Archive for the Roller Derby Category

Lucky Beast Number 7

Posted in Roller Derby with tags , , , , on April 23, 2014 by Lightning Slim

This weekend, I travel to Montreal to attend the infamous Beast of the East Derby tournament. I’ve been to 5 of these things already, only missing the first one. It’s a fabulously fun time and a kind of unofficial kickoff to the roller derby season in central Canada.

My good friend (and newly published author)  The Derby Nerd has done some serious heavy lifting on previewing this thing should you wish to know more. Take a look here.

And for his Herculean distillation of the tournament’s entire history, try here.

Allons-y!

Announcer Adventures: Slim vs. The Hillbilly Hecklers

Posted in Roller Derby with tags , , , , on October 10, 2013 by Lightning Slim

A Cautionary Tale of the Deep South

This story actually has very little to do with roller derby, but did happen (as crazy bullshit often does) at a derby tournament. I recently had the pleasure and privilege of calling some games at the Asheville Division 1 Playoff Tournament for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.

A word about Asheville: Asheville, North Carolina is one of the most beautiful and hospitable cities to which I have ever had the experience of traveling. It’s a small city of about 80,000 folks, nestled in green, rolling mountains. It’s an interesting cultural centre and a gathering place for hippies, dissidents and lefties in a massively conservative area. From what I understand, the rest of the Carolinas call Asheville “The Cesspool of Sin”.  And sin you can, in a way most pleasing to me, as organic coffees and a dizzying array of locally brewed beers were served to me by cheerful, dreadlocked young people with anti-fracking bumper stickers on their old Toyota Corollas as the local Democracy Radio affiliate played nouveau bluegrass.

Everyone in Asheville is extremely polite, accommodating and attentive. The host league, the Blue Ridge Rollergirls, were nothing if not lovely. After about a day I was starting to get used to this real-life manifestation of Southern Hospitality.

And then the weird thing happened.

I was downtown, walking to a Mexican restaurant when the light changed against me, forcing to scamper back onto the curb lest I be forced to deal with the hassle of a foreign jaywalking ticket. Next to me, pulled up at the light, was an incredibly hideous 1987 Ford Taurus made of bubbled paint and sour regret. I think some folks call that a hoopty…feel free to correct me on that. From the passenger window lanced a searing voice that was exactly what I had expected to hear in the South before I had arrived.

“Son, you ain’t from round here, are you?”

I turned to look at the speaker, who, like the driver, was lanky, dentally challenged, and basically resembled the entire cast of Winter’s Bone. He continued:

“You cain’t be crossing against a light in Carolina. You best be getting back on the curb. And you know what else you need to do? You need to take a razor and take care of all this, ’cause let me tell you boy, it ain’t working for you.”

His motions indicated that all this meant my sizable mutton-chop whiskers. Most folks like ’em. I get called Lemmy, Elvis and Wolverine. Nobody besides my mother had ever straight up dissed them before.

“Tell me something. Don’t lie to me now. Don’t lie to me. You ain’t got no woman at home, do you? You got no woman ’cause your look’s all wrong!”

Time slowed down. I thought many things, mainly involving some kind of retort: I have a degree in English. I am one of the Unflappable Canadians. I am an Agent of A.F.T.D.A., trained in the art of witty repartee. I can handle these freaks; nobody in Duck DynastyLand should be making fun of another man’s beard! Let’s do this.

And then I opened my mouth and it all went to shit. I was utterly unmanned, sputtering like a wet toaster: “I…have…women…” I trailed off, my head full of thoughts of all the high-tech armaments that not putting a dime into your car forever could buy. There were also some images:

winter's bone is this gonna be our time

“Is this gonna be our time?”

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NCI_Visuals_Food_Taco

This last one was because I was still hungry.

I took a deep breath and prepared to try again.

The light turned green and they drove off with a cackle, rear bumper scraping the crown of the road as the car’s nonexistent suspension fought the steep incline. I stood there, thinking about what Elvis or Lemmy or Wolverine would have done and concluding it was not that.

I did get my Mexican lunch, and afterwards returned to the arena. I saw Sweet Willy, the tournament’s head announcer, sitting with some Atlanta skaters, so I decided to get a southern opinion on what had transpired. After I had told my tale, Willy was no good to me, as he could barely breathe from laughter. The skater beside him, Sissy Splaysek, turned out to be an Atlanta resident transplanted from Texas. Since Willy is secretly Canadian anyway, she was the closest thing I had to an expert. “So”, I said, “Is this how things go down normally? Drive-by mockings?”

Sissy, who despite wearing derby gear managed to present a picture of southern belle refinement, gave a subtle pearl-clutching gesture near her throat and breathed “Heavens no. No southern gentleman would ever speak such words to a stranger on the street. Those folks must have been mountain.”

So there you have it. My deep-fried southern shame. Don’t get me wrong, I would return to friendly Asheville in a heartbeat. Heck, if I could keep my healthcare I’d move there. But never again will I tangle with the Mountain Men. They have counted coup upon me, and own my soul.

Derby Things I Will Miss When They’re Gone: Part 5

Posted in Lists, Roller Derby with tags , on May 29, 2013 by Lightning Slim

Derby is changing every day, inching along a continuum that leads from burlesque to mainstream sporting endeavour. It’s where the sport seems to be pulling itself due to (and in spite of) a great deal of debate, so I’m fine with the march toward legitimacy. I will however, mourn the passing of some of the following reminders of the game’s past. They are things that still exist in roller derby, but are under fire, in flux or otherwise doomed to be ground under the wheels of history.

Chapter 1 – Nameyology

Chapter 2 – Booty Short, Legacy Long

Chapter 3 – Billboarded

Chapter 4 – Dude, Skate Like a Lady

Chapter 5: The Party

So you had a bout! It was a close game, everyone is super-stoked and the announcer has told the crowd where to join you at a local watering hole for The Big Afterparty. Your fans will get to see their favourite players, chat about the game and dance the night away. Harmless fun, right?

You know what else your fans might do?

They might see your star player break a finger in a pile-up caused by drunken pyramid formation.

They might overhear one of your fresh meat in a screaming tirade directed at a table of chagrined-looking referees.

They might see your announcer some guy making a fool of himself trying to tell Kamikaze Kitten how cool she is, because she DOES NOT KNOW how cool she is and needs to know. So cool. *

You get the picture. They might witness (or participate in) a variety of alcohol, fatigue and nudity-related events which will serve to take a bit of the shine off the athlete/spectator dynamic.  One thing they might not see, behind closed doors, is the manager of the party venue deciding that there’s not a lot of money to be made from derby events, because the fans are already liquored from the arena, and the skaters are starving and more interested in cheap pad thai than cocktails. The exceptions to this are more likely to cause the situations described above.

But Slim, you say, what about the unique close relationship derby has with its fans? How could we possibly give that up? I can tell you that I have very close personal relationships with both Metal music and hockey. They mean the world to me, and I think it shines out of every pore of my being. And yet, somehow, the last time I got an autograph from Doug Gilmour or Rob Zombie, both of them neglected to mention exactly where I could join them for a few pints.

But I wanted to discuss your film career!

But I wanted to discuss your film career!

The fact that I do not have easy access to these stars does nothing to hurt my enthusiasm for their products and activities. It may even help. And I am certain they are still out there partying after a gig, but they surely do not need me there to peek behind the curtain and feed any sort of burgeoning stalker tendencies. Hands up, skaters: has a creep approached you after a bout at the party venue? Yeah.

Derby’s got a ton of fan-interactivity going for it. Let’s keep the cool, uplifting parts and not the sloppy-ass ones. Keep suicide seats and high-five lines (just not for me. I have to be impartial. Also: germs). Keep autograph sessions and wheel tosses and t-shirt cannons. In fact, keep the afterparty. Use it to celebrate your teammates, your opponents, your volunteers and the spirit of the game. Have it somewhere where the regulars don’t know you, because that way if they do see some shenanigans they might come check out a bout.

Not saying wrong. Just saying time and place.

Not saying wrong. Just saying time and place.

But as for the fans, leave them with a little mystery intact to whet the appetite. We need them to know that, heck yes, derby’s a party, to see and experience at trackside. Because what they see at your bout is what they will come to expect, and if they see Jamz the Great and Powerful off her face and vomiting in an alley, maybe they will come to expect that as part of their derby experience too.

My Unwanted Advice: You Gotta Keep ’em Separated.

Any kudos, h8red or other commentary would be welcome in the comments section.

*Examples entirely fictional as near as I can recall.

Derby Things I Will Miss When They’re Gone: Part 4

Posted in Lists, Roller Derby with tags , , , on May 14, 2013 by Lightning Slim

Derby is changing every day, inching along a continuum that leads from burlesque to mainstream sporting endeavour. It’s where the sport seems to be pulling itself due to (and in spite of) a great deal of debate, so I’m fine with the march toward legitimacy. I will however, mourn the passing of some of the following reminders of the game’s past. They are things that still exist in roller derby, but are under fire, in flux or otherwise doomed to be ground under the wheels of history.

Chapter 1 – Nameyology

Chapter 2 – Booty Short, Legacy Long

Chapter 3 – Billboarded

Chapter 4: No Boys Allowed

This post is a confession, and an apology. And possibly a challenge.

In my time, I’ve been a Men’s Roller Derby hater. I’m working to correct it.

I believe that the sport of women’s flat track roller derby provides a necessary corrective to male-dominated sports culture, and a unique opportunity for women to explore team sport, physical fitness and camaraderie outside the paradigms of conventional athletics. I also believe the necessity for that unique corrective measure is still very much with us. I know, Mr. Seltzer, old-school derby was always presented co-ed, but the revivalists dumped a lot of stuff, including fakeness, and they did so by design.

That being said, merby’s here and it isn’t going anywhere. More and more men are playing, usually with the support of their sister leagues. One day, assisted by genetics and centuries of warrior ethos, some dude will set a record on the flat track in scoring/jumping/protein shake drinking that some very competitive women will spend a long time trying to match. And that will bum me out.  Is men’s derby an amazing sport played by passionate athletes? Hell yeah! Is its growth, right here and now, perhaps weighing heavily on the coat tails of a small but important aspect of the women’s movement?

My answer to that used to be yes, without question. Now I’m coming round to realize that it could be a problem, but it doesn’t have to be, so I can’t judge it until it happens.

I know a lot of male players. These are people who have shed blood, sweat and tears building the women’s game and have spent so much time with it they have come to love it, and want to experience it for themselves. They tell me that they can think of no higher compliment for the game they love than to put themselves to the test in its crucible. I have no counter-argument for this. I can’t tell them to get back in their Widow/Ref-kitchen and make us a rule-set sandwich (hold the Minors). They should play and they shall.

And yet I remember the first time I saw a group of parents, children and athletes gathering together for an autograph signing after a bout. Everyone within 20 feet was a female. I thought “You don’t see that every day.”

And then I thought “Well shit, you should!”

So, do I still hate the Bro-ller Derby? Can you love the player and not the game? All the songs suggest you can, but I know it’s not that simple.

My gravest concern remains, which is that the men’s game will draw the public’s eye and we’ll end up in a situation where the male game is the default and the female is the alt-version. You know, LIKE EVERY OTHER SPORT IN HISTORY. I’m going to sound like a pompous ass when I say this, but I can’t think of any other way: Men, you have been given partial custody of something women hold precious. Don’t screw it up.

That’s the main thing. There are other nitpicks too:

I’m still inclined to cringe when I’m at a tournament and I am told that Team X’s star player cannot participate because she was taken out in a co-ed scrimmage, likely by what Captain Lou El Bammo calls the “Dude Major Penalty”.*

At the moment, I still think the guys took a game that was just finding its feet in terms of complex strategy and put the hamfist right back into it.

I think I will always hate the uniforms.

But I love Roller Derby. I love the game, and I love the people. All the people: Refs and NSOs and announcers, volunteers and fans. I love roller girls and roller boys, who I guess I should just call “skaters” henceforth.

Mea Culpa. I’m working on it. Work with me.

Levity!

Levity!

*Simultaneous High/Back Block with Forearms. Guy Jammers new to the game do not check speed when approaching walls.

Comments? Hit the form below! Just don’t tell MRDA where to find me.

Next time: Andrew WK Does Not Approve.

Derby Things I Will Miss When They’re Gone: Part 3

Posted in Lists, Roller Derby with tags , , on May 11, 2013 by Lightning Slim

Derby is changing every day, inching along a continuum that leads from burlesque to mainstream sporting endeavour. It’s where the sport seems to be pulling itself due to (and in spite of) a great deal of debate, so I’m fine with the march toward legitimacy. I will however, mourn the passing of some of the following reminders of the game’s past. They are things that still exist in roller derby, but are under fire, in flux or otherwise doomed to be ground under the wheels of history.

Chapter 1 concentrated on derby names, and Chapter 2 was about uniforms and flair. This time let’s look at something outside the skaters…

Chapter 3: Posters

Photo by Sara Montgomery. Images found at Fracture Magazine

Poster by Sara Montgomery. Images found at Fracture Magazine

The Leafs don’t produce a poster for each game they play. Neither do the Knicks. Nor even does your local little league T-ball team.You don’t see the Boston Bruins advertising their next game with a marquee billboard of Zdeno Chara lasering a fighter jet from the sky with his eye-beams,* and I’m pretty sure the next Monday Night Football will not be billed as a Hallowe’en/Wild West/Mardi Gras/Star Wars Showdown**.

And one day, derby will have evolved beyond the need for such things, and I will actually rejoice, because then we will have made it. Spectacle requires a poster. Sport does not. I will miss the rock and roll, Russ Meyer-inspired graphics, but in my perfect future, the evolution progresses thusly:

2009: “Hey, check out that poster. We should go to that.”

2014: “When’s the next roller derby?”

2020: “Check the sports feed to see who Gotham is playing this week”.

The loss of the need for this talent would be an excellent problem to have, derby-wise. The poster designers could apply their genius to merchandise and t-shirts. In my perfect future I would have homes for many of them at my wildly successful clothing line Burns and Buckle.

qcc2012_poster_final

Poster by Adam Swinbourne, Future VP Creative of Burns and Buckle

Right now, derby is (of necessity) selling the sizzle and not the steak. However, slowly but surely, we’re teaching the fans what a good steak tastes like. All we have to do is keep the steakhouse standing long enough for the glorious day when Ma and Pa Derby, all on their own, have a hankering.

My Unwanted Advice: Keep Derbying On. This is going to be an awesome problem to have one day. Hang on to those soon-to-be-vintage posters, and check out the awesome repository of graphics over at Fracture Magazine.

Lovers? Haters? Venture capital for my non-existent business? Hit the comments below!

*Any Photoshoppers out there willing to do this for me? Because it’s the best idea I’ve had in ages.

**Never do a Circus theme. People see you on the way to the afterparty and yell “Juggalo!”

Next Time: They’re gonna MRDA me.

Derby Things I Will Miss When They’re Gone: Part 2

Posted in Lists, Roller Derby on May 4, 2013 by Lightning Slim

Derby is changing every day, inching along a continuum that leads from burlesque to mainstream sporting endeavour. It’s where the sport seems to be pulling itself due to (and in spite of) a great deal of debate, so I’m fine with the march toward legitimacy. I will however, mourn the passing of some of the following reminders of the game’s past. They are things that still exist in roller derby, but are under fire, in flux or otherwise doomed to be ground under the wheels of history. Part 1 of the story, along with various disclaimers, can be found here.

Chapter 2: Fishnets

Well, not specifically fishnets, but what we’ll call Skater Determined Uniform pieces. The traditional, lingerie-inspired looks are giving way to purely athletic gear. Once again, I am fine with this from a sport-growth perspective, but I think that when the day comes that all skaters look professional, dri-fit and, well, uniform we may have lost something. I’m not talking about sex.* A skater has no responsibility to dress sexy according to my standards, but, as the sport stands today, neither is it her job to dress according to someone else’s notion of what an athlete should be.

this-is-roller-derby-cinema-poster

…Or Is It?

I’m sure you’ve seen some of the flame wars. Modern Derby is the first sport to grow up entirely inside the internet, and that has influenced the level of discourse surrounding it. “You got Jocks in my subculture!” “You got Hipsters in my sport!” I think the blending of these ingredients, like peanut butter cups, has been as delicious as it is surprising. But that blend is also contentious and uniforms are just another battleground in the Derby Culture War currently underway.

There is a gap in perception between how derby players actually dress and the more traditional images being used to market the sport. I don’t actually know too many people who dress like the girl in the poster above. But the posters persist. Personally, I don’t think this is necessarily bad for business. We know that we’ll all be driving Chevy Volts eventually, but that hasn’t stopped GM from sticking the Camaro front and centre in the marketing materials.

I’m sure in time all will be well, and consensus will eventually be reached (or not, whatever we pick looks bad on at least one body type). I just hope this process is left up to evolution and not done by fiat. Nowadays whenever I see a Fresh Meat Tutu I hope that she’s given the chance to grow out of it herself without a) somebody on the internet telling her she’s Dragging Down The Sport or, more horribly, b) being given the gears by her own teammates, something that would be called “hazing” in traditional sporting context. Ain’t nobody joining derby for that.

My Unwanted Advice: For your charter team, get the jumpers on if it makes you feel profesh. Make sure you still allow some of your fan favourites to show some flair.** For home teams and rec leagues, establish some guidelines for colour and then go to town.

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*WTF. I know.

**Black-Eyed Skeez’s Darth Vader Helmet is the perfect example of where functionality, uniqueness and sheer terror intersect.

Questions? Concerns? Outrage? Please feel free to hit the Comments section.

Next time: The Marquee d’Obsolescence

Things Roller Derby Must Lose (and Why I Will Miss Them)

Posted in Lists, Roller Derby on April 17, 2013 by Lightning Slim

Since the sport is in the throes of another “OMG what is happening to our hobby” spasm concerning the new WFTDA skill requirements, I thought now would be the time to share some personal reflections on the evolution of the world’s greatest and fastest growing game in a series of posts, here on my personal blog so no one but me gets the blamethrower.

So one more time with the disclaimer: the opinions expressed here are entirely my own. I do not represent WFTDA, AFTDA or any of the teams with whom I have the pleasure of working.

Derby is changing every day, inching along a continuum that leads from burlesque to mainstream sporting endeavour. It’s where the sport seems to be pulling itself due to (and in spite of) a great deal of debate, so I’m fine with the march toward legitimacy. I will however, mourn the passing of some of the following reminders of the game’s past. They are things that still exist in roller derby, but are under fire, in flux or otherwise doomed to be ground under the wheels of history.

Chapter 1: The Name Thing

Recently some of my favourite skaters decided to eschew the punny derby names of their youth and go by their actual names. This made me sad, but that’s how things are going. A lot of ink has been spilled on this matter by finer minds than mine, but let me explain myself a bit better:

I’m not sad because it’s bad for the sport – I will miss Semi-Precious but I will still have the privilege of watching Hanna Murphy skate a tremendous bout. That doesn’t change.

I’m not sad because they are doing anything wrong – It’s their name and they can do whatever they want with it for whatever reason. AHA – there it is!

I AM sad if that reason is because they believe that dropping silly names will propel the game forward. In the here and now, it won’t. Derby’s not ready yet, and won’t be for a while. As long as we still need Demo Jams, we’re probably safe keeping the names. I feel like our children may skate under their own names, but we should enjoy the fun ones while we can. To paraphrase the ever-useful Homer Simpson, this sounds like a problem for Future Derby.

I’m not touching the question of whether certain names are appropriate or not. My profession has a procedure for clearing that (hosting league sets community standards) and that’s working so far.

I’m also pretty close to this matter personally. As an announcer, the names add a lot of spice to what I do. I have reasons to be attached to my own moniker as well. My real name is Steve Arkle. Say that out loud and then ponder this:

JALEEL WHITE

I should stick to Lightning Slim, no?

My Unwanted Advice: Live it up for now, they’ll get Grandmothered out eventually.

Questions? Concerns? Outrage? Please feel free to hit the Comments section.

Next time: What Not To Tell A Woman Not To Wear

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