WFTDA Westerns 2012: Simply the Besterns*

…Continued from Page 1


It was a foregone conclusion that the teams starting with the top six were going to end the weekend in the top six place. (Where they finished within that six was not, however.) But that also meant the bottom four were going to finish in the bottom four…but don’t you dare tell that to the cheering sections of those teams.

I’ve got to give mad props to the mad cheering sections that many teams brought with them, particularly those of Angel City, Sacred City, and Wasatch. Oh man, Wasatch. Those signs and giant cardboard-cutout heads were completely loony, and completely awesome.

When two of these teams were pitted against each other, the divided crowds were competing  against each other just as hard as the competitors on the track were. It helped that the games between these three teams were very close and very competitive, which juiced up the crowd even more. (It was nice knowing that a ref couldn’t throw both arms in the air and yell “NO CROWD” to immediately kill fan action, unlike the no packs that immediately 86’ed the blocking action on the track. But I digress.) Being a neutral observer for many of these games, I had just as much fun crowd watching as I did derby watching.

It reminded me of one of my favorite sporting events of the year, the Men’s Division I College Basketball Tournament, more famously known as March Madness. The first second round usually features big blowouts from the 1-16 and 2-15 seed games, but despite that they are still fun to watch thanks to the college crowds rooting hard for their teams. The crowd atmosphere in the Craneway (except for That) felt a lot like a hotly contested collegiate sporting event. It was great.

While the WFTDA and roller derby at large should strive to bring new fans from the outside in, the dedicated fans that are already on the inside should be given due credit for supporting their teams and the sport of roller derby in such a fun and lighthearted way.

Oly-Oly-Oly, Ay Yi-Yi Yi-Yi

…except that a lot people decided not to do that when it came to the Oly Rollers.

Oly became Public Enemy No.1 after the last-moment transfers of Atomatrix, Joy Collision, and Hockey Honey to the Costra Nostra Donnas. No one liked the fact that “ringers” could be brought in to supercharge the chances of a team to win it all through the finals, nor that a select few elite skaters with the resources capable of doing such a thing seemed to give them an unfair advantage over other players.

(Of course, many of those advantages came from the fact that these skaters have dedicated their lives to their skating skills and all the benefits that come from that. But that’s a discussion for another day.)

In any event, Oly players and their team were getting some looks and comments from others, particularly when they arrived on Friday morning.

But for the most part the crowd was mostly in good spirits toward Oly at first, considering that they were to play against Rocky Mountain in one of the first games of the weekend. I think people realized that it was probably a really dumb and stupid thing to boo during a Rocky-Oly game, because Rocky-Oly games are always fantastic.

Though Oly wound up wining comfortably, it was still a super-fun game to watch and to play in despite the slightly lopsided score. Still, some were still bitter about the circumstances:

As Oly moved on to Saturday to play against Rose City, the crowd REALLY started getting into it. During a bonkers-awesome first half, the crowd was clearly behind Rose City more than they were against Oly.

As great of a game as this was from start and the start of the second half, Oly eventually used their skating talent and teamwork to pull away from Rose and make their fourth-straight Championships appearance a certainty. The pro-Rose crowd was starting to dislike the inevitable result.

But then they finally got their chance to dislike Oly directly.

In the closing moments of the game, Oly’s Lil Tonka was taken out by Rose’s White Flight, followed by Tonka taking down White Flight by the neck. Seeing this, the anti-Oly crowd finally got an opportunity to show their true colors, booing loud, long and hard. It’s as if they were relieved they could finally get it out of their system.

An objective analysis of the situation might conclude that Tonka was protecting herself from a bad fall; her skates got swept out from underneath her and then she immediately panic-reacted to her loss of stable base by grabbing on to the first thing she could to try and prevent her fall. Unfortunately for White Flight, her head was the closest thing available, and down they both went.

But the crowd didn’t want to think about it rationally. All they knew is that the hated Oly Rollers did something very bad to one of the more popular players in the WFTDA. They reacted accordingly.

This animosity transferred over to the Oly-Denver final, another fantastic game. It turned out all those Rose City fans on Saturday instantly became Denver fans on Sunday night, constituting another highly anti-Oly crowd.

Unlike the Rose City game, Oly couldn’t pull away from Denver as easily. This game was super-tight all the way through the end, and going into the last five minutes you could get a real sense that the crowd did not want Oly to win it.

Which is why they booed hard again after this sequence of events:

Even I’m not completely clear on what happened here, but after hearing the official clarification near the scorer’s table it was my understanding that Denver’s jammer got an additional minute tacked on to her penalty for leaving the box too early as Atomatrix tried calling off the jam as not-lead-jammer. The jam was called off accidentally by a non-jammer ref (so no IP major penalty, I think) while simultaneously picking up a cutting penalty that canceled out Denver’s extra minute of jammer penalty time.

As Atom was immediately released from the box at the start of the next jam, the crowd went absolutely ballistic. The single penalty Atom got was correctly reduced to zero seconds (that sounds odd in a sports context, don’t you think?) and the resulting lead jammer and scoring pass clearly helped contribute to Oly’s 7-point regional championship victory. Had this contested sequence of events gone any differently, Denver may have very well won it and taken the region instead.

From that, I feel the crowd’s continued dissatisfaction through the end of the game, and in the discussion that followed it, had something of a nasty undertone to it. Some people were genuinely upset that Oly won, desperately trying to squeeze out any satisfaction from the fact that had the refs got it right (even though they got it right) the “right team” would have won the day, and the “wrong team” would have been put in their place, or something to that effect.

The clincher that confirmed this sentiment was what happened in the days following. I got the feeling that a lot of the Oly hate wasn’t the “we hate you but we love you” kind of hate, but more of the “we hate you because we actually hate you” kind of hate. A stern defense from Atomatrix posted on Facebook after the event was over alluded that car tires were slashed among all of the very real Oly hatred. (I’m not sure this happened at Westerns, not that it matters.) All of this, because all she wanted to do is skate with the only team she’s ever really known and loved?

The consistently impressive performances by one of the country’s best teams, the Oly Rollers, and the likes of Denver, Bay Area, and Rose City, speaks volumes about the competitive growth of the sport. However, reports of immaturity and gross nastiness by some “fans” (and skaters too, certainly) of roller derby, despite the constant back-patting by some of the game’s more prominent commentators, suggest the sport is not as healthy as it may appear to be.

If people genuinely believe that a tiny percentage of elite players transferring to (or back to) an organization that shares in the philosophy of skating to the best of your abilities is somehow detrimental to the growth of the WFTDA, an organization that represents thousands of skaters who want to skate to the best of their abilities; and then boo that philosophy (and slash tires) just because they don’t like the how the rules allow such a thing to happen, then those people may want to reexamine what their priorities are.

We should be celebrating the fact that Oly is helping the WFTDA showcase itself by putting on some of the most amazing, entertaining, and fun games out there. We should be appreciating the amazing skills and hard-earned talents their players have—regardless of how they got (or returned) there. And if some people don’t like the fact that certain skaters, in an organization built “by the skaters, for the skaters,” choose to “fly in” to Olympia to play with Oly? Work it out in the rules.

Until that happens, those folks should shut the hell up about it and enjoy the fantastic games that have come from this.

A Mile High Five

Lost in all of this muck? The Denver Roller Dolls finally got over the hump.

That hump has been their two-year old habit of surrendering huge points swings to opponents they would otherwise have no trouble beating. Last year it appeared as if Denver would break through and get to Champs, but again they imploded, in the first round no less, and was forced to watch Rose City take away the invite that many thought would be theirs. A shaky come-from-ahead victory in Denver against Rocky Mountain earlier this season showed that they were still more than happy to give away a lot of points during close games.

Denver has always had the talent and the teamwork, but they have lacked the discipline necessary to live up to their full potential. I think Denver has known this for a while as well, but they had yet to convince themselves they were worthy of making it back to Champs for the first time in three years.

In the first half of their Golden Ticket tilt against Bay Area and the hostile home crowd, Denver kept it relatively close early on. But then, going into the second half of the first half, they decided to do what they were most comfortable and expert in doing: Throw it away.

I had pretty much written Denver off at this point. They just went through another one of their self-destruction sequences. They were behind by more than 50 points against what may be one of the best defensive teams in the WFTDA. They would be forced to the pivot bench in the 2nd half, making their initial-pass defense that much more difficult. The home crowd was going insane at the possibility of their Golden Girls going back to Champs.

I stepped away from the game for a few moments to have a nice backstage chat with the folks at Blaze Streaming Media (hey guys, is where I parked my boat going to be a problem?) fully expecting Bay Area to seal the deal. I came back to the game with around eight minutes remaining and I was truly shocked at what I was seeing.

Denver had turned it around.

Not only that? They won the game convincingly.

Really, I was surprised. Shocked, even, that Bay Area would get outscored 116-43 in the second half with everything going their way. Though Bay Area didn’t have any power jams with which to inflate their score with, they were feeling a lot of pressure from the situation, only getting three 4-0 passes in the second half and wasting opportunities during tighter jammer races:

But full credit where credit is due: Denver’s jammers, who were loud-mouthing their way to the penalty box in the first half, stayed out of it in the second half and capitalized quite nicely on the 3 power jams that Bay Area surrendered to them. In the end, they climbed out of the hole they dug themselves and acsended to victory.

As I was processing what was happening, I found myself very happy for Denver. They’ve had their core of skaters together for a very long time, it seems, and for them to win the way that they did may be just the thing to exercise any demons they had hanging around them. Their strong, strong showing against the might of Oly’s talent on Sunday night confirmed they’ve finally and truly got their heads together.

Before Westerns, everyone felt like the only team with a realistic chance to take on Gotham was Oly. After what we saw in Richmond, we must now include Denver in that short list. They’ve got a strong team, and now they’ve got a dangerous amount of confidence.

Way to go Denver, and we’ll see you in Atlanta!

Tweets for the Road

I’ve got something else about Westerns on my mind, but I think I’ll save that for an extended comment on the WRDN Facebook page later in the week. Instead, I’ll end this diary with some interesting, insightful, critical, and fun things I tweeted about during Besterns…