When the opening showdown between the will closely covering the competition. Like the action on the track, this is a DIY affair, one that's growing along with derby.
Organized sports constantly rise and fall in participation and popularity over the years, at all levels of competition. This last decade has seen the ascendancy of NASCAR, a boom in UFC mixed martial arts, and now, the broad emergence of amateur flat track roller derby. Growing along with the interest in and attention towards derby though, are the expectations of its participants and fandom, including its identity as sport and entertainment. And as the roller derby revival passes the five-year mark amidst a blossoming of leagues large and small in cities around the country, there is a growing desire among participants for an accompanying rise in respect, particularly when it comes to its portrayal in the media.
"I was a bit frustrated that when the mainstream media reports on derby, it usually focuses on the sexy and irreverent elements -- the fishnets, the short skirts, the names -- and tends to overlook the elements that make it an interesting sport," says Tracy Williams, who is known as "Justice Feelgood Marshall" in his work as a managing editor of the Derby News Network, or DNN. "Don't get me wrong," he continues, "I loooove the sexy and irreverent parts too, but they're two halves of a whole to me, and I felt a lot of media only saw the first half." Similar sentiments were recently expressed in an essay published by a skater from Rockford, Illinois, objecting to the kitsch-oriented coverage of a major hometown bout for the high-ranked squad from Chicago, and clamoring instead for serious consideration on the sports page.
DNN is leading by example online, regularly publishing previews and reports on roller derby matches throughout the nation, and increasingly providing live reports of major bouts as they happen. "The aim of DNN was to take the exact opposite angle from the mainstream media," notes Williams, "and cover derby completely straight, as if it were as ingrained a part of the culture and as accepted a mainstream sport as football or baseball."
Williams launched a solo blog just over a year ago with the intention of providing bout previews, scores, and recaps, growing from his original involvement in roller derby as a referee for the Charm City Roller Girls of Baltimore. "I have really been fascinated by not just the sport of flat track derby, but the idea of an entirely new sport growing at such an incredible rate, and with such rapid evolution in skill levels, strategies, regional rivalries, etc.," he explains. "However, trying to track down information on how games actually went was awfully frustrating, because many leagues put a premium on promoting the next match as opposed to reporting the results of the last, and finding accurate scores or details on gameplay online was a total crapshoot."
Eventually the flat track world started paying attention, though, and the bout scores and stories started flowing, which Williams credits to his serious approach towards covering the competition. The next step in the evolution of derby sports writing was collaboration, and ultimately merger with two other established derby blogs, one published by Chris Seal (known as "Hurt Reynolds") of Albuquerque by way of Seattle, and the other being leadjammer.com, a dedicated "boutcasting" project created by Jason Socha (or "Gnosis") here in Madison. Combining forces through the first half of this year, the trio merged their respective sites and launched the network in June as a comprehensive roller derby resource.
After a summer of gearing up with coverage of interleague bouts, the team at DNN is taking on tournament time this month with the moving on to this year's National Tournament in Portland, Oregon. Now this weekend brings Derby in Dairyland, from which another four squads will emerge for a shot at the 2008 WFTDA title.
The trio behind DNN will be live-blogging every elimination bout at the Coliseum over the next three days, just as they did Houston. "It's pretty challenging to type and keep an idea on the action at the same time," says Williams, "but it's been really enjoyable to get to interact with the online derby community while watching such incredibly high-level derby." Also on tap is a live online video stream of all bouts, which is being provided by the Mad Rollin' Dolls. Finally, the network will be providing pre- and post-bout interviews on YouTube to serve as archival video from the tournament.
DNN already has already started its Eastern Regional coverage, though. The network was published a preview of the top four seeded teams -- Gotham Girls Roller Derby, Carolina Rollergirls, The Windy City Rollers, and Philly Roller Girls -- which each have a first-round bye and simply have to win their first bout to qualify for the nationals. Chicago defeated the Dairyland Dolls in an upset at last year's Eastern Regional tournament, while Philadelphia was nearly defeated in turn by the Madison crew this past June. It's the top-seeded New York squad, though, that the hometown team will take on should it win its first match of the tourney.
All four first-round bouts are likewise covered in a DNN preview, starting with the 8 a.m. Friday battle on between Madison and Minnesota. Should the women in blue-and-white win the sunrise bout, they will advance to face Gotham at 6:15 p.m. that evening. Should they be defeated, they will go on to the consolation round with a match at 3 p.m. against the loser of a bout between teams from Baltimore and Cincinnati. And there will be more on Saturday.
No matter what happens, though, all teams will play at least three bouts, and four will hit the track four times. This will make for 20 total bouts through the tournament, and gives each visiting team an extra incentive to play hard and get the most out of its visit to Madison. The Dairyland Dolls, of course, will get to showcase themselves before their hometown fans on one of the nation's biggest derby stages.
A complete schedule for the tournament is provided by Derby in Dairyland organizers, who are also publishing photos for every bout as they become available. There are also tournament brackets, provided by the Boston Derby Dames and here by DNN. The network is using a Twitter feed to provide bout scores for mobile users, and will be working with a host of photographers to provide a visual accompaniment to its coverage.
"Like the derby skaters, refs, announcers and various support staff, we don't get paid for doing this and it's a big strain on our finances," notes Williams about DNN's coverage, though they do receive sponsorship from , and support from readers. The network's scope will certainly be growing along with the sport.
Next year, the WFTDA will divide 61 member leagues into four regions: East, North Central, South Central, and West. This new North Central Region will encompass North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, which together is home to 15 teams, a half-dozen of which are competing in this weekend's final Eastern Region tournament.
"As our profile rises and we look to expand our derby coverage in 2009," he concludes, "we hope to attract more sponsors so that we're able to keep spreading the gospel and keeping derby fans nationwide updated on what's happening in the sport, no matter where it may be happening."