The High Point of the Track
Before this weekend's banked track roller derby tourney, TXRD's April Ritzenthaler talks rule negotiations and ankle breakers
By Richard Whittaker,
3:28PM, Fri. Jun. 19, 2009
If you're anywhere near the Austin Convention Center, that whizzing sound you hear probably isn't I-35. It's more likely to be visiting skaters getting ready for Capital Punishment: Battle on the Bank II, this weekend's massive banked track roller derby tournament (tickets available now).
When the whistle blows to start the first bout at 2.30pm Saturday, June 20, it will arguably be the culmination of eight years of hard work for April Ritzenthaler. As La Muerta, she was one of the original founders of Austin's own TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls and captain of the Putas Del Fuego until a torn meniscus ended her skating career. Since then, she's held a variety of management positions, including helping organize this event. Amidst the madness of setting up the track and getting everyone where they need to be, she took the time to talk about the road to the tourney.
Austin Chronicle: So you guys have a bit of an event this weekend?
April Ritzenthaler: Slightly. I think we're going to be invading down town.
AC: So this is the second big tourney the banked track leagues have organized: What's the background on that?
AR: The flat track leagues have an entire national organization, the Women's Flat Track Derby Association. But LA [Derby Dolls], we consider a sister league. I think they were the second banked track league in the nation, and they have San Diego Derby Dolls, who are an off-shoot. We've played LA a couple of times: We've gone there, they've come here. The same thing with Arizona – They don't have a track set up, but they'll go anywhere. And we'd talked back and forth about who do we do this, do we want to have a national organization, do we want to have tournaments. So about 18 months ago the girls got together in LA for all the banked track leagues that were in existence at the time, and hammered out some tournament rules and figured out that we just want to have one a year. Whoever's banked track at the time can come. We all play by the rules they decided on, alter them at will if they're not working one year, and just go from there.
AC: During your regular seasons, you all have your own rules: So how does it work when different leagues are competing together?
AR: We play a completely different game from any other league, because we still allow fighting, and we still have penalties. Most of the other leagues don't allow fighting anymore, which we think is kind of dumb because we like the fighting. We also like the penalties because the audience loves them, and the girls get a break from skating and show off a little bit. But the tournament rules, we took all of our rule sets and I think we mostly based them on LA and ours. We said, "We've been doing this the longest, so let's go back and forth and make some concessions." So LA blocks to the inside and we never have: Basically because our track had a lip on it, so it was the anklebreaker. LA had one that went all the way to the ground, so when we built our new track, we did the same thing. For the tournament, we gave the concession that we would block to the inside. But LA only plays with four people on the track at one time – two blockers, a pivot and a jammer – whereas we have three blockers, a pivot and a jammer. They gave that concession, and we came to a consensus,
AC: How was your first experience under tourney rules?
AR: Last year we got pretty trounced. Mostly because of the blocking and the penalty rules, but also because of the ejections. Even San Diego got seven ejections by the first half, so it was a little bit out of hand. They've clarified that a bit to help, so the game can continue and you're not down seven players.
AC: So which teams are coming?
AR: LA Derby Dolls, San Diego. Then there's Team Legit, which is actually a flat track team. Well it's not really a team. It's girls from Portland's Rose City Rollers and Seattle's Rat City Rollergirls, so it's a North-West all-stars. There's Las Vegas Renegades, Arizona Derby Dames, Hurricane Alley [Roller Derby] from Corpus Christi, and Red Dirt Rebellion, which is Oklahoma.
AC: So with these good relations, why not go with a full national organization?
AR: Well, the banked track is such a huge production deal, and we've got to have our own warehouse to store it in at all times and as a practice space, and we move it back and forth, and we thought, well, that's enough already.