Thursday, January 27

How Long Will The Beatings Continue?

In the last post here, I tried to explain where all the GnRs from last season went and where all these new GnRs we've got this season came from. Now let's try to work out why in both opening bouts the GnRs looked like they were getting shaken down for their lunch money by the playground bully.

And here's a hint: while GnR had thirteen skaters retire during the off-season, the other three teams didn't see nearly as many of their skaters leave.

Let me really clear right now about those retirees: I can't fault any of them for choosing to retire. Rose City Rollers skaters are both very competitive and very skilled, but they still play this game entirely for fun. And they don't do it for free—they actually pay to do it. They pay dues to the league and put in required volunteer hours. They pay for their own equipment (just a decent pair of skates and wheels runs a couple hundred bucks). They pay for their required liability insurance. And they practice something around 15 hours a week on top of working a job (which doesn't always provide insurance coverage in the event of a not-uncommon injury), going to school, or being partners or parents. So when a skater makes the difficult decision to give up derby to make room for the other obligations in her life, the only decent responses are things like: "Thank you so much!" or "We'll miss watching you on the track!" So there's that.

GnR has a team of talented and dedicated skaters, but being short two skaters on their rosters makes everything harder right from the start. In their first scramble bout at the Coliseum, GnR rotated through three jammers (Punchkin, Havana Good Time, and Guts & Bolts) while the Heathers rotated five (Blast Unicorn, Sol Train, TeqKillya, Twat Rocket, and White Flight). The more you skate, the more you get tired. The more you get hit, the more you get even more tired, and jammers wear a big "Hit me!" sign on their heads. And the more you get tired, the easier you are to hit and knock down. And, well, you can probably see how this goes. :/

And despite having talented and dedicated skaters, GnR just doesn't have the experience that the other three league teams have. Putting aside the temptation to focus on jammers as derby's point-scorers, the game happens in the pack: moving your jammer through the pack while stopping the opposing jammer from doing the same thing is how a team scores points. Doing both of those at the same time takes a nimble awareness of not only where all the skaters are at any moment but also a prescient sense of where all the skaters will be as a result of everyone's current actions. Simply what's happening in the pack eludes me pretty much all the time, and I'm sitting track-side and can see the whole pack all at once. Knowing where all the skaters are, what they're doing, and where they're going to be in a few seconds is hard. Not hard like long division—hard like going to the moon. It takes practice and experience as an individual skater and together as a team. And it's that experience that left GnR with those thirteen retired skaters.

As a completely rough, approximate, wholly inaccurate, not particularly meaningful comparison that nevertheless points in the direction of perhaps revealing something about differences in experience, let's look at the balance of travel team skaters among the teams.

Out of the thirty skaters that currently make up the Wheels of Justice and Axles of Annihilation, GnR has three—Punchkin, Bella Massacre, and Havana Good Time—all of them on AoA, the "B" team. You shouldn't even have to do the arithmetic to see that the other teams are going to have roughly "more," but let's look at their rosters anyway.

First up, the Heartless Heathers, who GnR played first at the Coliseum scramble. By my count, the Heathers only have four travel team skaters: The Blast Unicorn, Firecrotch, Twat Rocket, and White Flight (three WoJ—FC, Twat, and Whitey—and one AoA—BU). But they also have these former travel team skaters chartered: Butcher Block, D-Day, Sol Train, and TeqKillya. That's eight current or former travel team skaters on the Heathers. And that's one more than the number of skaters GnR has who skated last season (seven). It's that sort of difference in experience we're looking at.

The High Rollers, who GnR skated against for their second scramble bout, have eight current travel team skaters: Devaskating Deva, Heidi Go Seek, Honey Hellfire, Layla Smackdown, and Minstrel Psycho (WoJ); Mia Feral, Napoleon Blownapart, and Texine (AoA). They also have two former travel team skaters—Hurricane Skatrina and Wreck Deckard—for ten skaters with travel team experience.

Finally, GnR skates against the Break Neck Betties on Saturday night at the hangar, and the Betties have four current —Joyride, Push La Tush, Shove Me Tender, and Soulfearic Acid (Acid is on WoJ, the others AoA)—and four former—Domesticated Violence, Leet Speaking Missile, MaRollin' Monroe, and Scrappy Go Lucky—for a total of eight skaters with travel team experience.

Like I said earlier, this isn't some statistically significant, multiple linear regression kind of analysis. Some of the skaters are brand new to the travel teams (like GnR's Havana Good Time); others have been injured or have come back from retirement (like TeqKillya), and it's problematic to compare them now to before. So I don't want to hear whiny crap about how it's unfair to say that skater Eksie Whysie gives her team a real advantage—I'm saying it right now: it's not fair. Or accurate. Or anything.

The point here is that the Heathers, the High Rollers, and the Betties each have more "travel team" skaters than GnR has skaters who skated last season. And that's a big damned hill to climb.

So why did so much of the GnR bouts look like this?

Because that's Havana Good Time in her second bout. And that's D-Day skating in her sixth season.

Can we look forward to a bunch more of this? Probably. And that sucks.

But here are some things that don't suck.

That really really really don't suck.

The GnRs skated hard through every one of the thirty minutes of their bout with the Heathers. While they might have indulged in some "Eye of the Tiger" fantasies about the plucky underdogs pulling through in the end, Sol Train, D-Day, and their teammates knocked them down, kicked them around a bit, set them on fire, and when they'd burned out, they took a shit on the ashes. Which is pretty bad.

So after that, the GnRs might have lost some of their enthusiasm when they skated against the High Rollers. (Really, who wants to get set on fire twice in the same night?) Instead, they put on Blood Clottia's and Mel Mangles's unitards (I think Havana already had her own unitard \m/ ) and played every one of the more than thirty minutes of that bout too. I know it was more than thirty minutes because in her excitement (skating a new season! and in the Memorial Coliseum!), Hurricane Skatrina forgot to call off the final jam when the period clock had expired. Everyone was having so much fun starting a new season—and skating in the Memorial Coliseum!—and she just kept skating and skating through the pack again and again. Skatrina is one of my (many) favorite skaters, and I can't imagine she'd gloat or rub it in a little, would sheHurricane Skatrinawould she? (And if she did, I'll forgive it for Layla Smackdown's toe-tapping, looks like she really has to go pee, "I love you, High Rollers" little dance.)

No, the GnRs never quit. And they never gave into frustration, or lost their heads, or started trying to hit whoever was closest whatever the cost. Those sorts of issues have stalked GnR teams of the past like a 12-year-old with a bad crush, a new cell phone, and unlimited texting. But I didn't see any of those things.

I saw well-executed hits, solid teamwork, and a never-say-die attitude. And so did lots of the other skaters, especially on the Heathers and High Rollers. Just ask them.

So I won't be surprised if the Betties outscore the GnR on Saturday.

But I will be surprised if the Betties outplay them.

\m/ \m/


Monday, January 24

WTF Happened to the GnRs, man?

"Where were all the GnRs who should have been skating at the Coliseum?"

"Why did every GnR jam at the Coliseum look so much like thisHavana Good Time and D-Day

GnR Havana Good Time picks herself up off the track, while Heathers blocker D-Day menaces.
Photo by Skippy Steve.


"Has GnR lost their mojo?"

These may be the kinds of questions you've been asking yourself no matter if the scramble at the Memorial Coliseum was your first Rose City Rollers experience or if you've been dreaming in animal prints for years and know what it is to "pull a poodle." And I'm gonna try to answer them.

Here, I'll just try to help you figure out where the GnRs went and who's replaced them for this season. It'll take another post at least to try to figure out the other answers.

The short answer: nearly every GnR skater retired.

Let's do the math....

Here's the GnR team that beat the Betties to finish third in the league last June. They have a full charter of twenty skaters (Mullet and Pain—in the colorful wigs—are coaches and don't count), but Mercyful Kate's fractured her tib/fib and won't skate in the championships.

Now, follow along.

During the off-season, eight of these skaters retire:

MKate's injured and moves back to Olympia. Evilia D. Stroiu moves to Hawaii, and Boxcar Bethy also moves to Ontario.

Hard Knox, Cher The Pain, Fist O'Fury, Knocker Bown, and Axl Blows also hang up their skates. Except for Knocker, these are all veterans who have skated at least two seasons with GnR, and Axl Blows skated five seasons with RCR. Axl is a founding GnR skater who skated for RCR's travel team from before they were called the Wheels Of Justice until midway through last season; she was also the last skater with derby name that plays on the Guns N Roses theme.

Those eight retirements leave a team that looks like thisGuns N Rollers

Retirements leave (back) Juvie, Punchkin, Reina, Smack, Napalm, Micro, Sly, (front) Mullet (coach), Cadi, Mangles, Blood, Bella, Sugar, and Pain (coach).


During this same period, GnR drafts four new skaters—Dirty Ann Rotten, Harajuke A Girl, Havana Good Time, and Awnry O'Hulligan—and their charter stands at sixteen skaters (20 - 8 + 4 = 16).

Then come the tryouts for travel team. Punchkin, Bella Massacre, and Havana Good Time are selected for Axles of Annihilation. Smack, Napalm, Cadillac, Mangles, and Blood all skated for Wheels Of Justice last season, and all of them are chosen for WoJ again this season. All five of them also retire from GnR to skate solely for WoJ this season.

Those additional retirements leave only seven skaters from Season 5 who are chartered for Season 6. Thirteen skaters retired from GnRGuns N Rollers

The Magnificent Seven GnR from Season 5 (back) Juvie, Punchkin, Reina, Micro, Sly, (front) Bella, and Sugar.

retired from GnR before the start of this season. With the five skaters retired to Wheels and including the four new skaters drafted, GnR has a charter of eleven skatersGuns N Rollers

GnR has eleven skaters after five skaters retire to Wheels of Justice.

eleven skaters.

Before the season opener at the Coliseum, GnR drafts three more skaters—Slaughtra, Roller Eclipse, and Mora Manipulator—and brings their charter up to fourteen, which brings their charter up to a full bout roster of fourteen, but Harriet The Sly isn't skating because of injury, so GnR is allowed to skate Guts & Bolts in the scramble.[Note]Thanks to Roller Eclipse for pointing out that bout rosters are only fourteen skaters not fifteen as I'd mistakenly typed. /snark[Note]

Then it turns out that Mora Manipulator is moving out of state, which means she has now retired from GnR (yes, the scramble was both her debut and her farewell for RCR and GnR). Because Mora's departure leaves GnR with only thirteen skaters, the team asks for a "special draft" so they don't have to wait until the next regular draft to add a few more skaters to their charter. The league approved a special draft, which took place last Thursday and at which GnR picked up former GnR Guts & BoltsGuts & Bolts

Heidi Go Seek (210) and Texine (behind) look to lay out a big High Rollers welcome for returning GnR skater Guts & Bolts.
Photo by Skippy Steve.

Guts & Bolts, Scald EagleScald EagleScald Eagle (who had been drafted by the Break Neck Betties but who exercised the 30-day return-to-Fresh-Meat option), and Supa SixpackSupa SixpackSupa Sixpack.

So. If you've kept track at home, the sixteen current GnRs are:

  • 11 Punchkin (co-captain)
  • 69 Sugar & Vice (co-captain)
  • 12oz Micro Bruiser
  • 19 Harriet The Sly
  • 28 Dirty Ann Rotten
  • 37 Awrny O'Hulligan
  • 38 Guts & Bolts
  • 50 Scald Eagle
  • 81 Havana Good Time
  • 214 Bella Massacre
  • 419b Juvie Hall
  • 480 Harajuke A Girl
  • 509 Rolla Reina
  • 831 Slaughtra
  • 1221 Roller Eclipse
  • Supa Sixpack

And those are the GnRs who will skate against the Break Neck Betties in the first regular bout of the season at the Oaks Park Hangar on Saturday night.

(Thanks to Roller Eclipse who pointed out that RCR has increased bout rosters for league teams from WFTDA's fourteen skaters to sixteen skaters, so Punchkin and Sugar don't have to decide who to keep off the roster. On the other hand, Harriet is still out injured, and Supa Sixpack has a cracked rib—already?—so only fourteen GnRs will skate on Saturday. Thanks again, Eclipse!)

See you there!

\m/ \m/

[Post edited on 1/26/2011 to correct roster size issues. /snark]

Monday, January 3

Mel Mangles: Coach

Thanks to guest blogger Amanda HugNKill for this profile of Mel Mangles! /snark

“You know it’s bad when Mel texts you to bring a protein bar to practice.”

This comment brings a collective groan from the handful of GnRs strapping on their gear before Monday’s practice. “Yeah,” someone adds, “she says it’s gonna be a hard one.”

With Mel Mangles, there’s no other way but hard. She lives hard, she skates hard, and she coaches hard.

Mel is one of the many skaters who elected to go travel-team only this season. Now she skates exclusively for Wheels of Justice but chooses to stick around to coach GnR along with Smack Ya Sideways, another former-GNR-turned-travel-team-only. And if anything speaks to the intensity that Mel brings to GNR as a coach, it’s that warning to her team: “bring a protein bar.”

Case in point: it’s 30 minutes into practice, and I’ve heard the sound of skates on the track cease only once for a water break and to go over the next drill. Maybe 60 seconds later, break-time is over, and skaters are partnered up, pushing each other around the track. Mangles keeps up a constant stream of chatter, sometimes shouting out critique, sometimes screaming encouragement. All the while, she skates deftly around the middle of the track, whistle in hand, keeping her expert eyes peeled for teaching opportunities. When she finally allows her team to take another breather, she grabs a couple of skaters for a quick demonstration of her latest pearl of wisdom.

“How’s everybody doin’?” Before GnR starts their 20-minute pace line Mel gets a commitment from every skater. Some have injuries or illnesses that may keep them from staying in. The rest are in it for the whole 20 minutes. Once they’re off and running (er, skating), Mel comes over to chat with me. She explains the pace line drill and the importance of getting the commitment from her skaters. The record number of laps is 123, and they’re hoping to beat that tonight. When I ask if I can put that in my post she answers, “Hell yes you can! These ladies can be proud of that!”

As if the hangar wasn’t freezing cold already, the draft created by 13 skaters racing around the track chills me to the bone. “12 minutes!” Beki the timer calls out. A few hoots and hollers come from the line. The rest are too focused on breathing “in through the nose, out through the mouth” to respond. Mel explains how the commitment keeps the team accountable for themselves and their teammates: If someone is tired, they let their team know they need some help, which is quickly provided. “Let’s go, almost done!” By the end, skaters are pushing and pulling each other to keep in the line, yelling out if they need encouragement or a hand to grab onto. The whistle finally blows, 20 minutes is over.  Several GnRs skate to the middle and promptly collapse; others skate a few laps to cool down. Eventually they all find their way to the middle of the track where they lay sprawled out and exhausted. Mangles lords over the recumbent skaters and tells them how awesome they are. They didn’t beat their record tonight, but she’s still proud of them.

After a few measly minutes of rest and positive reinforcement, Mangles grabs four skaters to demonstrate the next drill. She gives a quick visual explanation of a rotating wall (she explains it so well, even I can understand it), hands out jammer caps, and sends her team back onto the track. They start a partner drill with two blockers and a jammer, each starting from their respective lines. One whistle, off go the blockers—two whistles, the jammer.  Four whistles ends the drill, and the skaters slowly make their way off the track. The next group lines up too slowly for Mel’s taste: “Four whistles means you get your ass off the track,” she barks, “That’s not just for this drill, that’s for the game.  Clear?  Clear?” Her team nods and steps up the pace. Not only do her skaters want to make Mel proud, they really don’t want to piss her off.

She preaches awareness of your blocking partner, knowing when to back up when your partner knocks the jammer out of bounds to force a cutting penalty. Staying together may force the jammer to cut two skaters instead of just one. “You can easily turn that minor into a major,” she explains, “Like turning a frown upside-down!” The wealth of knowledge that spews from Mel’s mouth is daunting to a mere mortal like myself. She (and Smack, who wasn’t there last night, or I’d be singing her praises as well) have so much to teach their team. And let me tell you, their skaters are hearing it. And they are doing it. And they are looking awesome!

It’s 10:00pm and GNR is still going hard. Mel is still coaching in full force, yelling out to her skaters as they show signs of fatigue. “She’s fucking bad-ass,” says Dirty Ann Rotten after practice, “I wanna be just like her when I grow up.”

“She is really tough,” Juvie Hall says, “but she finds positive ways to look at things, even if it’s criticism.  She’s really good at shifting things from negative to positive to create a learning moment.”

I try to imagine skating a practice under Mel Mangles until 10:00pm then waking up at 6:00am to go to work. I cannot fathom it. But these ladies do it. And thanks to Mel, they do it hard. Because for her, there is no other way.