from NYC against the Oly Rollers (heh) from Olympia, WA. Gotham had its 18-game win streak stopped by Philly in the finals of the eastern regional tournament in Raleigh. Oly, which breezed through the western regional in Denver, features a number of former world class hockey and speed skaters. Score one for the old guard — but just barely. The other three top seeds will have easier paths to the final four.
I’ll go with a pair of what most derby fans would consider upsets.
I see Gotham, last year’s national champion, falling prey to endurance issues and perhaps a key injury. Game time for this one will be only a few hours after the end of the Gotham-Oly game. Furthermore, Gotham is the only one of my predicted final four to have played the previous night. I’m calling it Windy City in a squeaker.
The host Philly Roller Girls Liberty Belles team goes into the tournament rated #1 in the country by DNN; their 2009 record includes one-point escapes over the teams I see meeting in the other semi-final game. I hope I’m wrong because I’ll be rooting for Philly, but against Texas I see them coming up a point short — the third time the harm, so to speak.
TEXAS 95, Philly 94
WINDY CITY 82, Gotham 80
I’ll give the host team a measure of revenge for the Phillies’ recent World Series loss to the Yankees. Playing a fourth game in 41 hours will make it tough for Gotham. I reiterate that injuries may play a role in Gotham’s downfall. It’s a rough sport — some skaters will get hurt this weekend. The swami in me says Gotham will get the most attention from the EMTs.
PHILLY 89, Gotham 71
This one should be a little anti-climactic. I see Texas hitting their stride, buoyed by their semi-final win over Philly.
TEXAS 114, Windy City 85
DNN will be carrying all of the action live on streaming video via Justin.tv starting today at 3:30 EST. Hey, that’s less than two hours from now!