May 2, 2012
With a strong commitment to training and tournament preparation, and a well-earned reputation as the best league in Australia, it is no wonder that the top skaters from this league are impressive when they hit the track. The derby world had its first real look at this league’s All Stars at April’s Dust Devil tournament, and their 5th place finish said a lot about all the work they’ve put in. They also spread the derby love – and skills – to other Australian leagues, and they want you to come and skate with them! Read on to learn more about the Victorian Roller Derby League…
How does your season run?
Our season runs from February to late November. We have double header bouts happening around once a month with the league’s four home teams playing each other. Our travel teams play other leagues sporadically during the year as well.
Typically wftda.com ask Featured Leagues, “What are the closest WFTDA leagues to you?” In the case of VRDL, we know there aren’t any leagues (at all) close to you. How did that affect your league’s decision to apply for membership in the WFTDA?
I believe our closest WFTDA league would be Angel City Derby Girls, 7910 miles away! Honestly though, for us it was about being part of the big derby family globally. We had no idea what membership would mean for us realistically, but we knew we wanted to be part of it, to be able to contribute to the growth of WFTDA derby within Australia.
What WFTDA member leagues were most helpful to VRDL when you were accepted into the Apprentice Program, and while you were preparing to become a full WFTDA member league?
Big shout out to our amazing Mentor Kessara/Knock'er from the Oly Rollers, who seemed like she was at the end of her keyboard ready to answer questions, 24/7. The Texas Rollergirls’ Hotrod Honeys for kick starting our international bouting experience. Rat City Rollergirls for giving us our second arse-kicking and providing us with invaluable experience about how they did it afterwards! Gotta give a special shout out to London Rollergirls for their constant help and support. Charm City Roller Girls for writing our recommendation for the Apprentice Program. Bonnie Thunders and OMG WTF from Gotham Girls Roller Derby for their invaluable help, and really, lots of individual skaters from many leagues who have showed such generosity with their support.
How many skaters/teams do you have?
We have four teams: the Dead Ringer Rosies, the Toxic Avengers, the Dolls of Hazzard and our newest team, the Rock Mobsters. We also have two travel teams made up of the top 30 skaters in the league: the All Stars and the Queen Bees. There are currently approximately 50 bouting skaters and around 80 skaters total in the league.
How is your league structured (home teams, travel team, management)?
In terms of management we have an executive committee made up of seven league members voted in by the league once every twelve months. We also have several subcommittees responsible for different parts of the league’s organisation, so everything from merchandise, media, coaching, events and fundraising, officiating, sponsorship, and bout production. Every league member is a part of one or more committees.
Who is Victorian Roller Derby League’s biggest rival? And have you had any outstanding, memorable moments against them when you have bouted?
In Australia, it would be Sun State Roller Girls from Brisbane. We played them at our first national tournament, the Great Southern Slam in June 2010, and after being behind for most of the game, clawed back and won by two points in the final jam. We played them again in April 2011 and won 124-93.
We're looking forward to developing some friendly rivalries with WFTDA leagues in the future! :)
What are the individual challenges of your city?
We had our biggest challenges in terms of the city before we had our own warehouse training space. Finding places to train was difficult, as there are actually very few rinks left in Melbourne, and sporting stadiums were reluctant to let us skate on their floors, plus we had to share venues and times with other indoor sports and increasingly, other derby leagues. So having our own training space has been a huge relief. For the same reasons, it was difficult to find a bouting venue – there are very few venues in Melbourne suitable for holding bouts.
What, if anything, did Australians know about roller derby when VRDL was starting out? Many North American leagues have to educate their fans about the differences between WFTDA roller derby and earlier forms of roller derby. Is this the same in Australia?
We think Australia was well placed to accept “modern day roller derby.” The derby from the ’70s was televised here and it was pretty big to a certain generation, however we’ve not really faced as much of the “education” problem compared to the U.S. And the other side of the coin is that compared to the U.K. (where no one had even heard of old school derby), we didn’t have to start completely from scratch. Australians LOVE their sport, especially contact sports (Australian Rules football and rugby), so roller derby fits perfectly into the character of your average Aussie.
In our experience, people have more of a mindset of what modern roller derby is from seeing all the “fishnets and tattoos” articles that the media like to focus on, so people are sometimes surprised at the athleticism and intensity displayed at our bouts (if they have that mindset that derby is all about ‘spectacle’ of the tattoos, fishnets and tough girls on skates).
What are your biggest training challenges?
Nutting out our training structure! We went from being a smallish league of around 40 people, to at one point having 800 people on our try-outs waiting list without access to more training times to fit anyone in. We then got our own training warehouse and shot up to about 120 skaters at one point, with four different skill levels. We've since realised that was impossible to run, and have scaled down. So now we have a recreational session once a week, then three skill levels that all train separately three times per week.
Still, managing that is a huge strain on our coaches. We essentially have one to two training sessions every day at the warehouse. So we would say that even after five years, we are still working out how our training is structured. We went from wanting to be mega accessible and had all of these huge ideas, but then realised with volunteers having to staff it, it just wasn't viable. We now also have a few local leagues that have started up close to us, so I think we're realising we can't take everyone, and working out what is manageable for us.
What kind of training/bouting facilities do you have?
We love our warehouse training space, affectionately known as “the Factory”! We have a track for on-skates training and scrimmage, as well as a back room for off-skates fitness, which is quickly filling up with donated exercise equipment, as well as a comfy space for meetings (and keeping all our gear!). For the last 18 months, our bouts have been held at a stadium in the Melbourne Showgrounds which can hold up to 3000 spectators.
How many days a week do you practice? We understand that you were able to lease a warehouse starting in late 2010. What was your training schedule like prior to getting this space? What role has having your own space played in your league’s development?
Each of our three levels train three times per week, plus a team training fortnightly. One of those sessions for each group is what we call a ''Cross-Pollination'' session, where they train with the level above or below them, to foster up-skilling. The travel teams (A and B) have four sessions to attend per week (one of those is a double session) and an extra hour of scrimmage. Like we said, there's some sort of training on every day, and pretty much all day Saturday and Sunday.
Getting our training space coincided with exploding as a league in numbers. Prior to that, we still trained three times per week but we only had one group of skaters. So getting our own warehouse was a double-edged sword...it allowed us to grow in the way we needed to, but meant we also created a monster!
VRDL is currently the number one flat track roller derby league in Australia and the only full WFTDA member league in Oceania. What has the journey been like for your league from newly founded to this point?
The league just celebrated its 5th Birthday! VRDL was one of the first leagues in the country, along with Sun State and Adelaide. So we just made it up as we went along – soaking up as much as we could from more experienced leagues abroad. We have incredible founders, Betty Bamalam, Cherry Rocket and Jude Tsai (our current All Stars’ bench coach) among others. We’ve had the honour to be part of so many big things for Australian derby – playing in the first National Champs, getting our own warehouse, moving to a huge new bouting venue, hosting the Hotrod Honeys and putting on a massive bootcamp with them, hosting Rat City, and playing at Dust Devil. We get pretty emotional just thinking about it! We work really hard and are constantly reminding ourselves to stop and pat ourselves on the back for our achievements.
It’s pretty amazing to have watched roller derby grow from “not existing” to now having over 70 leagues in the country.
Who are some of your favorite sponsors? Big thanks goes out to Bayside Blades for their continued support, Samurai AV for their amazing audio and scoreboard setups at bouts and also for filming them, Rockstar Bowling, and two brand new sponsors: Fox Body Art tattoos and Dr.Benji's Acupuncture. Thanks for getting on board with VRDL!
In January of this year your league held a concert fundraiser featuring three bands and a raffle. How did this fundraiser come about? How did you get the bands involved? Is this an event that you will hold again?
This fundraiser was organised largely by one of league members and musician, Tarzanna, who flexed her music industry muscles and secured the bands for the night. We have a few members with contacts in the Melbourne music scene so band nights/concerts are a semi-regular fundraiser for us. In the lead up to Dust Devil we worked really hard with different fundraising opportunities including sausage sizzles, a Family and Friends bout, Masterclasses and a competition with an insurance company which won us $8000!
Victorian Roller Derby currently accepts skaters every three months, starting with a two-day try out. What are skaters tested on during these try outs? How do skaters progress into the league from this point? How many skaters do you usually take on at one time?
For the last six to nine months we have been running weekly “recreational” classes. We teach all the non-contact skating skills and drills required to then try out for us, along with some fitness stuff. We have since added a second level to these classes for those who have mastered the basics and are ready to move on to contact. The Rec Classes are for people who genuinely just want to roll around with a bunch of awesome women for fun, for those who are keen to “try derby on,” and also for those who are serious about playing derby at the highest level they can, and eventually trying out for us.
We currently do open try outs every three months and we're taking between five and twelve skaters each round. Essentially we’re taking skaters who we believe will be ready to scrimmage within a three-month timeframe. Skaters who make it through, do a three-month crash course in contact, basic teamwork, fitness, etc. which we call Silver level. The next level up from that is Gold where skaters scrimmage amongst themselves and with bouting skaters who are not on the A or B teams. This level also scrimmage against other local leagues. When they're ready, they then pass up to our bouting level, which we call Platinum. Skaters in Platinum get “apprenticed” to each team for a couple of weeks so they can scrimmage as part of a team, which has been a really great way to introduce rookies to scrimmaging with the “big kids.” Then after their apprenticeship is finished, they get drafted. Phew! We've recently moved to rolling assessments rather than structured assessments every three months, which mean the process can be quicker for those that are ready.
Who are the “behind the scenes” skaters who make your league run?
The league wouldn’t be able to operate without the behind the scenes skaters running all the committees and volunteering their free time for the day-to-day operation of the league, including coaching, managing funds, media and public relations, fundraising, writing league policies, and organising the bouts. All skaters contribute to this in one way or another, there’s too many to name them all!
Who are some of your star on-track skaters and why?
All the All Star skaters! They’ve worked so hard and it shows.
Victorian Roller Derby League is a member of the WFTDA’s West region. What do you think are and/or will be the benefits and challenges of being in the West region? What was the league’s reaction to this placement?
Honestly, at the time we didn't know how realistic it was for us to compete with an agenda of gaining high rankings due to the difficulty in playing sanctioned games. We just wanted to play roller derby against international teams, to learn and be the best team we could be. So being placed in the West was just kinda funny, knowing it is seen as the region with the most/highest level of competition, with six out of the top ten teams in the current DNN Power Rankings being from the West. But now we've had a taste for it, playing at Dust Devil, it is pretty daunting to be in this region!!!
When VRDL started out, you bouted in a small venue seating only a few hundred fans. Now you host sell out crowds of over 3000 fans. Can you talk about how your league made this transition? Do you have any advice for other leagues hoping to increase their attendance and move to larger venues?
Our tickets used to sell out in an hour and there was huge demand for more, so we really had to move to a larger venue. The Showgrounds venue has been great, but also a LOT more work in terms of bout production/organisation. There is also more pressure on the entire league to promote and sell tickets now, as obviously our costs are higher with a bigger venue. We had to raise our ticket prices, which we worried would be off-putting to fans, but having the double headers each time as well as halftime entertainment, has alleviated that a bit, and we think the fans have been pretty happy with their value for money.
VRDL was nominated for the Team of the Year category for Women’s Health Magazine’s “I support women in sport” campaign and won! Congratulations! How did it feel to receive this honor? Why do you think VRDL was successful over more traditional sports teams such as AFL Victoria Women’s Team, Brisbane Roar (soccer), NSW Breakers (cricket), and the QLD Firebirds (Netball)? How did your league use the accompanying cash prize?
Honestly, we think because the derby community is so huge in Australia, and the social networking over the nomination was crazy, we got a lot of votes! It was an honour to be recognised alongside these inspiring sports teams and sportswomen. The cash prize went straight to the Dust Devil fund!
VRDL has demonstrated a commitment to helping Australian leagues improve their skating ability, especially through the Masterclasses that you’ve offered, which are open to interstate leagues. Please talk a bit about the last class you offered. When will your next class be? Why is VRDL so committed to training that is accessible to all Australian leagues?
Since securing our own venue, it is easy for us to host training camps without much expenditure. Prior to that a lot of our coaches were going out to visit other leagues, so we thought it would be awesome to have skaters come and visit us so we could reach a wider audience. The Masterclasses have been fundraisers for the All Stars to travel to Dust Devil, so they have really played an important and crucial part in getting us there, as well as an amazing opportunity to reach out to the local, state-wide, and national community.
Our next class is on May 20th, the Sunday after our next home bout, so participants can watch our bout on the Saturday night and then skate on Sunday. We're hosting another one the very next weekend as a bumper double edition filled with all the awesome stuff we learnt from our Dust Devil experience.
VRDL is definitely committed to assisting Australian leagues. We are passionate about contributing to the growth of the sport of roller derby and love being part of skaters’ personal skating careers!
VRDL took the derby world by surprise with its outstanding showing at the Dust Devil tournament, winning three out of four games, and earning 5th place at the tournament. Congratulations! How did it feel to do so well in your first WFTDA-sanctioned games?
We are so proud of our All Stars and of our league in general. There has been a real buzz about the league after their performance.
We had absolutely no idea how we would fare. We pored over Flat Track Stats and DNN, triangulating and quadrangulating scores from the teams who we were playing, did re-con on every team…and still went into the tourney completely clueless as to where we sat. So it was awesome to get some games under our belts, ready to be ranked for the first time.
From our All Star Captain, Kitty Decapitate:
Dust Devil was pretty much the most amazing experience I have had in roller derby to date, and I’m pretty sure the rest of the team feels the same way. It was a magical experience of blood, sweat, (happy) tears, learning and applying on the fly, jet lag, food poisoning, and some pretty awesome after party shenanigans ;)
The Dust Devil tournament has played such an important role in the history of women’s flat track roller derby. Was VRDL thinking about that as you prepared for the tournament? What would you say was your most memorable experience at Dust Devil?
Yes, definitely! It was a real honour to be there playing. Big thank you goes to Helen Wheels for suggesting we play!
One of our team values is “Ambassadors”, so we were really aware of what a big deal it was for Australian derby to be the first team to play in a sanctioned tournament on U.S. shores, and how much we wanted to do our league and country proud – so you know, no pressure!!!! ;)
Most memorable experience? EVERYTHING! We were genuinely blown away by the level of support we received from everyone at the event who genuinely wanted to see us do well, and who took the time out to help us along the way. So many kernels of unforgettableness! Seeing us achieve all of the little goals we set out to do and that we had been training for, for so long, was pretty special! And the bond our team now has is priceless, and permanent for some, Rocky and Berzerker both got tattoos – a Saguaro cactus and some circles in “south west” landscape colours, respectively.
How did VRDL’s All Stars prepare for their trip to the U.S. and the Dust Devil? It sounded like there were a lot of VRDL fans in the crowd. Did any family, friends, leaguemates, and fans make the trip with the All Stars?
Firstly, HEAPS OF FUNDRAISING!!!! Secondly, with amazing support from our whole league!
In terms of training, the team has a set of ten values that embody what we want our team to be about. Every training session, we refer to one or two of these values so we have a focus for the session on top of the skills/drills we are working on.
One of the big things for us was to work on our mental focus – the delicate balance between intensity and discipline. We have so few All Star games per year due to distance and expense (e.g., we had four in total in 2011) so we’re really pretty inexperienced when it comes to playing as a team. In terms of physical training, we all committed to doing X amount of extra off-skates fitness outside of the off-skates stuff we do in regular training and we started doing “double sessions” on Saturdays: doing plyo and on-skates training from 10a.m. to 12p.m. and then having a couple of hours off and then scrimmaging from 2 to 5p.m. to replicate tournament play and needing to be able to play multiple games on one day.
Plus, we had arranged to play a practice match against Duke City Derby as a warm up game prior to the tourney. We trained with them on the Tuesday and then had a closed door bout against them on the Wednesday. This was a super awesome way to get the jitters out, and had the increased plus of being at altitude (with jet lag!), so was great pre-tourney training!
As for the VRDL fans in the crowd at the tournament…I think we must have recruited some along the way. Either that or we have really loud voices!!!! We only had about three leaguemates make the trip over as part of extended holidays, plus whichever two skaters from our roster weren't playing, and they led the cheer squad. We also had two sets of proud parents there from our skaters who are American, Ruby and Smashin' Pop.
Do you have a special message to your fans?
Wow! Thanks for coming along for the ride! For those that were there from the early Puckhandlers (our old bout venue) days and have followed us to the Showgrounds, we couldn't be doing the amazing things we get to do without you. Everyone who comes to a game for the first time always comments on what a diverse, fun, and friendly crowd we have. Thanks for supporting us and “getting” what we do!
Is there any other information that you would like to share with wftda.com?
We have our second national championship (The Great Southern Slam) coming up in June this year – hosted again by the amazing Adelaide Roller Derby – where we will be defending our title. So keep an eye out on DNN for the streaming, or better yet…donate to DNN’s fundraising drive to get them over here. DNN have been instrumental in assisting roller derby in Australia. Without being able to watch footage from U.S. bouts, God knows what our game would look like!
We love having guest skaters come and visit, so if you are ever in our neck of the woods, please get in touch! And of course if your team is interested in playing some international derby, we’d love to make some magic happen!
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Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.