Five big years for the Brewcity Bruisers
Man, I remember that first year of the Brewcity Bruisers’ existence. Around November or December 2005 that first freshwoman class of rollergirls—some I knew, most I didn’t—started hosting fundraiser after informational fundraiser to get the fledgling league running—bachelorette auctions, spaghetti dinners, karaoke contests (I still think I got screwed back in March 2006 at Mad Planet when I killed at Tesla’s “Love Song” but didn’t get past round 1).
At one point I remember asking myself, “Jeez, when the heck are they gonna stop talking and start skating? How much money does a startup league need, anyway?”
As snarky as I was, though, I knew one thing for sure—I couldn’t wait to see it. A punk rock, women-run DIY sports league with larger-than-life, pro wrestling-style personalities? Where do I get season tickets?
Recent BCB alumnus and Rushin’ Rollette Jesse Jameson remembers getting the inspiration to start the league with fellow founders Butch Cassidy and Cris Carny Power. “I was familiar with (Chicago’s) Windy City Rollers via my close friend (and now-BCB skater) Anita Bier.” After seeing a Windy City bout, “we felt confident that Milwaukee would benefit from a positive athletic outlet for the ladies. We teamed up with Cris Carny, who was a grad film student from Brazil. Butch at the time was a co-owner of the Tool Shed. I think that we all had our own interest in what derby could bring to Milwaukee. Cris was fascinated by spectacle and loved the performance aspect… I was interested in the comrades and the workout. Butch was interested in the game as well as its feminist roots.”
The first bout happened in August 2006 at the Milwaukee County Sports Complex in Franklin, a slow-moving, clumsy affair that really upped the camp aspect of the sport, with fake (and sometimes real) fights on the track and a halftime pillow fight that was immediately discontinued after Rollette Pop Tart fell and separated her shoulder. Whoops.
Fortunately, most of the other growing pains were the good kind of hurt. The team’s first travel bout (where the league all-stars play leagues in other cities), against Sin City, was held in 100-degree heat in Las Vegas on an outdoor blacktop track. “That entire travel experience was really helpful,” Jameson says. “It gave so much insight into how other leagues function. At that time our experience was pretty marginal and Midwestern. Every league and city is different.”
Me, I remember the first home bout, a wholesale wholloping dished out by the Minnesota Rollergirls’ home league champs, the Atomic Bombshells. I remember watching the carnage thinking, “Oh, boy… our league has a long way to go.”
“I remember thinking how incredible they were, but that was only compared to how new we were,” says Justice. “Today we could crush them.”
Justice is quite possibly right. In the four short years since the first home bout, the Brewcity Bruisers have grown into one of the more visible leagues in the North Central region of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA, the governing body that writes the rulebook and oversees interleague derby), consistently ranked in the region’s top ten. In just the last year, Brewcity has hosted its first multi-league invitational (last May’s Midwest Brewhaha), hosted the WFTDA’s North Central regional tournament (last month in Green Bay), and Shevil Knevil Anna “Grace Killy” Kracjik currently serves as the WFTDA’s President.
The Bruisers have outgrown their childhood home in Franklin, at least as far as the home season is concerned. After last season’s championship bout drew well over 2,000 fans to the US Cellular Arena, it was announced that the entire 2011 home season would take place there.
And what about all that camp? There’s an ongoing national debate about whether or not Roller Derby can ever become a “mainstream” sport if the girls are wearing fishnets and using names like “Milwaukee’s Breast” and “Slayerah” (which must always be yelled, by the by… SLAYERAH!!!). Heck, the BCB’s WFTDA President, Anna Kracjik, skates under her real name when she competes with the All-Stars. Is it a trend? Jesse and Justice can see both sides.
“I appreciate and understand the athletic progression the sport has taken,” says Jameson. “If we want to compete nationally and play to our fullest potential we must be strong contenders. Not only does this strengthen our travel team, but in turn our entire league. I love that people are using their own names.”
“I respect those who are taking this to the more serious side and using their real names,” adds Justice, “but I really enjoy the playfulness our derby names give to the entire aspect of what roller derby is. It adds an element of entertainment, individual personality, and a smidgen of D-list celebrity status for the skaters. Fans dig it, and without our fans, we wouldn’t be where we are.”
Watching the BCB grow has been a thrill. Watching the gameplay evolve from slow and uncertain to fast, confident, hard-hitting and generally fight-free (as that’ll get you ejected these days), I sometimes wonder if this is what it was like to watch the NFL in the 1920s. When Denver started coming to a near stop on the track, was the nationwide reaction similar to Don Hutson catching a forward pass?
It’s hard to predict the future, but back then I’m sure Curly Lambeau didn’t think he’d ever have a 72,000-seat stadium named after him. Will the 2045 WFTDA Championships be nationally televised from Servin’ Justice Arena? Who knows? I just hope I’m announcing the bout.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves—celebrate the last five years of BCB roller derby this Friday at Turner Hall with Celebrated Working Man, Juniper Tar and Suicide Chicken. It’s at 8 p.m. and costs $10–$6 with two canned goods. Shoulder tackles are free.