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Thursday, October 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 41.0° F  Fair
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Once upon a time at Derby in Dairyland...
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As thousands of enthusiasts packed the Coliseum -- whether to play, work, or watch -- there was little question that roller derby has come of age.
As thousands of enthusiasts packed the Coliseum -- whether to play, work, or watch -- there was little question that roller derby has come of age.
Credit:Papa Razzi

After three days of hard-hitting, fast-paced, eight-wheeled excitement over the weekend, Derby in Dairyland came to an end, but not without leaving a lasting impression on every skater, volunteer, and fan that took part in the fun. The 2008 Women's Flat Track Derby Association Eastern Regional roller derby tournament was, to say the very least, a success, and while host team and hometown sweethearts the Dairyland Dolls may not have made the cut to go to the nationals, they certainly put together one heck of a celebration. It won't soon be forgotten.

From Friday morning through Sunday night, the Veterans Memorial Coliseum on the south side of Madison was transformed into a veritable roller derby Mecca. Over 250 skaters, along with coaches, bench managers, announcers, team volunteers, and hordes of fans from twelve different states poured through its gates. Vendors from across the country -- hawking everything from skates, pads, and derby apparel to massage chairs and even tattoos -- lined the hall outside the arena. Fans stayed fueled with hot dogs and nachos, not to mention local beer -- and of course, in classic derby style, a bit of PBR.

Everything was centered around the arena floor, where a portable track, pieced together by hand on the eve of the tournament, played host to fast skating, hard hits, disciplined athleticism, and raw emotion.

The Dairyland Dolls, who entered the tournament as the eighth seed, got things rolling on Friday morning with a big 143-67 win over the ninth-seeded Minnesota Rollergirls. The team's biggest test came that evening, though, when it faced the top-seeded Gotham Girls All-Stars in the quarterfinals. Despite a strong start, the hometown squad fell 138-70 to New York City's finest. This loss stripped the Dolls for a chance at the nationals, and instead sent the Madison milkmaids to the consolation bracket.

Saturday brought vindication for the Double Ds when they faced and thoroughly defeated the Grand Raggidy Roller Girls from Grand Rapids, Michigan by a score of 120-73. This set the stage for an epic bout on Sunday, when the Dolls took to the track to face the Boston Massacre in a battle-royale for fifth place. It couldn't have been any closer.

Although Madison trailed for most of the bout, the score remained close. With just under two minutes remaining, the Dolls trailed 87-70, and in a jam of the ages, team captain Wildberry Punch stepped to the line. With the crowd on their feet and an eardrum-shattering clamor (produced mostly by cowbells) rattling the roof off the Coliseum, she racked up an incredible eighteen points. The Dolls' defense was almost indestructible, but Boston was able to squeak out three points before the final buzzer sounded. Final score: Boston, 90; Madison, 88. Despite the loss, the hometown fans stormed from the stands and onto the track in grand Hoosiers fashion to swarm their team with hugs and teary-eyed high-fives.

For the Dairyland Dolls and their fanatical following, this loss to Boston marked the end of tournament play for the season. But for many, it also marked the end of the huge event that they had just helped make happen. Amidst the skates, sweat, and sportsmanship, what became abundantly clear throughout the weekend was just how quickly the sport of flat-track roller derby has grown since its rebirth in 2001. As thousands of enthusiasts packed the Coliseum -- whether to play, work, or watch -- there was little question that roller derby has come of age. Amidst attention from the likes of the Big Ten Network and the extensive coverage from Derby News Network, it was clear that what began as a punk rock subculture is rolling into the mainstream, and what was once considered mere spectacle can claim its mantle as a sport.

So on Sunday night after the championship game had concluded with a victory by Gotham, after the trophies had been awarded to the top four teams moving on to the nationals in Portland, Oregon this November, and after hundreds of fans departed the arena to hit the post-tournament dance party at the Orpheum, a mob of Madison skaters and volunteers, including myself, rolled up our sleeves to tear down the rink. In less than an hour's time, the breakdown was complete and we stood in a circle, exhausted, sweaty, and happy, proud of what we'd made happen in our home town, and excited about the future of roller derby.

"So, this is the end of the movie, isn't it?" joked one skater.

As the lights went down and we walked out of the building, it did feel like an ending. But to those of us in the Mad Rollin' Dolls and among the greater roller derby community, we know that it's really just the beginning.

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