Emerald City Roller Derby hosts one of the sport’s most popular annual tournaments: The Big O, a WFTDA-Recognized Tournament that will broadcast live on wftda.tv May 5-7. Emerald City tells us a little bit about hosting the Big O for the past six years, as well as their recent name change, junior derby league, and more as this month’s Featured League.
Where are you located?
Our league is based in Eugene, OR but our practice and game venue is located in Springfield, OR.
When was your league formed?
We initially formed as Emerald City Roller Girls (ECRG) in October 2006.
When did you join the WFTDA?
We joined the WFTDA ranks during the second flow of teams in June 2007.
How does your season run?
Currently, our season is annual, with breaks in July and December. We run solely on a charter and non-charter team system right now, with tryouts in January/February and the regular season running mid-February through June. After the July break, the charter team, Emerald City All Stars, continue to practice and have more local, non-sanctioned games. The non-chartered team, the Wizards of Quad, play in non-sanctioned games from March through November.
What are the closest WFTDA leagues to you?
The closest leagues are Sicktown Derby Dames in Corvallis, OR and Cherry City Derby Girls in Salem, OR. Outside of an hour and a half drive, we then are approaching a much broader range of teams in all directions. Rose City in Portland is just about a two hour drive from Eugene, for example.
How many skaters/teams do you have?
We currently have five teams under the umbrella of our league, including our junior teams: Emerald City All Stars (charter), Wizards of Quad (non-charter), Emerald City T-Recs (rec program), Emerald City Junior Gems Reservoir Dolls (JRDA, full contact), and Emerald City Junior Gems (modified contact). We have approximately 55 adult skaters (league members and rec skaters), 10 officials (NSO and SOs), and 35 juniors at any given time currently.
How is your league structured (home teams, travel team, management)?
Our league has recently undergone a restructuring due to a change in skater numbers. We have dropped our home teams in favor of charter and non-charter teams (A/B teams) year-round. This has allowed us to re-focus our energy on developing the league as a whole and training strong, confident, efficient skaters at all bouting levels.
Who is your biggest rival? And have you had any outstanding, memorable moments when you’ve played them?
While not the closest in vicinity, our Emerald City All Stars have a special kind of fighting fire when they play Sac City (Sacred City Roller Derby of Sacremento). They’re a good, fun team and our last few games against Sacred have been tight point differentials with ECAS coming out on the losing end, so we really want that win.
What are some of the unique challenges of your home town?
Eugene is a college town. The University of Oregon brings in much of the population, with students and educators. This means that a lot of our recruiting population are somewhat transient and in Eugene for a finite period of time. This makes recruiting and retaining new skaters particularly difficult. The other challenge is simply visibility — Eugene and Springfield are relatively vast city-towns. There are dozens of neighborhoods, each with their own personalities. It has been difficult to reach out to people in Eugene when our practice and game venue has recently moved from the heart of Eugene to the outskirts of Springfield. While the drive to the venue may only be fifteen to twenty minutes away, it makes it surprisingly difficult to recruit public fans to bouts.
What are your biggest training challenges?
The transition from a large league to a small-medium league has lead to a number of organizational and training changes, which comes with its own set of challenges. The biggest challenge we are facing right now is maintaining a balance between a structured learning environment for rookies while also creating a challenging atmosphere for our advanced skaters.
How many days a week do you practice? How are your practices divided/organized among your teams/skaters?
We actually went through a restructuring of our practices this past month. Currently, we offer four practices per week and the number of practices one attends is skater-dependent. Depending on the team they’re on, skaters are expected to meet a certain attendance requirement per month, and we have set up practices so skaters can meet those requirements by attending one to three practices per week. Our rec program holds practices on Mondays and Thursdays, with a one hour off-skates workout on Mondays and a two hour skating practice on Monday and Thursday. Rec practices are also open to league skaters and many league skaters even help with the training for rec. The league teams practice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Every other Tuesday is a scrimmage and the rest are team-focused practices. As of now, we work drills within a top-down, bottom-up skater/team dynamic. The teams split based on skill level and/or roster and work the same drills in two or more groups at the level appropriate for the skaters.
Tell us about your training facilities.
Our training facility is amazing. We train at the Bob Keefer Center for Sports and Recreation (formerly Willamalane Center). This indoor and outdoor recreational facility boasts a climbing wall, weight gym, classrooms and meeting rooms, a multi-field soccer facility, three basketball courts, and three sport-court tracks. The sport-court tracks are permanently lined for roller derby, tennis, and other sports. We rent the space based on tracks, so we can have up to three full-sized tracks at any given time.
Where do you hold your public games?
We hold public games in the same location as we practice, the Bob Keefer Center for Sports & Recreation. We typically rent the entire facility for full-production games and two of the three tracks for low-production games. We are able to have stands, create a beer garden when appropriately licensed, tape the tracks, and have all of the necessary sound equipment.
Who are some of your star skaters on the track, and why?
Spunkee Bruizer is one of the Emerald City All Stars skaters worth highlighting. She matriculated from the junior program as a well-trained jammer, but this season, she has also transitioned into a pivot/blocker role. Her skating style is smooth and efficient with effective, hard hits that make her a force to be reckoned with as an offensive blocker.
Tankerbelle is a Wizards of Quad skater worth highlighting. Tank joined roller derby last January through our rec program. This February, she matriculated into the league after having passed her preliminary minimum assessments. Tank approaches every single practice with tenacity and eagerness to learn. She is a brick wall in the pack and a force to be reckoned with when being braced. Since joining roller derby, she has gone from unable to stand on skates to being a mainstay at all practices, always looking for advice on how to improve and encouraging her teammates at all times.
Who are some “behind the scenes” skaters/members who really help your league run?
Rex Havoc, Zonan the Barbarian, and Alluya R. Doomed are three individuals who our league could not currently run without. All three have served as league president and other vital leadership roles over the years.
Rex is a co-director for The Big O while also working a paying job, being a mother, and acting as Head of Training for ECRD. She also came out of retirement this season to help the All Stars fill their roster needs for sanctioned play. She does everything for the league and truly lives out the league-first mentality we strive for within ECRD, all without the need for thanks.
Zonan has worn a number of hats for the league over the years but is currently our WFTDA forum rep, a head trainer for our rec program, much of the brain behind our Wizards of Quad strategy development, and also a key voice in leadership development. Zonan’s side business (as she is a full time master’s student and preschool teacher) is Roller Derby Solutions, which helps leagues around the globe with leadership development and organizational management. Her tenacity and calm demeanor as a leader has kept our league on track for future growth, while her willingness to fill whatever roles as a trainer/coach or skater has also benefited all of us on the track.
Alluya is our current league president and All Stars coach. If time allowed, Alluya would wear every single hat to attempt to single-handedly maintain the league. Instead, she has learned to delegate in order to focus on league growth and coaching the All Stars, while also managing the social media for the Big O.
What can you share about your relationship with the Junior Gems?
Like many junior teams, our Junior Gems are trained/coached by current or former league skaters. The Reservoir Dolls, the full contact, co-ed travel team, consists of a dedicated, competitive bunch of young adult skaters with a true fire for derby. Many of these skaters grew through our modified contact program. It has been a privilege watching them grow over the years and compete at the JRDA National Championships in 2016. We have had a handful of juniors stay in the Eugene area after high school and matriculate into the adult league, which has been a unique and rewarding experience. For example, one of our All Stars was first taught to skate in elementary school by our Head of Training and fellow teammate.
Last year your league joined the wave of established teams renaming and re-branding to reflect a more inclusive community and membership. How did the decision to change your league’s name start and why was this so important for you to do?
Our original name, Emerald City Roller Girls, closes doors for many people within the roller derby community. One of the things that keeps the roller derby gears in motion is the fact that we are not only an all-inclusive environment, but that we rely on and value all different perspectives and peoples. It is something that we value as an organization, and we recognized the need to use language that reflected that: a name that is inclusive for all genders and non-binary identifying members and future members. We decided that the “girls” in our league name did not accurately represent the whole of the roller derby community, so we rebranded ourselves to Emerald City Roller Derby.
What are some of your league’s biggest accomplishments?
Staying a league! We’re in our 10th year and we’ve gone through some ups and downs as far as member numbers go and though changes in derby as a whole. We are still on the uphill climb but we’re staying the path and working out how we can grow and maintain our league over the next 10 years to come.
We are also really proud of our Big O tournament, which is going on its 6th year. The Big O started as a fundraiser and tournament opportunity for our All Stars but has since flourished to be one of the biggest, early season tournaments around. We are proud that we are able to bring in some of the top teams around the globe and continue to grow each year.
Our 2015 trip to D2 Playoffs in Detroit was also a huge accomplishment for us as a league, but especially for our All Stars team. We worked hard to develop our skaters, strategy, and overall level of play to get us there and we are eager to grow a new team to get to playoffs again.
There are some pretty exciting matchups at the Big O this year! What are some of the big games fan should look for on wftda.tv? Are there any events that fans/skaters attending the Big O should be sure to check out?
Do we have some mind-boggling matchups for you all! Our Big O schedulers played the cards perfectly this year.
Friday night at 8 p.m. (PDT) is a HUGE WFTDA game. The current ranked No. 1 Victoria is taking on the world champs for two years in a row, Rose City, and you do not want to miss it! At 4 p.m. on Friday we will have Texas vs Denver in an equally exciting, Playoff-worthy game. All day Saturday we will be broadcasting even more high-level games, including Victoria vs Arch Rival, Minnesota vs Texas, and Rose City vs Denver.
In the men’s bracket, we have current No. 1 St. Louis taking on No. 5 Puget Sound on Saturday evening at 6 p.m. On Sunday, No. 8 New York Shock Exchange will face off against Vancouver Murder on one track while St. Louis is finishing up their game against No. 3 Bridgetown from Portland.
The JRDA teams also have fantastic match-ups happening all weekend long, including our open division Emerald City Reservoir Dolls taking on the open division Angel City — a rematch from last year’s female division JRDA championships.
Really, just keep your screens tuned in to all three tracks all weekend long because the schedule is full of playoff-worthy games!
On Thursday night, before the games begin, be sure to join us at 6 p.m. at Ninkasi Brewing for a kickoff party that will include raffles and the opportunity to meet other skaters and fans. Our raffle, which will be happening all weekend long at the Big O, will include the chance to win brand new skates from one of our sponsors, passes to RollerCon, and much more. The best part is that a percentage of all raffle sales will support the Girls on Track Foundation.
Do you have any big games and/or other tournaments coming up that you are looking forward to in 2017?
Our Emerald City All Stars are looking forward to their games in June, with the first against Lava City. Our Wizards of Quad have a number of games lined-up over the next few months, including a game in Washington versus the Aftershocks Roller Rebels and a home match-up versus Shasta Derby. In October, we will send the Wizards of Quad up to Centralia, WA for the Knocktoberfest weekend tournament, which should be a fun and challenging tournament.
Who are some of your favorite sponsors?
Some of our favorite sponsors are Ninkasi Brewing Company, DeFunkify — an amazing, nanoscience-based cleaning product for our smelly gear and clothing — The Wayward Lamb, Falling Sky Brewing, Hit This Derby Gear, Cascadian Courier Collective, and the Eugene Weekly. Thank you sponsors for helping us spread the derby love and supporting us!
Do you have any video footage from bouts or other events that you would like to share?
All of our videos, including Big O archives, are on our YouTube page.
Do you have a special message for your fans?
Thank you for all of your support throughout the years! We would not be able to continue playing roller derby in the Eugene area without the continued support of all of our fans, sponsors, and community members. Thank you to everyone who joins us at the Big O each year also. We look forward to wearing green and black for 10 more years!
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