Roller derby returns to Chicago this Saturday at a more intimate spot for the Windy City Rollers' 2013-2014 season opener. The Broadway Armory, which holds around 900, was once a venue for skating events as long ago as the 1920s, and is where the Windy City Rollers will begin their tenth season.
The sport set off a new renaissance just over a decade ago in Austin, Texas, and has been on a stampede ever since. Derby now has its own international championships, well-known superstars, and a team in just about every corner of the world. Still, players are unpaid and the game grows solely on the participants' passion for it all.
This year, both local and global media took notice. In May, ESPN ran a feature I wrote on Bonnie Thunders, currently the game's best player. Later, the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports followed it up on espnW, which ran a three-part series on the 2013 international roller derby championships shortly after ESPN's online magazine Grantland featured Devon Maloney's excellent post on the East Coast Derby Extravaganza.
Here, the Chicago Sun-Times and Tribune's Red Eye also followed suit, while independent media such as DNA Info and Bill Mayeroff's column at Gapers Block made roller derby in Chicago a regular part of the sports conversation. To top it off, the London Rollergirls booked a 13-episode TV series on the Extreme Sports Channel, called "Roller Derby Till I Die", while the Windy City Rollers and The Chicago Outfit, respectively, made appearances on WGN Radio and the Queen Latifah Show.
Meanwhile, in Chicago the game continues to grow. Women's leagues like the Aurora 88s and the DuPage Derby Dames keep the suburbs amped up, while the Chicago Bruise Brothers, a men's team, has shown the great things guys can do when they listen and let women teach them. The expansion of roller derby from Portland to Portugal makes clear the sport's ability to tug on the heart strings of both aspiring players and fans.
As one of the sport's originals, the Windy City Rollers are a perennial contender in the national championship, and they have run a robust four-team league for years now. It all rolls out this Saturday at 6 P.M., and here's a preview of the teams and what's in store.
Team: Double Crossers
Colors: Black and Silver | Emblem: XX
Last Season: 4th Place regular season
Players to watch: Killa Nois, Cruel Whip
2013 was another season of dirty work for the Double Crossers, but one with a lot of sparks. After a last-minute preseason win versus the Hell's Belles, the XX seemed to settle into their usual slump, deploying some of the league's most athletic players while still struggling to play as a team. That was until the post-season arrived.
From the first whistle of their playoff match-up against The Fury in May, the Crossers put on their best performance in a couple of years and had the furiosas up against the ropes, dismantling their rhythm for most of the game. That night, the XX took leads and extended them on the one-two scoring punch of jammers Killa Nois and Cruel Whip, while defenders Sara Problem and Reina Chaos made it a hell night for Fury jammers. In the end, The Fury squeaked out a win but the bout showed what the Double Crossers are capable of when everything clicks.
Some of the best XX assets can be found in their defensive players like Sassy Squash, Ice Berg and Karmageddon, while newer players such as Claire Lee Dangerous, Señorita Slam and Minerva Damage have improved remarkably since last season. Also notable, the XX acquired The Jamburglar, who recently moved from Florida, and Ms. Dr. Joseph L. Simonis, a rookie who has gained some valuable experience as a part of the Chicago Red Hots roller derby club.
If the Double Crossers' core players can couple their athleticism with competent defense and some coherent strategy on the flat track, their jammers --especially Killa Nois- are poised to do some major damage. And if the Double Crossers can play with their head as well as they play with their heart, the sky's the limit.
Prediction: 2nd Place with a shot at the Ivy King Cup, if the XX bring their game skates.
Team: The Fury
Colors: White, Orange and Black | Emblem: Brass knuckles
Last Season: Undefeated, 1st Place regular season, Ivy King Cup champions
Players to watch: KonichiWOW, Hat Trixxxie
A year ago I thought The Fury faced a rebuilding season after the second successive year of losing key players to retirement, and so I picked them to finish 4th. But it’s a good thing that I don’t bet on sports. Because if I had gone to Vegas and taken odds against The Fury, not only would I have lost my ass on the bet, I’d probably still be there, washing dishes at some seedy joint on the Strip just to pay off the balance.
Perhaps what I forgot in thinking about the old dominant, big-and-strong Fury of 2010 and 2011, was that currently The Fury’s best players play not only with brawn and a tormenter mentality, they also play an intelligent, exploitative game of roller derby in part because their coaching setup is a well-oiled machine. The Fury’s Canadian wunderkind and lynchpin KonichiWOW is known for her pivotal gameplay and can hold back jammers while unsettling any player within an arm’s reach. A natural leader, K-Wow also works well in tandem with her fellow Fury defenders, dismantling an entire lines within a hip check. Meanwhile Poppy Spock and the team’s captains, Flo Rider and SpartaKris, add the kind of stability and nitty gritty that complete the team.
While The Fury have their defensive lines down pat, newbie Pish Posh and hockey veteran Hat Trixxxie are said to take up The Fury’s jamming duties for 2014. Though the pair’s relative lack of experience might give a conservative mind pause, the fact is that The Fury have succeeded immensely as risk takers and will continue to do so. This season, I wouldn’t want to play against The Fury, nor bet against them either.
Prediction: Likely 1st Place, Ivy King Cup champions a 6th time.
Team: Hell's Belles
Colors: Red and Black | Emblem: Horns & Tail
Last Season: 3rd Place regular season
Players to watch: Bloody Elle, Legal Tenderizer
The Hell's Belles probably have the most to gain from the upcoming new skater draft in a few weeks, but have some pretty solid foundations to start with. Once again their main strengths lie in their defensive players and double threats.
2012 Rookie of the Year, Abita! Down and and longtime Belle skater Tay Q. Down (technically no relation, just soul sisters perhaps) make for a nice pair of team captains and will take up the mantle as the Belles' core, along with another robust and very skilled defender named Legal Tenderizer, who came on board just last season. The trio add not only the enforcer strength but also patience and smart play to the Belle’s game, along with Trouble Helix, another top player dedicated primarily to blocking. Also in the mix, former Belles captain Hermione Danger adds some rough-and-tumble experience, heart, and athleticism after her summer long training to run the 2013 Chicago Marathon.
Moreover, Bloody Elle, who used to skate with The Chicago Outfit and the Midwest MEGA all-star team, is very able as a jammer but can contribute immensely on defense as well.
Bloody Elle and Hermione Danger are likely to put on the jammer cap quite a bit for the Hell's Belles this season, but the squad also has other offensive options in Fifi Nailya, a second year player, and Maulin Monroe, a new draftee.
All in all, the Hell's Belles are a fun team to watch and boast a lot of loud fans who always come out vocally to support their team. And you can expect their best players Abita, Tay, and Bloody Elle to come up big from the start of the season to the end of the post-season.
Prediction: 3rd or 4th Place.
Team: Manic Attackers
Colors: Blue and Yellow | Emblem: Lightning bolt
Last Season: 2nd Place regular season, Ivy King Cup runners-up.
Players to watch: Mo Vengeance, Thievin' Tyler
The Manic Attackers are probably the Windy City Rollers’ most pure offensive threat. Captains Mo Vengeance and Zoe Trocious both have a wealth of experience in the jammer position and strengthening the Manics’ offensive rotation is young jammer Thievin ’Tyler. Thievin’ not only scored her fair share of points for the Manics last season but also broke out as a key offensive player for the Windy City All-Stars in the early part of their travels to London and at the East Coast Derby Extravaganza in Philly.
What has changed in the Manics’ lineup is that they have recently lost some of the best defensive players ever to play in the league, namely Ruth Enasia and All-Stars captain Bork Bork Bork, not to mention a hellion of a point-scorer in Ying O’Fire and double-threats Tamikaze and Wreck N Shrew. The Manics do still have experienced players such as Beth Amphetamine, Ada Hatelace and AliSin Chains, who have been part of their measured bait-and-bash style of play for years. Also, the Manics have picked up other decent players, namely Daft Spunk from Atlanta.
Yet, what will make or break the Manic Attackers this season is how soon their newer players can step up and add to the pack enough to unleash the Manics’ jammers to run riot and win offensive battles.
Prediction: 3rd or 4th Place.
Some additional notes: The home season has started a month early this year, and in coming weeks the Windy City Rollers' four league teams will have another draft and the opportunity to pick up additional players. While it is atypical for the addition of a skater or two to change the face of a team, the next WCR draft will introduce new players to each squad, adding more depth to each team just before Windy City's return to the UIC Pavilion, January 18th.
The Armory's doors open at 5 p.m. for this special appearance in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood. You can get tickets for $15 a piece, but ONLY at the door.
Filed under: Roller Derby