Next month Madison roller derby will reach a milestone when the Mad Rollin' Dolls, the four-year-old roller derby league, host the eastern regional tournament of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association. Complicated preparations are under way for the Oct. 10-12 event dubbed Derby in Dairyland, which will see competition at the Alliant Energy Center's coliseum between 12 teams representing Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia and other eastern cities.
The Mad Rollin' Dolls compete in the tournament as a number-eight seed. Hosting the event does not guarantee a berth, but, says Mad Rollin' Dolls public relations manager (and Isthmus freelancer) Mary Ellen Bell, "We were confident we'd be in the tournament." Madison will skate in a first round bout against the Minnesota Roller Girls at 8 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 10.
Hosting a roller derby tournament is "a huge undertaking, a big volunteer effort," says Bell, who compares the logistics of the event to organizing a convention. "We're doing promotions, we're renting a special floor for the coliseum, we're contacting people in the leagues to make arrangements for housing."
Some visitors will stay with friends and family, and the Rollin' Dolls have arranged for blocks of rooms at hotels near the Alliant Center. "It's also a football weekend, so we had to get on that early," says Bell, whose daughter Colleen Bell co-founded the local league and is president of the national organization. Colleen, skating as Crackerjack, is a star jammer of the Mad Rollin' Dolls' Reservoir Dolls.
In the Mad Rollin' Dolls' winter season, bouts are staged at Fast Forward Skate Center between the local league's four teams: The Quad Squad, the Reservoir Dolls, the Vaudeville Vixens and the Unholy Rollers. The league's national standing is based on the record of an all-star Madison team, the Dairyland Dolls, in matches against other cities' teams. The top four teams from the Madison tournament will skate for the national title against four teams from the western division. These finals will be held Nov. 14-16 in Portland, Ore.
Since its inception in Texas seven years ago, the revived roller derby has emerged as a legitimate extreme sport, Mary Ellen Bell notes. "It started out a lot campier, and they still have the costumes, the names, and the entertainment value is still there," she says. "But the level of athleticism in the sport is just astonishing now."
The local league also is engaged in good works, including charity efforts for Gilda's Club, Porchlight, Inc., and other organizations. "It's like a Junior League for bad girls," says Bell.