Featured League: Steel City Roller Derby

Steel City Roller DerbyBuilt in sports-crazy Pittsburgh in the early days of the WFTDA, Steel City Roller Derby will be kicking off Tournament season Aug. 18-20 as hosts of the 2017 International D2 WFTDA Playoffs and Championships. Read on to learn more about how this hardworking league with steely resolve keeps going strong after more than ten years—and why you should be excited to visit their hometown this month!

Where are you located?
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

When was your league formed?
Early 2006.

When did you join the WFTDA?
January of 2007. Joining the WFTDA was the goal from the very beginning of our league and we worked hard to fulfill all the requirements as quickly as possible.

How does your season run?
Our travel teams are selected at the beginning of each year, in early January. Practices begin shortly thereafter, with competitive play typically beginning in March or April. Our season generally runs through August or September.

How many skaters & teams do you have?
The Steel Hurtin’ is our charter team and the Steel Beamers are our B team. This fall we are excited to be introducing a new team, the Blitzburgh Bombers, which will consist of both veteran and newer skaters and will be a regional traveling team. Our membership is currently around 50-60 skaters with many more league members in the form of officials and non-skating volunteers!

Featured League: Steel City Roller Derby
Photo by Raymond F. Durkin

How many days a week do you practice? And how are your practices divided among teams & skaters?
We currently have practices four days a week. Our Monday and Thursday practices are open to all league members. On Tuesdays and (prior to league practice) Thursdays, the Hurtin’ have a dedicated practice. On Wednesdays, the Beamers have their own dedicated practice.

What are your biggest training challenges?
Our league desires to be very competitive at both the A and B level, but also provides opportunities for anyone who is interested in playing the sport to do so. Those two goals don’t always neatly intersect, so we are continually seeking ways to ensure we are able to address skaters at both ends of the spectrum—from recreational to competitive, and everything in between.

What are the closest WFTDA leagues to you?
We are lucky to have a lot of nearby WFTDA leagues, many of whom we’ve been able to develop great relationships with through mentoring, sharing of officials and trainers, and more. Close by, we’ve got the Ohio Valley Roller Girls in St. Clairsville, Ohio, Morgantown Roller Vixens in Morgantown, West Virginia, and Little Steel Derby Girls in Youngstown, Ohio. Of course, some of our fellow longer-tenured WFTDA leagues like Ohio Roller Derby, Charm City Roller Girls, and Philly Roller Derby are just a drive away!

Who is your biggest rival? And have you had any outstanding, memorable moments when you’ve played them?
Throughout our history we’ve had the opportunity to develop longstanding relationships with a number of teams and have had quite a few exciting moments with them! We may not have one league we would consider our “biggest rival” but Ohio Roller Derby is a league with whom we have a long history and no shortage of memorable moments. After a series of losses to them over multiple seasons, we had an opportunity for redemption at the 2014 WFTDA Playoffs and eked out a close win in a back-and-forth game that came down to the final jam. More recently, we’ve developed a friendly rivalry with our friends across the state at Brandywine Roller Derby! Our first meeting was in 2015 and we’ve played two more times since then—with Steel City currently holding the edge, 2-1. Our game against them in May was the closest and most competitive one we’ve had this season. After a rough start that saw us go down 40+ points, we regrouped, came within four points of tying it up, and ultimately fell by 19. We’re hoping for another opportunity for a rematch next season!

What are some of the unique challenges of your home town?
Pittsburgh is a sports-crazy town, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Yinzers (an affectionate term for the native Pittsburgher) can be obsessive about following their professional sports teams and trying to compete for their attention can be a struggle, like when derby games conflict with hockey playoffs! However, when we entice them out to our games… well, we’ve been able to make quite a few fans for life. Another challenge is that our current venue is located well outside the city proper—it’s a great space for derby but a bit of a drive, and there is no public transportation out that way.

Featured League: Steel City Roller Derby
Photo by Raymond F. Durkin

Tell us about your training facilities.
We practice and compete at the Pittsburgh Indoor Sports Arena (PISA), a multi-use sporting facility located in Harmarville, a suburb about 20 minutes east of downtown Pittsburgh. PISA is a new facility for us this this year. Late in 2016 we were informed that Romp ‘n Roll—the rink at which we’d been practicing since the league’s beginning—was being sold, and worse, would cease operations as a skating venue. With only a few short months to find a facility so we could continue our 2017 season uninterrupted, we began the considerable task of identifying, visiting, and negotiating with potential venues. Luckily for us, at that very time PISA happened to be expanding their facility with a large court addition, which was perfect for our needs. PISA was happy to work with us so we would have a great space for derby, and we couldn’t be more excited about our new home.

Where do you hold your public games?
All of our home games are currently being held at PISA.

Who are some of your star skaters on the track, and why?
The Steel Hurtin’s Captain, Ada Bloodlace, provides calm, encouraging leadership on the track and off. She’s also one of our most versatile skaters, able to turn seamlessly from blocking to racking up points with the star. Pivot/blocker Ally McKill is our longest-tenured player and, fun fact: she has skated in every WFTDA-sanctioned game the Steel Hurtin’ has played. Other pack stalwarts include Bonecrusher, Stark Raven, and Dakota Slamming, all of whom relish their roles making life difficult for opposing jammers. The team is a mix of veterans and up-and-comers who are all dedicated to hard work and having fun on and off the track.

Who are some “behind the scenes” skaters/members who really help your league run?
We’d like to give a shout-out here to our Tournament Co-Heads: Bear and the Kraken. Without the Kraken, D2s would not be in Pittsburgh this year! She was absolutely instrumental in recognizing the opportunity and then working with the WFTDA to make it happen. Bear—who was the first skater to graduate from Pittsburgh’s Derby Brats to the SCRD—has provided leadership, energy, and enthusiasm to the tournament efforts as well. We also can’t pass up the opportunity to mention one of our favorite volunteers: the ever-astute, time management expert, derby and Twitter-famous Coach Dad! Coach of the Steel Hurtin’ and current interleague liaison, Dad’s dedication to the league is unparalleled. Giving up all of his free time that isn’t already dedicated to one of his 15 beer league hockey teams, and enduring a near-endless stream of trolling about a wide variety of subjects with (mostly) good humor and disposition, Dad is one of our favorite people and we can’t imagine where we’d be without him.

Featured League: Steel City Roller Derby
Photo by Raymond F. Durkin

What are some of your league’s biggest accomplishments?
Obtaining membership in the WFTDA less than a year after our league’s formation, participating in the WFTDA Regional and Division Playoff Tournaments each year from 2009 to 2016, placing second in the first International WFTDA Tournament (2011’s inaugural Anarchy in the UK), and being named as a host for the 2017 International D2 WFTDA Playoffs and Championships!

Last year you celebrated your ten year anniversary. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned as a league over the past decade?
We’ve learned the importance of growing and cultivating leadership in different league members. Even the most dedicated and established league members will move on at some point, so it’s important to be able to ensure the business of the league keeps going when they retire or move on to different roles. We stress the importance of everyone playing a role in the operations of the league, and everyone being invested in its success. We’ve also learned the importance of flexibility and adapting to change! Throughout our history, we have undergone several changes to our team/season structure to accommodate the size and membership needs of the league. These are inevitably a source of some controversy, but we’ve learned that change is necessary for growth.

This summer you’ll be hosting the 2017 International D2 WFTDA Playoffs and Championships! What has it been like to prepare for such an event?
It’s been a whirlwind! As the first tournament of the Playoffs season and our first time hosting an event of this magnitude, it’s been near-constant action. It’s great to see the excitement within the league and everyone collaborating to get things done. We greatly appreciate all the guidance offered by the WFTDA’s Tournaments staff, who have been instrumental in helping us prepare.

What would you like to tell first-time visitors about your hometown that they may not know?
The Pittsburgh of today is vastly different from the smoky, heavily industrialized “steel city” of the 1900s. Pittsburgh has cleaned up its act and reinvented itself as a center for learning, technology, and medicine—thanks in part to a number of highly-regarded universities drawing top talent to the city. We’re also regularly listed as one of the most “liveable” cities in the US, thanks to our affordable homes, trendy drinking and dining scenes, and many opportunities for outdoor recreation. We have many diverse neighborhoods that can be explored on foot or by taking public transportation. Don’t miss the funicular or “Incline” that will take you up to Mt. Washington and its breathtaking views of the city. Pittsburgh has a vernacular all its own so yinz might want to study up on “Pittsburghese” before your visit!

Featured League: Steel City Roller Derby
Photo by Raymond F. Durkin

Do you have any big games or other tournaments coming up that you are looking forward to?
The Steel Hurtin’ and Steel Beamers are playing in their last home game of the season on August 5 against Naptown and Salisbury, respectively. After WFTDA Playoffs, we will be looking forward to a debut game for our new class of rookies on September 23!

Who are some of your favorite sponsors?
Shape Training: They train a number of our skaters individually, and also hold derby-focused off-skate training bootcamps that any league member can attend.
Jam ‘n Speed: Our resident skate guru, Doc SK8, who has built custom derby skates for many of our skaters, as well as skaters from all over!
Allcare Health & Rehabilitation: Chiropractic services that many of our skaters swear by!
GNC: Health and wellness products to keep our bodies in top shape.
Edgewood Dental: They keep our smiles sparkling—and custom mouthguards!
Espresso a Mano: Huge derby supporters and best coffee in the ‘burgh!

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