Saturday night with the Brew City Bruisers
The Spectacle and the Miniscule
Once upon a time, for a couple seasons, I was a referee and NSO (non-skating official) for the Milwaukee Brew City Bruisers Roller Derby League. In the scope of the team’s history, that is a footnote blip compared to some members’ longevity, resilience, and ability to forge deep relationships usually reserved for soldiers in battle. But it did give me a deeper insight into the sport, the characters, and team spirit. I have been completely away and too busy these past 19 months to attend a bout, but it was obvious from watching the 80-wheel action that the strategy and flow of the game has changed.
Part of this is due to flat-track derby‘s young and developing age as a modern professional sport. The fine-tuning of the rules affects the gameplay almost every year, and almost every year some new team in the nation spreads a new loophole-exploiting tactic to other teams during regional road matches. While some of these tricks have spread to the Milwaukee level, there are now observable counter-tricks.
The most notable maneuver began two years ago with “slow pack starts“. This is where the first whistle blows and one team doesn’t move. This forces the other set of blockers to not move, and the ref couldn’t blow the second whistle for the jammers to begin (which normally happens after the last blocker passes the starting line). It was a strategy usually employed by a team with a jammer in the box, but soon it spread into other jams, so rules were amended. Counter-measures were also taken by teams, most notably the other set of blockers would begin on one knee — which means they are “downed” players and not part of the pack. Therefore, no pack at the beginning of the jam, the second whistle blows and the jammer takes off.
Confused? Don’t be. As many times as someone finds a new way to bend rules to their advantage, the fundamentals and excitement remains the same. There are still major hip checks and major crack-the-whips. There are hero jammers who score 14 points in two minutes and reverse the lead, just as there are unsung teammates who hold back that other jammer a few seconds longer.
At this point in the season, both of these teams have faced more aggressive counterparts and lost. While two teams that are 0-2 sounds dicey, this does not mean there is lesser talent on the teams. There is as much new blood here as there are seasoned veterans, such as rookie fave Bloody Cupcake (#0) and powerhouse Carrie Hacksaw (#24).
There was much cheering from the girl scouts in the front row for Cupcake, as well someone sporting a “Go, Cupcake!” T-shirt. And go she did, nimbly sidling her way past defenders and laying down the wheels. By contrast, the Shevil team was gunning for the vets like High D. Voltage. In the second half, the pivoting and sentient hips of the Rollette’s Hacksaw both taunted opposing jammers when she played defense as well as swiveled into ballet manuevers when she needed to drag out time. It was a showcase of someone enjoying her craft.
The junior derby league, made up of girls ages 8-17 (and one brave boy named Black Knight) gave a 15-minute bout exposition for the crowd. It was amazing to witness, it explained a lot to the newcomers next to me, and it was courageous act for the tiny jammer to take the whip, get taken down, and jump back up again.
This bout was much harder hitting, as both teams looked to avoid their first loss of the season. It was filled with wilder smacks, faster packs, and more physical prowess from both vets like Rejected Seoul and newer stars like Kimberrr. Most of the turnover moments came from frequent jammer trips to the box, mostly for major cutting infractions. There was one jam in which Zo-Tay would go out, then Betty Clobber, then Zo-Tay, then Clobber.
Much of the heroics would come from the Maidens’ jammers during this bout, especially as the grind wore on late in the second half and things got crazy. Jammers like Slayerah, Super Hera, Romaniac, and Beelzebelle battled for every spare point. In the end, they earned a late lead and finished off any last chance efforts by the Eights by winding down the clock. Final score: 83-66.