Throughout the first four years of Mad Rollin' Dolls roller derby, the Unholy Rollers and Vaudeville Vixens volleyed between third and last place. Derby is hardly a static sport, though, and now at the end of the league's fifth season, these historic underdogs will lace up their skates, strap on their helmets, and battle for the championship trophy this Saturday. And they didn't get there without a fight.
(Before I go any further, I must include a side note: For those of you who don't know, I skate for the Vixens. But I'm going to do my journalistic duty and attempt to write this piece without a hint of favor -- or, at the very least, without talking smack about my impending opponents. Who will almost certainly be defeated. End side note.)
During last month's semi-final bout, the Rollers and Vixens solidified their spots in the championship match. The Vixens entered the bout 2-1 in home league play, having lost only to the Unholies in a heated overtime bout in early March. The blasphemous ones came into semi-finals with the same record, having been upset by the otherwise winless Quad Squad in April. And despite a season-long effort to remain at the top, the semi-final bout could have been a deal-breaker.
The current Mad Rollin' Dolls home season structure dictates that the semis act as a clean slate -- even if a team is undefeated, one loss in the penultimate bout could mean the end of a trophy-bound season. This was not to be the case, however, as the two teams came out with stars -- and tantalizing visions of red and pink banners, respectively -- in their eyes. The Rollers, who beat the Reservoir Dolls earlier in the season, toppled the crime syndicate yet again with a score of 140-64. The Vixens, meanwhile, bested last year's champs, the Quad Squad, for a second time this season by a final tally of 173-95. Thanks to these big wins, the Unholies and Vixens will fight for the coveted trophy in the championship bout, while the Res Dolls and Quad Squad -- neither of whom has ended a season lower than second place -- will battle it out for third in the grudge match.
The historic final bout of the Mad Rollin' Dolls 2009 season will be held at the Exhibition Hall on the Alliant campus. Doors for the bout open at 5 p.m., and the action starts at 6. Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door, and are available at the Doll's local sponsors, including Freedom/Knuckleheads, Capitol City Tattoo, Cha Cha Beauty and Barber, High Noon Saloon, and Lakeside Press, and will be available at the Exhibition Hall on bout night. You can also buy them here. A portion of proceeds from the bout will be donated to the Girls on the Run.
After the bout, the Dolls will be heading to the High Noon Saloon to celebrate the end of the season with local acts Zebras and Screaming Cyn Cyn and the Pons, along with Milwaukee girl-punk duo The Barrettes. Admission to the show is free with a ticket stub, $5 without.
The winds of change have certainly been swirling around Madison's flat-track league this year, and not just in terms of trophy-chasing. After four years of bouts at Fast Forward Skate Center, the Dolls packed up their gear and moved to the Alliant Energy Center, hosting the successful "Derby in Dairyland" regional tournament there last fall and all seven matches in the 2009 season. Attendance has spiked, and crowds of 600 have grown into ones topping 1,600. The media has noticed, too, and many skeptics who once associated modern-day derby with the campy spectacle of the '70s have begun covering derby in the sports pages.
As if all this talk of growth weren't enough to quell remaining doubt about the state of the roller derby union, there's a video game in the works and a major motion picture set to open this fall (albeit about banked-track derby, but we'll let it slide). On the global stage, a handful of leagues have sprouted up in Europe, Canada, Mexico, and New Zealand, and there has even been speculation by a certain international sports authority of an Olympic bid.
At the national level, the sport is growing faster than Jewels of Denile sprints off the jam line. The sport is no longer burgeoning, but truly bona fide. The Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), governing some 80 sanctioned leagues nationwide with more in the pipeline, has restructured from two national regions into four due to the rapid growth.
The Dairyland Dolls are ranked third out of fifteen in the North Central division, behind Chicago's Windy City Rollers and the Detroit Derby Girls. These ladies in blue and white have seen firsthand how starkly the level of competition has increased, as leagues across the country have shed any remaining home-league camp in favor of serious athleticism -- or, in the case of the Cincinnati Roller Girls, who the DDs and Team Unicorn just bested, have shed home play entirely to focus solely on national play. To be sure, Madison's favorite milkmaids will work hard this summer to secure a spot in the Minneapolis regional tournament in September and, with a bit of luck, the nationals in Philadelphia come November.
After returning from their victory over Cincinnati last weekend, the Dairyland Dolls have a busy summer schedule with six bouts, three away and three at home. These battles include: the WTDFA East Coast Extravaganza from in Philadelphia, with a match against the Kansas City Roller Warriors on June 27 and the Tampa Bay Derby Darlins on June 28; the Brew City Bruisers on July 18 in Milwaukee; the Arch Rival Roller Girls of St. Louis on July 25 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison; and the Northstar Rollergirls of Minnesota on August 22 at the Duck Pond in Madison. Autumn bouts include the North-Central Regionals from September 18-20 in Minneapolis, a battle versus the Detroit Derby Girls on October 10 in the Motor City, and the national championships from November 13-15 in Philadelphia.
But I don't need to convince Madisonians about this four-wheeled phenomenon -- the crowds on bout nights speak for themselves.
Melissa Faliveno skates as Harlot Bronte with the Mad Rollin' Dolls and works as an editor and freelance writer in her spare time.