The Rocky Road to Victory

Notes, photos from the WFTDA championship

Back in 2006, the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls were one of the first teams to crash out of the first ever Women's Flat Track Derby Association national championship. In 2010, the Denver-based league reversed that record, taking the title in a last-second victory. [See full photogallery here]

With a weekend crowd of 8,815, including 3,472 on Saturday alone, the WFTDA Uproar on the Lakeshore at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago was one of the biggest truly amateur sporting events of the year (big enough to catch the attention of The Huffington Post, as well as Chicago'sCBS and ABC affiliates.)

Of course, there was the Austin disappointment over the Texecutioners' second-round exit to the Gotham Girls' steely defense. However, the sting of that loss was off-set by the fact that the Texas team handed down a first-round rout to the B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls. Taking out the number three team in the highly competitive Western region was a pointed reminder that, even in a rebuild year, Texas is not a team to be ignored.

Yet the big story of the weekend was Rocky Mountain's incredible ascent to the championship. Even though they'd ranked first in the Western region, the smart money seemed to be on Gotham facing 2009 champions the Oly Rollers from Washington State in the title bout. So when Rocky dismantled Gotham's defense and held New York's superstar jammers Bonnie Thunders and Suzy Hotrod to a 108-79 defeat, they were set for a rematch of the Western Regionals.

That time, Oly went down 127-86 in their first ever defeat as a WFTDA-sanctioned league. That must have been a bitter blow for a team whose sole purpose is to re-take the WFTDA title, the Hydra, and so they weren't handing Rocky an inch.

Sunday's closing bout was one of those derby match-ups that, in years to come, people will tell you they were there, even if they weren't. It all came down to the last two nail-biting jams. Coming in to those closing minutes, Rocky lead 130-123, but their jammer Frida Beater was in the penalty box. Oly's Tannibal Lector took advantage of the power jam for 23 points, while a returning Frida pulled in 8. 138-146 with 16 seconds on the clock and overtime looming? In derby, that's too close to call.

Yet with Oly's jammer in the box, it was time for Frida to give a clinic on last-second jams. With her eyes on the scoreboard and the clock on every pass through turn three, she pulled in exactly the nine points she needed for the 147-146 win.

Beyond the track, and even beyond the afterparties, the real meaning of the championships became clear. Flat track derby is still a nascent sport, and meteoric as its rise has been so far, there are always new pieces to be fitted into place. Conversations revolved around expanding the sport internationally and building up junior leagues: About reffing accreditation and the role of the Association of Flat Track Roller Derby Announcers: Of the pivotal role of the Derby News Network and the question of expanding mainstream media coverage: Even whether armbands, waterproof markers or printed transfers were the best way to mark skater numbers.

And now, as the hangovers fade, the countdown to 2011 begins. The WFTDA has announced the next year's tournament schedule. The Texas girls are already planning a long weekend in Kansas City next September for the South-Central region playoffs, with an eye to taking on the 2010 champions in their hometown for nationals in Denver next November. Belle Starr, the jammer killer, summed up the weekend perfectly. "I want to go home and start practicing for next year."

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WFTDA, Texecutioners, Women's Flat Track Derby Association, Uproar on the Lakeshore, Rocky Mountain Rollergirls, Oly Rollers, Bonnie Thunders, Association of Flat Track Roller Derby Announcers, Belle Starr, Frida Beater, Tannibal Lector, Suzy Hotrod

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