Boise was the place to be in the roller-derby world last weekend, as the Spudtown Throwdown brought together teams from eight cities from Arizona to Canada including two from Utah, the Salt City Derby Girls and the Wasatch Roller Derby.
Culture Vulture's official roller-derby correspondent, Salt City Shakers' player Veronica Scars (who goes wheel-less around the Tribune office as page designer Ashley Tarr), was there though stuck on the sidelines. Here's her comprehensive report:
It was one hell of a line-up. Eight leagues represented from Canada to Arizona. Two days. The derby action was bound to be intense. And I could only watch from the stands.
(One month ago, I was playing the Uintah Madness men's roller derby league in Salt Lake City and tore my ACL bouncing off of a dude. Now I am sidelined for, most likely, the rest of this season.)
This past weekend, I watched and cheered as my beloved teammates on the Salt City Shakers, the Salt City Derby Girls' all-star team, soared past all expectations to become a force to be reckoned with at the Spudtown Throwdown hosted by the Treasure Valley Rollergirls in Boise, Idaho.
Starting out, the Shakers weren't expected to finish too highly, simply because this was the first tournament for the ladies in yellow and Treasure Valley was the only league we'd played on the list of leagues. The others: Rose City Rollers' Axles of Annihilation of Seattle, Oil City Derby Girls of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Dockyard Derby Dames of Tacoma, Wash., Terminal City Rollergirls of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Tuscon Roller Derby, and Salt City's nemisis Wasatch Roller Derby.
We also were down players due to family events, injuries, etc., so the roster was filled with some extras who hadn't played with the Shakers before. Also unusual was the Shakers playing with a two-jammer rotation. This meant that NOS and Moonraker had to carry the entire score for Salt City when most teams had three or four jammers ready to go.
My emotions got the best of me that morning as I watched my girls come in, gear up and warm up together. It was so hard to just not be a part of it, not have my skates on. I wasn't part of the pack, and that's a hard fact to accept. It didn't help that co-captain Beracooter would come up to me periodically look at me like I should be down there with them anyways.
Strategy had to be changed Friday because bouts were pared down to one half-hour period in order to squeeze all of the derby action into one night. There was some pre-tourney anticipation because of the chances of the Shakers bouting WRD for the first time since the leagues split nearly two years ago. If both teams won or both teams lost, they'd be meeting on the track. And nothing is better than a good grudge match, which is exactly what happened once Salt City defeated Terminal City and WRD took down the well-ranked Dockyard girls in an upset.
Both were missing key players, which made victory for either side seem a little stale and I'm not just saying this because I couldn't play. Jammer China White, blockers Toole of Torture, Dirty Pirate Hooker, Instigator and myself all were not able to bout. And Wasatch was missing star jammer Queen Anne's Revenge as well as key blockers Dr. Pain and JENNAssassin.
Both sides kept the score close in the beginning, with WRD jammer and new recruit Skull Candi almost surprising the Shakers with her speed and dexterity. But as play wore on, the Wasatch women grew obviously tired and became a little unglued from the pressure of the bout. Then it was only up to blockers Beracooter, Alexa Rough and Etta Bull to do what they're so good at hold those little jammers back while NOS and Moonraker dominated lead jammer stats.
Final score: 72-38
Sunday action returned to full bouts, with Salt City starting out their day against the Axles of Annihilation. To put this team into perspective, Rose City's A team is ranked 7th in the nation by derbynewsnetwork.com. The Axles feature some of the best players in the country, including Smack Ya Sideways, who was my and several other Salt Lake City players' coach and teacher at a Blood & Thunder roller derby training camp back in March. She has spent her life on skates and it shows with her speed and amazing blocking capabilities.
Smack Ya spent most of the bout backwards taunting our blockers and jammers. She even got into it with the Shakers' Smack and Deckher, who then teased back by asking if she wanted a kiss.
Despite being obviously out-powered by Rose City, I saw a turn in my Shakers. They were playing as a team, with fire. They were hitting harder, playing together and NOS and Moonraker were jamming their hearts out.
Moonraker, who is known for her fearless speed turned it up a notch and was screaming through walls of players three and four deep. I have never seen her so determined. And you could tell that the girls were having the time of their life out there, smiling after getting up off the ground after getting sent flying across the track and taunting and giggling with Rose City players on the jam line waiting for the whistles to blow.
At the end of the bout, the hard work showed as Salt City scored more points on the Axles than any other league that weekend, ending the bout 200-89.
And they earned some new fans, as the Rose City Roller sat on the sidelines of the Salt City/Treasure Valley bout and cheered on Moonraker, NOS and the Shakers as they fought for entry to the championship bout against Rose City.
Last time the Shakers played Treasure Valley back in June, we lost 151-95. It was a hard blow, as we just couldn't overcome the blocking skills of Scarlett Danger and the jamming powerhouses in Dawn of the Shred, Last Jammerai, and Jilldozer.
This time, it was a completely different game. Fresh off of their loss to Rose City, the Shakers seemed nearly re-energized by the points they were able to put on the scoreboard. TVRG, on the other hand, was worn out from battling Dockyard just before taking the track against the Shakers.
And the Shakers looked determined to not let them get the best of them again after being bested for three years in a row. The hits were extremely hard. Where the Shakers tend to be more passive blockers, they were now sending girls across the track, led by excellent plays from Beracooter (as always), Phatal Pheremone leading the front of the pack, and Boise native Smack and Deckher. And Moonraker seemed pretty unfazed by Scarlett Danger's blocking from the back as she barreled through the pack.
It became anguishing to watch the score see-saw back and forth. China White would call me periodically, watching from home on Derby News Network's live feed from the tournament. "They need to get to the front of the pack," she screamed at me as the crowd roared over the line. "I should be there. We should be out there."
But the play seemed to change when NOS was knocked out of bounds in the first half. She had come to a hockey-style stop to slow down and re-enter behind the blocker who knocked her out but lost her balance and dislocated her shoulder. She was promptly rolled away in tears on a wheelchair and sent to the hospital.
NOS later spent some time in the same hospital room with Jilldozer, who took a massive hit from Beracooter that broke her collar bone. Outside pack refs said they could hear the bone break from a hit that occur on the inside of the track. Play was stopped for quite awhile as the fire department was called in to help get her onto a gurney and into an ambulance.
From the look on Cooter's face, you could tell that she felt terrible for breaking a girl. She later spent some time in the box for misconduct for the hit, even though I thought it should've only been a clockwise blocking call. But I did not have the refs' vantage point.
But things changed in the second half. With NOS in the hospital and Moonraker carrying most of the jamming load with Roller-Her Kitty chiming in, the Shakers started to get into penalty troubles, especially for cutting the track. This allowed Treasure Valley to make some key 15-point jams in the final few minutes. Final score: 138-125.
Shakers finished the tournament by taking third place, when they were expected to finish somewhere in the bottom of the leagues. I helped collect a $300 check at the afterparty that night for our efforts while TVRG took second, and Rose City dominated the entire tournament.
My girls played with more heart than I'd ever seen. On the phone with China White, we lamented that we wished we could play, but I'm not so sure the outcome would've been as good. It seemed as if sometimes the Shakers were so scared that they played that much better. It was awesome to watch.
As for me, derby injuries are pretty much guaranteed. You're lucky if you get through a few years without getting hurt. And I now know not to take this sport for granted. It's the first time I've had to sit out in the three years I've been playing, and I know I'll be back and will continue until my body completely falls apart. And maybe even then NOS, Instigator and I can go roll around in our wheelchairs and run into each other every now and then.
(Photo of NOS by Liquor'n Shooter.)