November 1, 2012
Hailing from a city known for its “Big 3” sports teams, the Atlanta Rollergirls have worked hard to elevate the profile of roller derby within their community. With sold-out home games and features in the sports section of local news broadcasts, ARG boasts a robust fan base that will no doubt be out in droves to support ARG’s own Dirty South Derby Girls as they compete in the 2012 WFTDA Championships. Read on to learn more about how the Atlanta Rollergirls are preparing to not only compete, but also show their unique brand of southern hospitality to the derby world, on November 2nd, 3rd, and 4th.
What city are you based in?
Atlanta, Georgia. No one in Atlanta EVER calls it “Hotlanta.” Natives may call it “Ad-LAH-na,” and many of us refer to our fair city as “The ATL” or “The A.”
How does your season run?
Our season officially starts in January when practices resume full schedules, but our home season starts in February and runs through September (we host doubleheaders every month). Holding two bouts at a time gives us the opportunity to build home team rivalries and affiliations among our fan base, as well as invite teams from other cities to play against our A and B teams. Generally, we have fewer practices, meetings, and obligations in October, November, and December. However, our chartered all-star team – the Dirty South Derby Girls – may play travel games and/or tournaments beyond our home season.
What are the closest WFTDA leagues to you?
The Classic City Rollergirls (Athens, GA) are 45 minutes away, the Tragic City Rollers (Birmingham, AL) are 2.5 hours away, and the Dixie Derby Girls (Huntsville, AL) are 3.5 hours from Atlanta.
How many skaters/teams do you have?
We held our first bout in 2005 and had three teams (about 36 skaters). We have grown a lot since then. We now have 70+ active skaters on four home teams and three travel teams. We also have a strong base of active retirees.
Our Rec League was recently named Best Recreational League in Atlanta! The Rec League is in its inaugural year and involves retired skaters and female derby fans who love skating and blocking, as well as ladies who may want to try out for ARG in the future.
How is your league structured (home teams, travel team, management)?
We have four home teams: Apocalypstix, Denim Demons, Sake Tuyas, and Toxic Shocks; and three interleague teams: the WFTDA-chartered all-stars (Dirty South Derby Girls [DSDG]), our B-Team (The Rumble Bs), and our C-Team, (The Jukes of Hazzard).
To be active in our league, a skater must be a member of a home team or a member of our all-star team. Skaters can also choose to be a member of both a home team and our all-star team. Members of our B-team and C-team must also be members of a primary home team.
Our all-stars, DSDG, play both at home and travel throughout the US to play other WFTDA member leagues. Our home teams bout at home against each other for a “city championship” title, and each home team travels once a year.
Our B-team could be considered a feeder team for our all-star team. They bout against other leagues' home teams, as well as other leagues' B-teams and all-star teams. Our C-team is reserved for our developing skaters and only bouts against home teams of smaller/younger leagues. They are a travel team only, i.e., they do not bout at home.
As for the management of our league, the Atlanta Rollergirls is an LLC owned and operated by the skaters, and every active skater and active retiree has a voice in the running of our league/business. We are led by our board of directors, better known as Heads of Skate, which is composed of active skaters and active retirees, and important business and organizational issues are voted on by the entire league.
Please tell us about ARG's relationship with the Atlanta Derby Brats.
While the Atlanta Derby Brats are a separate organization as far as paperwork goes, the Atlanta Rollergirls have fully committed to help foster the growth of the young participants of the junior league. Both current and retired skaters volunteer to assist with the training and administration of our juniors. We also share practice space with them and participate in promotional events together. Like many leagues, our hope is that the skaters of today’s Atlanta Derby Brats become future skaters of Atlanta Rollergirls. For that to happen, we need to give them the foundation and support they need to get there.
We’re really excited that Atlanta’s Brats (along with skaters from Nashville Junior Roller Derby and Tampa Derby Chicks) will be skating at WFTDA Championships on Saturday to wrap up their 2nd season. It’s an amazing opportunity for them to not only watch the talent of so many strong role models, but also to taste the excitement and thrill of skating in front of the world! We hope this experience will instill in them a desire to work hard and grow as athletes to become the skaters that juniors of tomorrow look up to. While seeing younger versions of ourselves out there may seem “cute,” these girls are in it to win it. They take derby as seriously as adult rollergirls. And we love it!
Who are the Atlanta Rollergirls’ biggest rival? And have you had any outstanding, memorable moments against them when you bouted?
Our biggest rivals are probably Kansas City Roller Warriors and Nashville Rollergirls. Due to travel costs, we haven’t been able to play Kansas as much as we would like. However, every time we have played them, we left the track feeling challenged to perform at our highest level, as the 2012 South Central Region Playoffs' game proved.
We’ve played Nashville numerous times and had both wins and losses at home and away. The game against them at the 2011 South Central Region Playoffs was particularly devastating to us, but when it came down to it, NRG was stronger and better prepared than we were. They definitely deserved that win. This year, we happened to come out ahead in regional playoffs, but we expect Nashville will continue to challenge us in the future. And we look forward to meeting them on the track again soon.
Do you have any sister leagues you’d like to give a shout out to?
When we started in late 2004, most of the founding WFTDA leagues were in the Southwest or Northern parts of the United States, which made it somewhat difficult to gain firsthand knowledge of skating skills, league management, and bout production. Carolina Rollergirls (Raleigh, NC) were the closest to us at six hours away, and were really supportive and willing to share information and training (we attended their first bout a few months before we held our first one), as well as floor/couch space when we traveled there. Dixie Derby Girls (Huntsville, AL) were nearby for early interleague experience and camaraderie. Tampa Roller Derby was soon road tripping to our bouts, and we loved visiting the beach. We’ve had a great relationship with Tampa, and they’ve had a huge part in shaping us as a WFTDA league.
Early on, both the Texas Rollergirls and Arizona Roller Derby (specifically Hydra and Ivanna S. Pankin), were geographically distant, but instrumental in helping us work through issues and stumbling blocks in establishing our league. Really, all of those early leagues near the founding era of the WFTDA feel like sisters to us; we saw them at national meetings or “talked” to them online. It’s great to see that tradition of helping each other grow and succeed has continued throughout the derby world as it’s grown.
As a founding member league of the WFTDA, what has it meant to your league to see the explosive growth in roller derby? How has ARG grown and changed in that time?
For us, the explosion has been empowering. A lot of leagues have a similar “grandma is talking” narrative of looking back at our humble beginnings and never expecting this type of growth in eight years: from 12 women practicing crossovers during afterhours at a skating rink, to hosting the top 12 teams in the world at one of the biggest venues in our city. Starting this league with an untested business model really challenged ARG’s OGs (founding members) to think outside the box to come up with creative marketing, fundraising, and recruitment/training strategies. That initial investment of blood, sweat, tears, and time is why our league is able to enjoy such a large and very active retirement community. As a league, we strive to face issues head on, nip problems in the bud, and keep our focus on the big picture. We want to stay sharp, not getting too comfortable or complacent in our systems and processes—just like on the track, push, push, push to grow our business and make a better “product” for fans. Successfully balancing proven “best practices” of organization building, while staying flexible, creative, and fun creates a well-oiled machine that (we hope) keeps running forever.
We see the WFTDA as a macrocosm of our DIY league story. Watching the courtship between sport, business, and sisterhood blossom into a marriage is thrilling. As a league we understand that keeping our goals aligned with the WFTDA helps us navigate through the business side of things to focus on playing the game we love. We plan to always be actively involved in shaping the WFTDA and do our part to spread the derby gospel locally.
Atlanta Rollergirls' very own Alassin Sane began her term as WFTDA President in May of this year. Thank you for sharing her! What does it mean for ARG to have one of your own skaters in this important position?
“Lass,” as we call her, has been an unstoppable derby force in Atlanta since she joined us in 2008. Her enthusiasm and spirit make her a natural leader and we’re thrilled that she’s now part of the WFTDA Board. We are very proud of her and very proud to have an Atlanta Rollergirl serving in such an esteemed position. It’s important to our league to continue to help foster the growth of flat track roller derby and we’ve had many skaters on various committees within the organization. Having one of our best and brightest as the President of WFTDA is SUPER, thanks for asking!
We are also pleased that having a skater serve in a major WFTDA position was part of our 5-year plan that we devised two years ago...along with getting our own practice space, hosting a championship tourney, and playing in a championship tourney. All of which we have accomplished in this year, three years ahead of our goal.
What are the individual challenges of your city?
Sometimes it seems we are competing with so many other fun events! There is always something good to do on a Saturday night in Atlanta, whether it’s another sporting event, a great concert, or an art or music festival. Although we have a strong fan base, we rely on a great bit of grassroots cross-promotion and word-of-mouth advertising by our skaters. However, it seems that, in recent years, the Atlanta Rollergirls have really made their mark in the local media scene. We have gone from being covered in the entertainment edition of the local news broadcasts and newspapers, to being featured in the sports editions, and, this summer, we even had a local TV station broadcast their sports recap LIVE from one of our bouts.
Which leads us to this...from a sports angle, Atlanta has a lot of college sports fanatics (mostly because many alumni tend to relocate here). We lost our hockey team (Thrashers) last year, and our city seems to have a reputation for “fair-weather fans” being consistently disillusioned with the three big teams (Braves, Hawks, Falcons), which are the main focus of the sports fans, media, and sponsors in this city. That’s kind of a shame, because we have a great women’s football team (Xplosion), women’s rugby (Harlequins), and WNBA (Dream). We also have a lot of amateur/semi-pro sports leagues (from roller hockey, kickball and softball, to wheelchair basketball) that really deserve attention, but our city has a reputation for living and dying by the ups and downs of the “Big 3”, which is not really representative of the diversity of sports in our city. We are definitely trying to change that dynamic.
What are your biggest training challenges?
The two biggest challenges we've had in the training program for Atlanta have been maintaining both sides of our program—training our incoming skaters and also staying internationally competitive. We've had the enviable problem of full-roster home teams and a lot of competition for interleague play, so the bar for rookies goes up every year. We've had to add a C-team and a Rec League to continue to provide training and opportunities to play at all levels. Meanwhile, as a relatively geographically isolated league, we've had to be aggressive about bringing in outside training and learning all we can when we travel. Atlanta's been great about giving training the resources it needs—both financially and in womanpower—and it's really shown in our growth the past couple of years.
What kind of training/bouting facilities do you have?
In March of this year, Atlanta Rollergirls realized our dream to have a practice facility of our own, albeit, one without air conditioning! With the success of our search for a space came the flexibility to have as many practices as we want and the ability to train at any time. Leasing “HQ” has allowed our travel teams to work together more often; creating stronger team bonds. We’ve also been able to host workshops and events that we otherwise may not have been able to work out at our former practice space. It was a long and arduous process but the payoff was well worth the work!
We have bouted, and sold out, at the Yaarab Shrine Center Auditorium since our 2008 season. The Shriners are a great group to work with—they are very supportive and always accommodating. Our home venue is located in midtown Atlanta and has offered us a lot of exposure that we didn’t have in our original location in Stone Mountain (2005-07). Also, we have plenty of courtyard space for vendors and entertainment.
How many days a week do you practice? How are your practices divided/organized among the league teams?
League practices are held four times a week, and skaters are required to attend a certain percentage of league practices per month. DSDG practices weekly and our other teams practice, on average, two times a month. We have speed and endurance practice weekly with our amazing World Champion Speed Skating Coach, Jim Blair. Having our own space also allows us to share practice times with the Atlanta Derby Brats, the recently formed Atlanta Roller Derby Rec League, and the even more recently formed Atlanta Men’s Roller Derby. We’re doing derby every day in the A-T-L!
We understand that some of the ARG had an opportunity to be extras in a recent episode of Necessary Roughness. Please tell us about this experience. Has it helped to highlight your league in your area?
Our league benefited from being on the show through community exposure and reaction. Being on Necessary Roughness has helped to show the "on the fence" derby fan that we are credible (television credible), or at the very least interesting enough to hold an audience's attention for 43 minutes. For the potential fan who has never seen roller derby, the show proved to be a terrific icebreaker, giving strangers the courage they needed to ask anything and everything about the sport, because they at least have an image in their mind of what we’re talking about when we tell them about the sport we love. For the die-hard fans, being on Necessary Roughness just confirms their genius for being in-the-know before we were cool enough for TV.
Who are the "behind the scenes" skaters who make your league run?
Really every member of this league is a “behind the scenes” skater. Of course there are some members who take on more responsibility than others, but for the most part, we are very fortunate to have a league that works really hard to make all aspects of the business run smoothly and effectively. Each skater accepts a committee job when they join a team, from bout logistics to marketing or merchandise committee. Our board of directors is called “Heads of Skate” (H.O.S.) and they play a huge part in making sure everyone is responsible and does their jobs properly, as well as making the day-to-day business decisions that keep us moving forward. We also have a very large group of volunteers that we are so thankful for. In particular, our referee and NSO staff, who are are very dedicated and serious about derby. They are simply outstanding. We have an incredibly talented group of refs, including many that have earned WFTDA certification ranging from NSO level 2 to referee level 4. As a league that has to travel a good deal to get the kind of games we want to play, we are always so thankful for our officials' knowledge and commitment.
Who are some of your star on-track skaters and why?
While it is no surprise to anyone that our newly acquired member, Wild Cherri, has been invaluable to us as a league on and off the track, DSDG has improved tremendously this season due to the commitment and dedication from the entire team. Some stand out players on the track for DSDG are The Merchant of Menace (winner of the jammer MVP for this year’s South Central Region Playoffs), Alassin Sane, Queen Loseyateefa, Switchblade Siouxsie, and our rookies Jammunition and Ozzie Kamakazi.
All of our players are forces to be reckoned with on the track. They are world-class jammers and blockers that could go toe-to-toe with many other players in the WFTDA. It is really difficult to talk about a few DSDG players without singing the praises of all of our skaters. In addition, DSDG leadership has worked to restructure training and the way we strategize, resulting in all around better play. DSDG, as a whole, has worked really hard to get to where we are now and ARG couldn’t be more proud.
Atlanta Rollergirls are a member of the WFTDA’s South Central region. What do you think are the benefits and challenges of being in the South Central region?
The Southeast part of the South Central region has been very geographically separated, especially in the early years, which means that leagues must travel pretty far to play against other leagues or share best practices. We’ve seen a number of smaller leagues pop up in this area, and not all of them have had staying power due to league splits, etc. Another challenge for the South Central region is that it’s composed of mostly warm-weather states. It seems that cold-weather regions spend their childhood on the ice, figure skating or playing ice hockey. People from warmer regions usually spent their childhood in the water, riding bicycles, or other outdoor activities.
However, there are lots of great benefits to being part of the South Central region. This region boasts not only the founders of modern flat track derby in the Texas Rollergirls, but also two past WFTDA champions (Texas and Kansas City Roller Warriors). Along with those perennially talented leagues, there’s also an incredible amount of talent in this area among teams that haven’t been top competitors in the past, but that are quickly making names for themselves. It was very exciting to see Tallahassee Rollergirls and Jacksonville Rollergirls make the South Central Region Playoffs for the first time this year and to know that there are several other teams (Blue Ridge Rollergirls and Mid Iowa Rollers come to mind) that are knocking on the door of the top 10. The depth of competition in the region grows by leaps and bounds every year, and we all have to step up our game as a result. Also, there’s a real camaraderie among South Central teams. In-region games, local tourneys, and Region Playoffs are always such fun! “South Central High School Football Rules!!!!”
The Dirty South Derby Girls, delivered an outstanding performance at this year's South Central Region Playoffs, and especially against the Texas Rollergirls' Texecutioners in the final game. Congratulations! What did your team learn from that experience?
That we have been doing the right things! We knew at the beginning of the season that we had to go back to square one. We weren't playing smart derby. We were relying too much on individual play, which doesn’t make a winning team. We have worked ALL year to be a defensively strong team, to work together, to simplify our strategy. Our performance at playoffs was very validating. We also learned that, regardless of the size of the stage, the game and how you should play it remains the same. Our season has had its ups and downs, but, as we all know, losing isn’t as cruel a teacher as the disappointment that is felt by not playing your best. We went in agreeing that if we lost, it wouldn’t be because we didn’t play our best. That attitude, our personnel, and our work ethic is what kept us hungry throughout the weekend.
When all is said and done, we believe in ourselves; we trust each other on the track; we win games. We knew we could do this, and we aren't done yet. Just wait...we are only beginning.
By placing second at the South Central Region Playoffs, the Dirty South Derby Girls secured a place at this year's WFTDA Championships, Grits and Glory. Again, congratulations! How is the team preparing for Championships?
We are looking at what we need to work on. Every game we play, win or lose, is a window into what works and what doesn't. We have been practicing twice a week and had a couple of scrimmages with local leagues to help us get ready. We aren't taking a break, we are pushing harder than ever.
In addition to having your team competing at this year's WFTDA Championships, Atlanta Rollergirls' have taken on the huge task of hosting the WFTDAverse for Grits and Glory. Please tell us about what your league has done to prepare for hosting Championships. Who are some of the unsung heroes of ARG who have gone above and beyond to help pull this amazing event together?
Preparing for this tournament has been a lot different than hosting 2009’s Southern Fried Smackdown (South Central Regionals). The scope is much larger! For example we’ve never hosted such a large international audience, the WFTDA has grown to add a Tournament Director and concierges, and we’ve never planned an event in downtown Atlanta (our home venue where we held SFS is in Midtown and is MUCH smaller).
We have a great group of people planning this event: more than 100 volunteers are working on the planning, preparation, and execution of the event. The core committee has been involved since March of this year. The people that come to mind as the crazy three musketeers of this process, though, are Tanya Hyde, Blackie Braless, and Hurtie Gertie. They’ve kept on top of all aspects of the process and have served as the point people for the core committee, as well as for the league, to come to with questions, issues, or ideas. And Harper Lethal has really gone above and beyond to round up and manage all of our volunteers, both from within our league and from other leagues, ensuring that everything runs smoothly the weekend of the tournament.
What are the benefits and challenges for the Dirty South Derby Girls of competing in the WFTDA Championships at home?
Perhaps the biggest benefit of competing in the WFTDA Championships at home is playing to a home crowd. We have wonderful fans, and it’s great to know that they’ll be in the bleachers cheering on DSDG! Another nice benefit is that DSDG skaters will be able to sleep in their own beds and eat in their own kitchens. Let’s face it, there is nothing like the comforts of being home.
Unfortunately, being at home is also the biggest challenge of competing in your own city. It can be difficult to maintain a team mentality when regular, daily life is happening around you. It’s hard to be focused on a game when you’re home and have to do something as banal as take the trash out or feed the dogs.
Knowing that DSDG stood a pretty good chance of going to Championships this year, we did our best to keep the all-star skaters from having any responsibility in the planning or execution of the tournament. We’re fortunate to have a big league with lots of people willing to volunteer their time, so we don’t anticipate that the stress of running the tournament itself will be a problem for the team. DSDG will run their days as if they were in another city with a bunch of fans traveling to see them.
What exciting things do you have planned for this year's WFTDA Championships?
We have many exciting things planned for Grits and Glory.
Who are some of your favorite sponsors?
Many of our sponsors have been with us for the long haul: Spoiled Rotten Pet Sitting and Workhorse Printery to name two. We are so fortunate to have sponsors who seem to enjoy sticking around. One of our most unique and favorite sponsors for the past two years is the Grammy award-winning band, Sugarland. Some of our ARG skaters were even given the opportunity to skate on stage for a song with the band during a sold-out concert in Atlanta. That was pretty exciting! And The Crazy Cuban Sandwich Shop, that dude is CONSTANTLY promoting us to all of his customers, both in-store and online. But, we genuinely love all of our sponsors, including some individual sponsors who help our all-star travel fund. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the support of these fantastic friends.
Do you have a message you'd like to send to your fans?
We absolutely love our fans. We love their dedication, we love their energy, we love their unconditional support. Our fans are not fair weather fans. Our fans are loyal and supportive and completely involved, no matter if we win or lose. Atlanta, we're Taking It To The Streets and we're glad to have you with us. DSDG T.I.T.T.S.!!!
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Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.