Previewing the 2012 Toronto Roller Derby Championship.
If you know anything about roller derby in this city, you’ve undoubtedly heard the names of two teams more than others: the Gore-Gore Rollergirls and Chicks Ahoy!. But there’s also a good chance that you haven’t heard anything about the sport at all. In which case, there is no better time than now to acquaint yourself, as these two teams prepare to face off in Toronto Roller Derby’s (ToRD) 2012 championship game: The Battle for the Boot 6.
With seven teams now active in the league, not to mention a seemingly perpetual training camp preparing the next generation of skaters, Toronto roller derby is ever-expanding and slowly hip-checking its way into Toronto’s cultural consciousness—though it still struggles to gain much traction in a saturated sports market dominated by the bloated MLSE’s professional monopoly of traditionally underachieving teams.
Remarkably, this Saturday will mark the fifth time that the two competing teams have squared off in the league’s championship. (The Gore-Gore Rollergirls are in the leopard print in the photo at right, and the Chicks Ahoy! are in green.) Between them, they have won all the previous championships—the Gores have three titles to the Chicks’ two (including a one-sided victory in last year’s game).
A core of skaters on each of these teams still remains from the squads that faced off in the first Battle for the Boot in 2007. “The rivalry between the teams has evolved over the years,” says veteran Gore Dust Bunny. “It has become much more of a respectful rivalry; it’s not one of pure hatred anymore,” she says with a laugh. At that time, the sport was still very much a counter-culture product with a heavy riot grrrl influence, but in the decade that the “modern” flat track game has existed, the sport has undergone massive change.
Toronto Roller Derby, like the majority of leagues currently playing the game, use the rules established by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). It’s a strict, heavily policed rule set that requires seven on-skates referees, not to mention numerous non-skating officials (NSOs). In its athleticism, seriousness, and intensity, it would never be mistaken for the wide-open, theatrical, sports entertainment version that was popular on TV at various points throughout the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s—all that remains from that era is a tendency for skaters to use nicknames as opposed to their real names.
“When I first discovered roller derby, I saw the fishnets and the tights and it was all about the fun,” admits Chronic of the Gores. “But as the years progressed it did become more serious and more about the sport.”
This puts the sport at an awkward stage in its development and makes it somewhat challenging to market: those who buy tickets expecting a spectacle are often surprised to discover a complex, highly strategic sport.
Chicks’ veteran Candy Crossbones points out that the spectacle still exists in the atmosphere of the events. “The names, the announcers, the vibe of the fans—who make “beeramids” around the track—provide enough of a party environment when people come. Plus we have half-time shows like Box Wars.”
The WFTDA, which acts as a sort of governing body for the sport, also organizes a vast, semi-professional league, complete with regional playoffs and a championship tournament. This high-level organization and visibility has brought roller derby some more attention in the United States; here in Canada, the mainstream media is also starting to take note, albeit more slowly. In Toronto, City TV has been following the league all year, including highlights and brief commentary in their sportscasts, while the local Rogers TV affiliate has been broadcasting games for two years. The Toronto Sun featured the league on the cover of its paper, and the recent inaugural World Cup of Roller Derby (held in Toronto) garnered a lot of coverage. “It makes it seem like it’s legit,” says Crossbones of the expanded coverage. “People take things that they see on television more seriously.”
This year’s Battle for the Boot will be an important and emotional one for many of the skaters, as a handful of them will be playing their final games for these teams. ToRD’s travelling all-stars, CN Power, had a successful first season in the aforementioned WFTDA, just missing out on the playoffs. In 2013, these skaters will be leaving their spots on the Gores and Chicks to focus solely on CN Power and WFTDA play—which will see them play up to 20 regular season games against American teams.
Chicks Ahoy! are undefeated this year, and are on a six-game winning streak dating back to last season. However, it was the Gores who gave the Chicks their only serious challenge this year (the Chicks held on for a 13-point victory when the two teams met in February). Although decimated by injuries early on, the Gores seem to be as healthy as possible heading into this championship, and hope to put up a fight equal to that early season showdown to potentially regain the trophy they last held in 2011.
The Chicks Ahoy! have a strong jammer rotation (jammers score points by lapping the opposing team’s blockers, who, the rules dictate, must stay together in a “pack”). This includes breakout second-year skater Bala Reina (#905) who led the league in scoring this year. Veteran jammer Candy Crossbones is also fully healed from an early season injury and will be a factor. The pack is led by fantastic blockers like Tara Part (L7), Nasher the Smasher (2X4), fan favourite Mega Bouche, and the hard-hitting Marmighty (41).
The Gores’ offence is anchored by the jamming duo of Bambi (the league’s all-time leading scorer), and Dust Bunny (who is returning from a long injury layoff). But the Gores have a lot of depth in the pack as well, which will feature strong blockers including Lady Gagya (#212), Chronic (60), Foxy Sinatra (13), and Aston Martini (510).
Battle for the Boot History
2007: Gore-Gore Rollergirls 89 vs. Chicks Ahoy! 53
2008: Chicks Ahoy! 114 vs. Gore-Gore Rollergirls 97
2009: Gore-Gore Rollergirls 128 vs. Smoke City Betties 88
2010: Gore-Gore Rollergirls 107 vs. Chicks Ahoy! 31
2011: Chicks Ahoy! 111 vs. Gore-Gore Rollergirls 46
Photos by Kevin Konnyu.