By now, most folks in Madison have probably heard about the Mad Rollin' Dolls and the modern resurgence of the once campy, four-wheeled phenomenon that is roller derby. Those even more tuned in might have actually seen the Dolls or perhaps another regional league in action, and can testify to how far the sport has come since the days of over-the-rail hits, staged fights, and pre-determined outcomes.
This is not the Raquel Welch and Kansas City Bomber sort of roller derby that reigned in the '70s. This isn't even the roller derby of 2004, which early fans might have caught at Fast Forward Skate Center when the Mad Rollin' Dolls started to take shape.
No, this is athletic. This is real. There are no rails, there are no fights, and there is certainly nothing staged or pre-determined about it. This is a sport. And while there might still be a few elements of camp remaining, this roller derby is as bona fide as it gets.
For anyone still unconvinced, the Mad Rollin' Dolls' training schedule speaks volumes. The league practices together three times per week, with each of the four home teams practicing an additional one or two sessions each week on top of that. Practices are typically two hours long, and consist of a variety of endurance and skill-specific drills, along with strength training and scrimmages. As if that weren't enough, many of the Dolls also attend a conditioning class at Fast Forward and cross-train at the Monkey Bar Gym another two times every week. That makes for as many of eight practice sessions each week for the most dedicated athletes in the league.
Amy Basel, known as Dolly Pardon Me on the track, is a veteran skater for the Vaudeville Vixens and Dairyland Dolls. As a member of the Dolls' training committee, she can attest to the importance of all that practice.
"We play a tough sport," she says, "so it's important to teach and maintain a certain skill level for everyone's safety." And with first through fifth-year skaters on the track together, Basel points out the importance of running a rigorous practice while still focusing on the range of abilities.
"Everyone is at a different stage in their development as a player," she notes, "so we've gone from basic Derby 101 to now breaking our practices down into 201 and 301 drills for varying skill levels."
A fifth-year skater, Basel marvels at how talent has progressed since the league got its start in 2004. "Five years ago, I struggled to make it through three minutes of falling drills," she says. "I never thought that I'd be here now, leading practices and timing skaters through seven minutes of the same drill. The great thing about derby is that we all have such a vast array of experience, so we all teach each other on the track."
And as the sport continues to boom and the competition improves at a national level, training only gets tougher. "From wall-sits and push-ups to falling and jumping, our sport and the training for it is constantly evolving," notes Basel.
Derby fans are starting to notice. The Dolls' season opener in January drew a record-breaking crowd of 1,600 at the Coliseum, and the skating was faster and harder than ever. At this particular match, the Unholy Rollers upset the longtime dominant Reservoir Dolls by a score of 89-69, and the Vaudeville Vixens clobbered the Quad Squad by 144-56. A taste of the action in the latter battle can be viewed in a short video shot from a helmet cam by referee "Eddie Lizard."
Sure, I might be a little biased about all of this, so don't take my word for it. To see just how finely tuned these eight-wheeled machines has become, you should probably check it out for yourself.
On Sunday, February 1, the Dolls will be hosting their second bout of the 2009 season at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Alliant Energy Center. Cleverly dubbed "Super Roll Sunday," the doors open at noon and action commences at 1 p.m. The bout will see the Unholy Rollers take on the first visiting team of the season, the Chicago Outfit. The Quad Squad will face the Reservoir Dolls, meanwhile, and the Vaudeville Vixens have a bye.
Tickets for the bout are $10 in advance or $12 at the door. Kids 3-years-old and younger are admitted free of charge, and kids 4-10 are admitted at half price. Tickets can be purchased online or at the Coliseum on bout day, and group ticket discounts are also available. A portion of proceeds from the bout will be donated to the Rubin for Kids Scholarship Program.
For all you football fanatics, the Dolls are throwing a derby-style Super Bowl XLIII celebration at the High Noon Saloon after the bout. The big game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers will be broadcast on a screen up on stage, and, of course, there will be plenty of libations and other party provisions on hand. After the last whistle, the Wild Animals, the Krank Daddies, and DJ Jake Shut will keep the party going 'til the wee hours. The party is free with ticket stub or $5 without. What better way to party with the most dangerous athletes in Madison.
Melissa Faliveno skates as Harlot Bronte with the Mad Rollin' Dolls and works as an editor and freelance writer in her spare time.