Featured League: Calgary Roller Derby Association

Calgary Roller Derby Association  knows how to keep its eye on the prize. They first qualified for the WFTDA Division 2 Playoffs in Lansing, in 2016, entering as the fifth seed and snatching First Place before coming in third in the Division 2 Championships in Portland. This season they’ve upped the ante, qualifying for the WFTDA Division 1 Playoffs, in Malmö, Sweden. Read on to learn how Calgary fosters the unity and cooperation that shines through in their gameplay. Then make sure to follow their maple-donut-fueled antics as they continue to raise funds and train hard in anticipation of their first D1 Playoffs.


Where are you located?
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

When was your league formed?

When did you graduate from the Apprentice Program?
December 2013

When did you join the WFTDA?
January 2013

How many skaters/teams do you have?
We have about 50 skaters on three house teams and two travel teams.

How is your league structured (home teams, travel team, management)?
All skaters may be on a house team and skaters may choose to be travel-team exclusive. When fresh meat pass their benchmarks, they join Smash Squad until they’re drafted. House teams can pick up Smash Squad skaters for their games, though the goal is to draft them and get them bonding with a house team as soon as possible. B-Team and A-Team tryouts happen throughout the season.

Photo by Chris Edwards

How does your season run?
Our home team season runs from April to June. Our teams practice every month of the year, typically with decreased practice time in July, August, and December.

How many days a week do you practice? How are your practices divided/organized among your teams/skaters?
In the midst of the season we have two league practices and 1–2 team practices per week. Each house team has practice on a rotation, meaning one practice every 3–4 weeks. We have a league scrimmage twice a month. Our focus on league practices ensures we have enough skaters at all practices, while still allowing for team time in order to get that chemistry. Switching to more league practices several years ago was in part about being practical, but it was also a way to develop the personal bonds and familiarity within our A-team and amongst all league members.

What are your biggest training challenges?
In recent years we’ve come to realize the huge benefits of practicing as a league more often. Our biweekly league practices now encompass a range of skill levels, from our rookies who have passed benchmarks to our veterans and travel team skaters, so every league member gets a chance to practice with everyone else. While this league practice structure has allowed us to share strategies amongst the three house teams and two travel teams, the natural gap in skill between newer and more veteran skaters means that our trainers needs to adapt practices in order to make them valuable for as many people as possible. We’re grateful to have developed strong trainers and to have an excellent venue which, despite its sticky floor, has a permanently-drawn track — woo hoo!

Apart from that, we sometimes struggle to find the right fit in our house team opponents. We want competitive games that are also fun and a learning opportunity for both ourselves and our opponents, but the leagues of Alberta and Western Canada are so spread out that we sometimes need to entice far-off teams. We even had a British Columbia team fly to play us this past season; others have driven more than 10 hours.

Photo by Quick n’Derby

Tell us about your training facilities.
The gym at West Hillhurst Community Association is pretty great. When they put in a new floor a few years ago, they consulted with us to include a derby track along with the floor hockey, basketball, tennis lines, etc. It’s a little sticky, which gives us that extra endurance skating boost every single practice. It also has air conditioning and Wi-Fi so we really can’t complain.

Where do you hold your public games?
Triwood Community Arena. The concrete floor is great to skate on (once the ice machines have warmed up) and it fits more than 500 fans.

What are the closest WFTDA leagues to you?
E-Ville Roller Derby (Edmonton, Alberta, D2 team) is about a three hours’ drive north. Terminal City (Vancouver, British Columbia, D1 team) is a 15-hour drive or 90-minute flight away.

Who is your biggest rival? And have you had any outstanding, memorable moments when you’ve played them?
A fire was lit under us when we got the chance to play a rematch against Blue Ridge this year at ECDX after they beat us at D2 Champs in 2016. We were also excited to play a rematch against Wasatch in Tucson in April (they beat us at Skate to Thrill in 2016 and we missed playing them in Lansing Playoffs). Knowing a team brings a whole new dimension to a game and sometimes it’s the team with the better mental game that comes out on top.

Last year you participated in WFTDA D2 Playoffs for the first time and now, one year later, you’ve been invited to the WFTDA D1 Playoffs! What can you share about your league’s goal-setting strategy and how you’ve been preparing to meet your goals this season?
In 2016, the All Stars set a goal to go to D2 Championships. That felt pretty huge and a lot of us considered it a stretch goal to even make D2 Playoffs. This year, we had a goal to do better — whatever that may mean. We had a lot of change in the roster and wanted to prove that we weren’t just one-trick ponies. We’re the dark horse. Our coaches said from the outset this year that everyone would be expected to raise their game, to come to practice with the goal of being the best person on the track — recognizing that this was the best way to make the team grow. We’ve learned never to take our successes for granted and to play each game one jam at a time. It sounds like a cliché, but focusing on the game as it happened without worrying about who we would play next was key for us in Playoffs last year and it will be key again in Malmö.

Photo by Chase Diem

What are some of the unique challenges of your home town?
For a long time the closest WFTDA team to us has been Terminal City — it’s only recently that we’ve caught up to them in WFTDA rankings and that E-Ville has entered D2. E-Ville’s rise is fantastic news for WFTDA teams in Western Canada and we have no doubt it will help to raise the calibre of competitive play in our part of the world. International travel gets extremely expensive so we have to be strategic about which tournaments we go to — Are there international airports so we can get a direct flight and not have to take extra time off work? Are hotel rooms reasonably priced? Do we need to rent cars for the whole team? Will we get to play opponents who can potentially improve our ranking? We’re still picking up our jaws off the floor over the generosity of our fans, friends, and family and their donations to get us to Sweden.

Photo by Jim Dier

Who are some of your star skaters on the track, and why?
We expect every member of the All Stars to contribute with heart and soul every time we’re on the track — and they do. As a huge bonus this year, we have four skaters who have been practicing and playing with Team Canada and that additional experience playing with some of the best skaters our country has to offer this sport has contributed to our development as well.

Who are some “behind the scenes” skaters/members who really help your league run?
Our Board of Directors does so much to keep things rolling year-round. We could never give them enough credit, nor could we fully thank all of our committee heads and super-volunteers who always step up to make our league a success. And holy moly, our officials! We know we couldn’t play the game without them. Many of them are at our practices regularly, working on skating skills as well as officiating. Our head ref Squid Vicious just completed his first season in that top role and he is a model of what you want in a ref who is in a leadership position: dedicated, driven, and really in love with roller derby.

You passed the decade mark last year and are now in your eleventh year. Congratulations! In what ways has your league changed over the years and which core characteristics have stayed more or less the same?
Like many WFTDA leagues, we’ve seen our league evolve to increase its athleticism and enter higher levels of competition while never losing sight of the indisputable fun of the sport. A huge change we made about five years ago was switching from our house teams playing each other to playing outside leagues. This helped us bond as a league in innumerable ways. Perhaps the biggest recent change is that we’re now home to a D1 team — this is still mega new for us! We like the idea of bringing back WFTDA experience to Alberta and Western Canada and spreading the love through bootcamps and training opportunities. One of the All Stars fundraisers this year to help fund the trip to Malmö is running bootcamps; we’re travelling all over the place to visit leagues that see the value in learning from WFTDA vets. At our core, we’re just a league that loves roller derby. We work hard to put on excellent events, to foster the development of our skaters at all levels, and to represent Calgary and Canada wherever we’re travelling.

Photo by Chris Edwards

What are some of your league’s greatest accomplishments?
We’re heading into planning for our next season, which is a prime opportunity to look back at some of our accomplishments as a way to guide our future. Without a doubt, our WFTDA membership was a huge turning point for our league, and sending a team to D2 and D1 Playoffs these past two years is something we’re very proud of. Just as important to us has been establishing CRDA as a premiere roller derby league in Western Canada. We’ve been able to help other leagues gain WFTDA membership (through mock-sanctioned games and help with the application process) and that is a big part of giving back to our roller derby community. We hope to continue being mentors to other leagues around us, increase opportunities to play and learn the game and just generally put more roller derby into the world.

Photo by Joe Mac

Do you have any big events coming up that you are looking forward to in 2017?
Well, there’s this little tournament in Malmö… We’re also launching Calgary Junior Roller Derby this September. We’re looking forward to helping get a lot more skates on feet!

Do you have any video footage from bouts or other events that you would like to share? Please provide a link to the footage and any content for viewers.
Our fundraising videos have been VERY effective at connecting us with our fans and thanking them for their incredible help. Here are some of the most popular: “Canadian Doughnut 5K”; “Crushing a watermelon between thighs”; “All Stars squatting All Stars”; “Pest control by donation”; and “Easy Break Oven jumps 1 foot for every $1,000 raised” (8 feet).

Photo by Hilary Boswell

Who are some of your favorite sponsors?
Our season sponsor Dennis Plintz is a fervent supporter of our entire league and we’re incredibly grateful for his sponsorship and the help his team has given to many of our league members in buying and selling their homes. Additionally, James Rempel is the All Stars’ massage therapist. He has travelled with the team all season (including D2 playoffs in 2016) and without him we’d be battling against airplane neck and charlie horses in addition to our opponents. He makes us stronger and helps us heal faster.

Is there any other info that hasn’t been shared that you would like to include with your feature?
Our online fundraising continues through September! We’ve got some fun and hilarious rewards for when we pass certain benchmarks and we’d love to make them (except maybe those burpees for penalties…).