As "senior year" for the Mad Rollin' Dolls came to a close last Saturday with the Quad Squad winning the championship, and as the fourth season of national-level play begins, it's clear that change is in the air. As a second-year skater, I've only seen a fraction of the growth that's occurred within both the league and the larger world of roller derby -- and even that small portion often seems monumental.
The Dolls, and the entire culture of women's flat-track roller derby, has come a hell of a long way since its inception only four short years ago. On the home front, Madison's four teams have started shaking things up within the league. My team, the Vaudeville Vixens defeated the two-time champion Reservoir Dolls (a slightly biased example), and the Unholy Rollers, who had gone three seasons without a win, beat us Vixens twice during the regular season. To be sure, fans can count on seeing dynasties crumble and underdogs rise from the grave in the very near future.
Or maybe that's just wishful thinking.
The point is, the level of competition within the Madison league has become so intense that the glittering golden leg -- you know, the one that more than vaguely resembles the Old Man's major award in A Christmas Story -- really could be anyone's trophy come 2009.
This local level of competition offers just a tiny glimpse of what's happening on the national and even global stages, make that tracks. Almost every major city in the United States has at least one league, and countries like Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Holland, New Zealand, Sweden, and the U.K. -- to name a few -- are quickly following suit.
Clearly, this ain't no campy Kansas City Bomber affair. While you can still find a few lingering elements of camp at the home level, roller derby is much more of a bonafide sport than ever. And for anyone who's seen Madison's all-star traveling team the Dairyland Dolls, or caught any other bouts at the national level, it's clear that the camp is completely left behind when the girls hit the road. This is real, raw athleticism -- and it's only getting stronger.
The then fourth-ranked Dairyland Dolls got a bit of a shock at the eastern regional tournament in Ohio last summer, when they were eliminated in the first round by Chicago's Windy City Rollers, cutting short their national quest.
This year, the DDs are amped up and ready to reign in the rankings again. Their season began in Washington two weeks ago with a win over Seattle, and they have a whirlwind summer ahead with ten games -- three at home and seven away. These faceoffs include: the Denver Roller Dolls on May 31 in Madison; the Windy City Rollers on June 14 in Chicago; the WFTDA East Coast Extravaganza from June 20-22 in Philadelphia, with a match against the Fort Wayne Bomb Squad on June 21 and the Philly Liberty Belles on June 22; the Charm City Roller Girls of Baltimore on July 19 in Madison; the Hammer City Roller Girls on July 26 in Hamilton, Ontario; the Brew City Bruisers on August 2 in Milwaukee; the Dominion Derby Girls on August 23 in Norfolk; and the Burning River Roller Girls of Cleveland on August 30 in Madison.
All of this leads up to this year's WFTDA Eastern Regionals, which will be held here in town from October 10-12 at the Dane County Coliseum and are lovingly titled Derby in Dairyland. If the ladies in blue can make it into the top four from the field of twelve, they'll move on to Portland, Oregon for the National Championships in November.
Back at home, while the girls in gingham flaunt their skills from coast to coast, the rest of the Dolls will be busily planning for the future. Another traveling team, the Unicorns, is in the midst of development, and will give skaters a chance to play inter-league games without all the pressure of national rankings. The annual try-outs in June will bring in yet another crop of promising new skaters, who will be drafted onto home teams in September. A bevy of community events, outreach, and fundraising will burgeon throughout the summer and fall. And, of course, there's the ridiculously huge tournament to plan.
So, for anyone who thought that the newest resurgence of roller derby was just another passing fad, it's time to think again. We derby girls, in Madison and around the world, fully intend on turning left and taking names 'til the end of all days -- or at least until our bodies won't let us anymore.
Melissa Faliveno skates as Harlot Bronte with the Mad Rollin' Dolls and works as an editor and freelance writer in her spare time.