I just witnessed the most incredible thing. I watched a team of roller derby skaters from around the U.S. waving the Stars and Stripes for a roaring crowd after emerging as victors of a tournament of 13 teams from far-flung corners of the globe. There is no point in even comparing it to the first bout I saw (Nashville Pussy played the halftime show, Ruyter Suys stripped down to her skivvies!): apart from the roller skates and the hitting, it’s barely in the same universe.
Watching Team U.S.A. hoist the cup brought to mind an announcer’s comment that stuck out to me at Championals last month. To paraphrase, he said that this year had seen a resurgence of “legacy leagues,” referring to Texas Rollergirls (2006 Champs) and Kansas City Roller Warriors (2007 Champs) taking 3rd and 4th respectively.
[leg·a·cy /ˈlegəsē/ anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor]
We talk in time-laden terms a great deal in derby 2.0: ‘veterans’ and ‘rookies,’ ‘new generations’ of players, ‘back in the old days.’ Sure, there is always a past in the mathematical sense of it. But right now, we are talking about a sport with a maximum outside age of 10 years. If you plotted a population pyramid using years of involvement in flat track roller derby, it would look like a ziggurat. From visions of flaming bears on unicycles to a parade of nations in less than the life of a Honda. I may be mistaken, but as far as I know, the player of longest tenure on the track at the World Cup was Smarty Pants, with 8 years of experience between TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls and the Texas Rollergirls. We are first graders talking about ‘when we were little kids.’
There is no monolithic vision of the derby future-perfect, but among some communities, there is a sense of urgency, now is the time: professional derby, roller derby in the Olympics, roller derby on television, roller derby in schools. What makes us feel like we’re so “grown up?” Perhaps it’s the longevity of the sport from which ours was derived. Maybe it’s the combination of the skyrocketing capabilities of technology and its plummeting costs (and let us take a moment to gratefully contemplate the people who bring the derby to our computers for free just about every weekend of the year). Could be the enormous amount of professional-quality, unpaid labor scores of people put into it. Whatever the magic confluence of circumstances, it masks the fact that we are still very much in Phase I of flat track roller derby, and a good set of wheels still has a longer lifespan than an edition of the WFTDA ruleset.
This brings me back to the skaters waving the U.S. flag. The World Cup was a breathtaking experience, even from my living room couch. It will almost certainly be seen as a turning point in derby history. Nevertheless, the question remains in my mind, does this sport have any business in global competition when so few countries have had roller derby for more than a couple of years, much less on a tournament level? Remember how controversial London’s invitation to the Eastern Playoffs was just this year? Remember how Argentina and Brazil didn’t even have skates as of this summer? Should the level of competition evolve along with the sport, or is this a case of if you build it, they will come? We are only recently coming to a point where flat track tournaments look like high-level amateur sporting events, and are being covered in the Sports section instead of Life & Style. There was plenty of non-blog media coverage of the World Cup, but the comments on this CBC article (which appeared in the “Offbeat” section, later bumped by “Vancouver Man Trapped In Automatic Toilet”) were a wakeup call that we may not have “arrived” beyond the cushy world of the derbylove echo chamber. It is easy to let how far we have come obscure how far we still have to go.
As far as we may have come in the past 10 years, we’re still building the legacy of flat track roller derby. The rises and falls that seem so meteoric right now will seem less so when the timeline of the sport has extended beyond the point where league longevity is a primary advantage. Nowhere is this more clear than in the forays into international play. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to lay down a grand to have my ass handed to me by the likes of any of the players on the top 3 World Cup teams. But when the difference between first and second place is over 300 points, there will have to be more regional groundwork laid and some more miles in the rearview mirror before global competition is cheered by anyone other than citizens of Derby Nation.
Additional Photo Credit: Tom Igoe, Team USA v. Team Canada