After a year of seeing these girls and NOT seeing them exploited (one of my first fears, remembering the late 1970s here in DC on channel 20 where they were touted like professional wrestlers half the time), I have come to adore the hard working teams that bruise themselves and the volunteers who surround them. I have watched them grow through their struggle. When Triple-D-Licious (I feel funny calling her that, but I figure since the other girls refer to themselves by their derby name, I should to, when discussing Denise in public) told me about their beginnings, she mentioned how hard it was to get people to come at first, and what a shoestring budget these girls operate on.
Let me emphasize this: none of these girls gets paid. A cent. In fact, they have to pay for everything: skates, helmet, bandages, doctor's bills, therapy, teeth, you name it. On top of that, the referees usually pay for ALL of the equipment out of their own pocket. The tape on the floor of the flat track? One of the refs pays for that. He goes to Staples, gets fluorescent tape, and it gets used for one bout, and that's it. One of the Board members for the DCRG told me they will reimburse for items like that, but often no one bothers to give them a receipt or even ask for the money back. The money they make from ticket sales goes towards rental of practice space, promotion, marketing, and... that's about it. And they can barely afford that. One season, they barely had enough money for their postcard-sized fliers. They make money in ticket sales, merchandise, fundraisers, and the girls pay dues, I think. So this is volunteer-run at its strongest points.
So what's in it for them? I think one of the best things about this group is support and a sense of teamwork. I am sure there's a lot of stereotypes that go around people's heads about what a rollergirl is, and frankly, I couldn't give you a stereotype if I tried. "So are they all lesbos?" someone once asked me. There are lesbians, to be sure, and some butch types that people may ask, "are you SURE you're not a lesbian?" But a majority are NOT lesbians, and not all of them are rough and tumble bitch-types, either. They range in size from short to tall, skinny to large, and their personalities run the rainbow of any group of women seeking to find a place among a social group. There are young and old people from all walks of life. Some are singles, in a relationship, married, or a mom with kids. There's strong qualities you need to be a rollergirl: physical endurance, moxie, and being a team player. You need to be pretty smart, too, and try and judge what your opponent is trying to do ahead of you and from behind all while you are on skates, trying to stay within the lines, and get your jammer ahead of the pack what opponents are so close you, you can smell what they had for lunch on their breath.
I once heard on the stands some yahoo who asked why they allowed fat girls on the team. To a rollergirl. Why do they allow fat guys on football teams? Or short guys? You play to the strengths. A large girl on skates will have more inertia and more blocking power, but my have issues steering quickly. A small girl can maneuver quickly, but maybe won't have as much strength. A tall girl can see more, but is easier to topple. And so on. Some girls buck the trend, and you'll have a large girl who knows a few tricks to move quickly, and a small girl who has the blocking power of a snowplow. Or two girls who use one another's strength in a pair to make an unstoppable two-headed rolling machine.
The coaches themselves have the challenge of leadership that would best any professional coach. They don't get cookie cutter players, and often they have to juggle who can play or who can't. Sometimes a player gets sick, injured, or has a personal crisis they have to attend to. On top of that, you have girls who are better at some jobs than others. You have to be flexible and think of strategy on the fly. You have to use your personality to convince them you know what you are doing and bring out the best in the players you have.
And beyond the players, there's the volunteers, which I got to be a part of this time around. Some of the volunteers are girls-in-training (from the "meat locker," awaiting tryouts to make the team), girls who are not skating that day, and former skaters who have retired or cannot play for various reasons (the bout planner, Demonica Lewinski, was pregnant for example). Others are family or friends of the girls (like me). Jobs run from being a referee to a bouncer, candy tosser to announcer. Everyone does their part.
And again, nobody gets paid.
The crowds have been steadily growing, thanks in part to me, because I have been telling pretty much everybody. I have a DCRG Logo as a light jacket, and it got so many questions, I started handing out those postcard-sized flyers. I also discretely drop them on the Metro, put them on public bulletin boards, and leave them in places that won't cause problems (like for littering or "post no bills" sort of thing). I have also been working the anime crowd, which possibly led to the Cosplay halftime show we had this bout. I Twitter and post about them in forums and my blog. I even gave away some DCRG promo stuff as Christmas gifts last year. I'm like some kind of roller-pimp.
My job this time around was setup and merchant table.
I got on the volunteer list, and our volunteer leader was O'Canadoll (like I said earlier, all the girls use derby names, so I will, too). She kicked ass and took names. And e-mail addresses. And parking requests, which was important this bout because of the Shamrock Festival.
Even though I was on call this weekend, I got the other admin to agree to take any pages I got while on the floor because he totally owed me a favor. And luck was with us, since I didn't get paged Saturday OR Sunday (Friday, I got paged, but it was small potatoes).
I didn't have a ride to the Metro, so I had to take a cab, which was $25. I'd rant about how shitty metro bus service is, but that's like ranting about wet things get when it rains. Suffice to say, only one line ran on the weekend, and it required a half mile walk to the bus stop, a transfer in Reston with an hour layover outside, and would have taken me 2 hours to go to a rail stop just 20 minutes from my house. Nobody could give me a ride, because everyone was at some kind of party, meeting, class, or had other plans, mostly related to St. Patrick's Day (which fell on a Tuesday this year, so this was the weekend closest). This is why I should be driving, although I wouldn't have had a car today, either.
The cab ride was uneventful. The Metro ride, however, was a fucking madhouse. The "Shamrock Festival" (an "all-you-can-drink" fest with 140 bands and various promo booths) was being held at RFK stadium, which coincidentally was right next to the DC Armory where the Rollergirl bout was being held. So I had to ride all the way from Vienna to Stadium/Armory with a bunch of frat boys, sorority girls, and various people who already started drinking at noon. I think the average age of the partygoers were about 21-23. The age where drinking to excess is still considered pretty cool. A lot of Mardi Gras whooping and hollering bled through my headphones as I was reminded of the jocks that beat the shit out of me in junior high. Girls in their party clothes with French manicures and clueless expressions whined about how slow the train was. And the train WAS slow because Metro decided to do track work on this day when it would be packed full. Luckily, my friend Missie warned me via Twitter the day before, so I padded my time appropriately.
I got there a little earlier than I had planned, which was better than being late, in my book. There were hot dog carts run by Jamaican women outside, which isn't usually the case for the Armory, but this was special for Shamrock Fest. I got a hot dog, a Gatorade, and a sleeve of Oreo Cakesters for $5, which was unbelievably cheap. A hamburger with fries in the DC Armory is $8, and with a drink it's $12. And the DCRG sees none of that money. Plus, they always run out of food by halftime.
I sauntered in to the DC Armory at about 2pm, and had to go through security. A few confused people were trying to get in, thinking it was part of the Shamrock Fest, only to be turned away by the guards. I passed by one group who I was pretty convinced were drug dealers, because they seemed more interested in how many were going to show up for the the event rather that what the event WAS. They also didn't want to be searched, something THEY brought up without being asked.
The DC Armory was empty except for one girl, a rookie in the meat locker who was also volunteering. There were also a few Armory staff setting up the bleachers and I think cleaning up from some previous event. All the years I worried about scratching the wooden floor in a basketball court were removed when I saw actual full-sized trucks and forklifts driving around inside. When one of the refs showed up, "Mr. Mystery," he said that "this is the Armory. They do Cadence here and stomp around all day with equipment. This is a weapons storage depot; they don't care about the floor." Later I was also to learn that indoor arena football was also played here with cleats and AstroTurf (DC Armor).
O'Canadoll was late, and when one of the other refs arrived and started moving chairs, I just started helping. I got quite a workout. We had to unstack chairs, arrange them, and then we found they gave us too many chairs, so we had to stack them back up, and then we ran out of chairs, so we unstacked half of the stacked chairs again, and then we were in the way of the track so we had to move the rows like about 3 times, and there was all kinds of stacking, unstacking, moving, arranging, and moving stacked chairs for the first hour. This was because no one working on chair arrangement remembered what they looked like during the last bout. For next time, I will remember where they were; I took pictures. I was bushed, and had to sit in the bleachers for a bit.
When the DJ/announcer table set up, they played some pretty awesome music, which helped with the moving around of things. I also got to see the teams start to assemble and practice. I got to watch the team pow-wows and also watched the halftime Hoops show practice.
It started to become more like a crowd at about 3:30, and doors opened at 4:00. I was told that we sold out of all the pre-sale tickets (200), and given the last set of numbers, they expected 1700-1900 even though we were competing with the Shamrock Fest next door. I am not good with numbers, but we almost filled three sets of bleachers, plus the number of people on the floor and the chairs in the "Danger Zone." The person who told me this pined that Charm City Roller Girls (Baltimore) got close to 2500 per bout, and we weren't there yet. Still, not bad. When Triple-D-Licious started, she said they were only getting several hundred, and the DCRG were having some financial problems. I know my first attendance of the DC Armory games, we couldn't fill 2 bleachers.
My shift was setup, and then I didn't have anything to do until 6pm. I got to see the Cherry Blossom Bombshells team completely destroy the visiting team from New Jersey coast, the Boardwalk Brawlers of the Shore Point Roller Derby. The score wasn't even funny, it was 00-24 after just 5 minutes of playing. By the end, it was 06-96. Triple-D-Licious is on the Bombshells, so I was pretty happy with that. The Boardwalk Brawlers were one of those "travel" teams. The DCRG has a group of those people for traveling games, called "the All Stars." It's basically a collection of proven girls your various teams from your league that CAN travel out of town that weekend. The disadvantage to this is that most of these girls have not actually worked AS a team, since they are usually on different teams with different coaches. This was nowhere more apparent than the Boardwalk Brawlers, who really had a bad case of communication issues. More than once, I saw some of the girls on their team practically flip out that no one was supporting them. Their lead jammer was screaming for someone to pull her up through the pack, only to be ignored. More than once she just gave up, hoping to attract attention when they were opposite from her on the track. "Hel-LO?? Remember ME? I score points for the team??" I don't hold it against them, though, because our own All Stars had a rough start, too.
I liked "the Danger Zone." I liked the feel of the skates on the floor thundering by. It's a low, deep rumble that vibrates the floor; like the roar of an expensive sports car. Normally I am with Scarlet, and they don't allow anyone under the age of 18 in the Danger Zone. A few times, girls crash into this zone, and the announcer reminds you of two things: one, don't spill your beer. Two, if a girl lands in your lap, you DO have to give them back. This time, Diamond Derby Dave (the main announcer) also REPEATEDLY reminded people that no one under the age of 18 was allowed in the Danger Zone, probably because several parents had little kids, like aged 4-7 little kids, right there in an impact area (near a bend, where most of the crashes occur). Some parents, sheesh.
At 6, I stared working the merchandise table. Our work came in bursts of nothing happening and then a half dozen or so people. I worked with two of the rollergirls at the table, and one guy. One was Bruisehilda (aka "Bruisie"); the former captain of the Secretaries of Hate, one of the teams that got disbanded last year due to too few girls. This was the team Triple-D-Licious used to be on as well, before she moved to the Cherry Blossom Bombshells. Bruisehilda (whom I found out was a lawyer) bragged about Triple-D, and said she was one of the hardest to face losing.
I didn't get as much social time and learning about the people I worked with as I would have liked, mostly because we were all either working or watching the game. I worked during the two bouts between the DC Demoncats and Scare Force One, so I don't know really what went on, but the score was not as lopsided. Both had good defense.
I don't usually see injuries during the bouts. But this time, I saw two. I didn't actually see them happen, per se, but I saw the aftermath. You have to understand how much people invest in the players to truly understand the sportsman-like conduct and comradery that is apparent between the players and the fans. When the first girl went down, I think it was Hoova Dayum, the Armory was dead silent. Not a word. It was so eerily quiet, that oddly enough it was the quiet that made me look up from being in the middle of a transaction at the merchandise table. "What happened?" I asked. The girl next to me said, "skater down." "How come?" I asked. I never got an answer. Quickly, I was as silent as the rest. I had to bump the guy I just sold a shirt to so he'd get his change. Everyone was focused on the small ring of people are Hoova like at a surgical amphitheater.
Hoova seemed to be down for a long time as EMTs (also volunteers) crowded around her. All the other girls were down on on knee out of respect. The last injury I saw in 2008, even when the visiting team (HURD) lost someone, our own team was on one knee as well. This is how deep they respect one another even across leagues. After maybe what seemed like 2 minutes, Hoova sat up. The crowd started clapping and cheering. When she finally stood up and hobbled back to the bleachers, the crowd roared in approval. It is an emotional moment everyone should witness. Hoova was able to skate later, but then her skate broke and she had to fish for the parts under the bleachers at one point. Another girl, Camillia the Hun, took a hit to the face and went down pretty hard. But she was not down very long, because again, big team support. It's kind of odd when you compare this to one of the reasons I hate regular sports: primadonna players. I don't think any of these girls really consider themselves above others; or at least, not to that scale.
The halftime was... let me tell you about the halftimes at DCRG events. Some of them are embarrassingly bad. Like local cable channel access bad. And I don't say this with a hint of arrogance or desire for cruelty, but it would be remiss on my part to not warn people ahead of time who might expect the cast from "Stomp" or something. It's like they go past bad and hit some soft spot in your heart like, "Dear God, they are trying so hard..." The reason the halftime is the way it is, and I hear this a LOT from DCRG folks, is they can't afford to pay anyone. So you get the kind of venues that will perform for free; usually youth groups or dance companies looking for some mutual free time to perform in front of a crowd. The first halftime show I ever saw was a lesbian singing to Chris Issac songs (and actually, she wasn't bad) and another girl singing "These Boots are Made for Walking" to a row of stuffed animals. I have seen beginner dance troupes and single acts that make you wonder if this person really thought out what they were about to do in front of a crowd. Definite Gong Show material. The audience doesn't react well to these shows, I can see. I think they wonder WTF? half the time. The other half, they are ignoring them completely, which is I guess better than booing or something (I have never seen anyone booed, thank goodness). This weekend had a Cosplay group from DC (I didn't get to see what they did, I was too busy at the table) and a dance class that had people doing hoops. I had a problem with the Hoops people because their merch table was next to ours, and they left it unmanned most of the time, so people asked ME stuff like, "How much do these hoops cost?" and "Do you have classes on weekends?" I don't know, ma'am. I don't work that table, ma'am. No, sir, I don't know who runs it. Look for someone in a green skirt.
I saw a few guys hit on the girls. Nothing serious, like no physical contact, and I am guessing they are used to it. One drunk guy (who looked about 40-45 despite the fact he had his face painted) wandered up to the table and started heavily flirting with Bruisehilda. She was cordial, had an air of practiced distance like she was used to this, and surgically crafted her small talk away from any hint that this guy was gonna get lucky. She did mention she was a lawyer, twice. Hah. I have heard stories about girls getting hit on, sometimes rather aggressively, and let me warn you that if that's your kind of game, you will be sorely disappointed at the response. Underneath that tough-girl exterior is not a girl who is easily swept away, like in the movies. She doesn't remove her glasses and her hair falls down and the lens blurs. No, she'll probably kick your ass and then brag about it.
Some of the drunks spilling over from Shamrock Fest also wandered in. They didn't cause any problems, but I heard one shout, "I *LOVE* Irish roller skating!!!"
When I think about the conventions I help run in one way or another, it's kind of similar as far as dedication. Some of the volunteers at Katsucon, for instance, drove all the way to the con, paid for a hotel room, paid for food, paid for parking, and who knows what else just to work the convention because we are THAT dedicated to the fans. My cost for this Katsucon was well over $400. My cost to DCRG was only about $40, when you factor in food and transit, but I certainly didn't come to volunteer to save money. I just believe in the cause. Now for a rollergirl, you have skates, helmets, pads, and that's just to start with. Just basic set of these will set you back several Benjamins, and the wheels and toe stops need constant replacing at few more of the of Franklin's face every season. I'd say a bout might cost up to $1000 easily just for equipment to start. Plus you have the uniform, your accessories, dietary supplements, joint braces, mouth guards, and who knows what else that needs a rolling suitcase to put it all in. To get an idea, look here at some of what they have to get (my favorite is the "I've Got a Sugar Daddy" package).
So why go through all this? Why spend the money, lose a chunk of social time, go to work all banged up, possibly get injured for life, and for no financial gain? Because the reward of the sport is more than enough.
This is what sports is really about. Past the glam of million dollar salaries. Past the trading cards and endorsements. This is about the spirit of competition and teamwork, one of the best aspects of the human race. That's what in it for them, and that's why I'll keep volunteering for them in the future.