March 2, 2015
Formed in 2004, the Big Easy Rollergirls have weathered both the metaphorical and literal storms over the years that have tested and fortified their strength. After completing a dynamic season in 2014 that included the league's first trip to the WFTDA playoffs, the Big Easy Rollergirl's are poised for a 2015 filled with as much opportunity and success as bright lights of Bourbon Street. Learn more about this founding league of the WFTDA, the Big Easy Rollergirls.
Where are you located?
We are New Orleans, Louisiana’s original women’s flat track roller derby league. Our games are held at the University of New Orleans Human Performance Center at their lakefront campus, and our practices our held at our warehouse in the Upper Ninth Ward area of New Orleans.
How does your season run?
Our season runs from March or April (depending on when Mardi Gras lands) to July or August.
What are the closest WFTDA leagues to you?
The closest leagues to us are Cajun Rollergirls in Houma, Louisiana; Red Stick Roller Derby in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Mississippi Rollergirls in Biloxi, Mississippi.
How many skaters/teams do you have?
We have two teams: The AllStars and the Crescent Wenches, and a developmental pool of skaters training for team placement, the Marigny Antoinettes. Our league averages around 35-50 league members.
How is your league structured (home teams, travel team, management)?
We have an A/B team structure with the top 20 skaters meeting WFTDA minimums on the charter for the AllStars and the remaining team eligible skaters on the Crescent Wenches. Our remaining skaters are Marigny Antoinettes until they are placed on a team. We also have a co-ed recreational league, the Rec’ing Krewe, that runs sessions year-round. Our officials and volunteers are also a valuable part of our league. We have an Executive Board of 3-5 league members who make sure the league stays in the good graces of the government; a Governance Chair who manages the league goals, bylaws and policies, and runs management and league meetings; 6 managers who head up committees and run our basic operations: Events, Finance, Interleague, Marketing, Membership, and Training; and a Representative at Large who represents the interests of the league in all management discussions. League members elect our management and chairs annually. We have a 2-day management retreat every year to transition to and train new management, set league goals based on our annual league SWOT analysis and surveys, and workshop any new tools or policies we need to accomplish our goals in the upcoming year.
Who is your biggest rival? And have you had any outstanding, memorable moments when you've played them?
Right now our biggest rival is anyone standing between us and the D2 Playoffs. We have not historically had one rival league. In the days of regional play, we frequently played Alamo City Rollergirls, Assassination City Roller Derby, Memphis Rollergirls, and NWA Roller Derby. For the past two years we have developed a relationship with the Texas Rollergirls Firing Squad and the Gotham Girls Roller Derby Manhattan Mayhem and our league looks forward to playing them as often as we can.
Do you have any sister leagues you’d like to give a shout out to? We have had a longstanding relationship with the Mississippi Rollergirls, and one of our early league members, Marquee de Squad, was instrumental to getting them off the ground and into WFTDA membership. We also want to give a shout out to Red Stick Roller Derby and Cajun Rollergirls, and we can’t forget our brother league, New Orleans Brass Roller Derby!
What are the individual challenges of your city?
New Orleans is an amazing and unique city with a lot of events for our small population (approx. 400,000 city, 1.1 million metro). We have festivals almost every week of the year, and there are fantastic events going on every night, which can make it hard to schedule a roller derby bout without a ton of conflicts. We also have a professional basketball league and a professional football league that the city fanatically supports; if there is a Saints game on, nothing else is happening. Additionally, adult social options are abundant. Mardi Gras krewes, dance troops, amateur sports clubs (the local kickball leagues are very popular), all give adults looking for a social and athletic connection a lot of options! We work hard to keep ourselves in the eye of the community by participating in local events like the Running of the Bulls and skating in parades during Mardi Gras. We also like to work closely with local groups and celebrities for cross-promotion and keeping the local flavor in everything we do. We invite the Mardi Gras krewes to our bouts and offer them group rates and we invite the dance krewes to participate in our annual fundraiser, the Solid Gold Dance-Off. Two groups - The Rolling Elvi and Fringe Element - are at every bout, and we have had appearances by groups like the 610 Stompers and the Laissez Boys. We are also excited to host our muse, Big Freedia at our upcoming season opener!
What are your biggest training challenges?
Our biggest challenge has really been isolation, which is not unfamiliar to many leagues. Our nearest competitors within 10 rankings above or below our league are Gold Coast Derby Grrls (about 12 hours drive) and Northwest Arkansas Roller Derby (about 10 hours drive), so travel costs are a big challenge for our skaters. We work hard to update our training as the sport evolves and provide a solid athletic base for our skaters and also keep our practices competitive for all skill levels.
What kind of training/bouting facilities do you have?
We hold our bouts at the University of New Orleans Human Performance Center, where we regularly host crowds of 500-800 fans. Our main practice facility is a warehouse we rent in the Upper Ninth Ward. It was a pretty rough space when we first got in there, but the league has really worked hard to make it our home. We have cleaned, degreased, painted tracks, painted murals, built a bathroom, installed fans, and we recently demolished an old wooden structure and are looking into adding a second track. There is no climate control, so heat related illnesses are a definite concern that we monitor, but thankfully training in extreme heat is good altitude training!
How many days a week do you practice? How are your practices divided/organized among your teams/skaters?
We hold all league practices for 2 hours on Monday night, a 3 hour scrimmage on Tuesday night, and a 2.5 hour practice on Saturday mornings, including 30 minutes of off skates training. Our teams hold practice on Thursday nights. We also host recreational league practices on Wednesday nights, and Brass Roller Derby practices on Sunday mornings.
Who are some “behind the scenes” skaters/members who really help your league run?
Everyone in our league works hard to get things done, particularly our committee managers. There are really too many people to name! A few of our standout behind the scenes people who are always there when we need them are Hennessy Williams, who keeps the place we skate up and running and manages our front of house on game day; Bang Crosby, who has worked with Interleague, WFTDA, Training, and Governance to help our league stay competitive in the sport and as a business; Henry Roll-ins, who has worked for the league on and off the track for as long as any of us can remember; Harmaknee, who overhauled our sponsorship system and made it seem effortless; and NOLA Ebola, who keeps our bodies in one piece and our taxes paid.
Who are some of your star skaters on the track, and why?
Abeata Applebum is a fantastic skater whose agility and ability to learn is phenomenal. Coalminer’s Slaughter is an all-around amazing athlete and really gives us all something to aspire to. BRUTALicious is definitely one of our most feared skaters with her strength, size, and speed. We are also very happy to welcome Neuralize Her, who recently transferred from the Carolina Rollergirls. She is the total package in a skater with strength, speed, smarts, and a boundless love of the sport.
The Big Easy Rollergirls are a proud member of the elite 20 original WFTDA charter leagues. What has it been like to see the WFTDA and roller derby change in the last decade? In what ways has your league changed and evolved with the sport?
We seem to have followed a path similar to that of many leagues. In the beginning, we were young and excited. We wore lip gloss, and boutfits, and skated anywhere we could. We also were very focused inward on roller derby in our city. As roller derby has evolved into a serious amateur sport, so has the league. We put away our boutfits in favor of uniforms and stepped up our training to make sure our skaters are ready for aggressive, athletic competition. We broadened our horizons and got more in touch with the derbyverse by becoming more active in WFTDA, going to tournaments, attending bootcamps, bringing in trainers, and just watching more derby. Our business has also evolved. We are working on our five-year business plan and we have league-wide SMART goals. We want to make sure our league is not just around next year, but is around for the next 10 years.
Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and also stuck at the very start of your league's formation. What steps did you take to rebuild and heal from this terrible natural disaster?
Our league was founded in the spring of 2005. We had about 30 skaters who were practicing and preparing for our inaugural bout in early 2006, and then Hurricane Katrina happened. Approximately 80% of our league had to leave due to loss of homes or jobs or time to dedicate to practice while they were putting their lives back together. With only 8 remaining league members, we were faced with the task of starting our league all over again. Two of our founders, little maSCARa and Cherry Pi, worked tirelessly to secure practice spaces, recruit new members, and do everything they could to keep the league going. Our first season back in 2006 felt like a huge costume party - a frenetic extension of the whole New Orleans comeback post-Katrina. We did it to prove that we were alive and kicking and proud to call NOLA home. We had a lot of aggression to get out. Over time our focus shifted from putting on a show to really focusing on the athletics and the team-building aspect. It took us a few years to find the right balance and to come into our own as a league dedicated to playing better derby and competing on a larger scale. Making it to D2s last year was a huge triumph for the league after years of struggling to define our goals and make a mark. As the sport keeps growing and evolving, we realize that we are not just working for ourselves but also for all our Gulf South derby sister leagues and for all the retired BERG skaters who came before us and built this league up from scratch.
Last year was an incredible year for the Big Easy Rollergirls, culminating with your first time competing in the WFTDA playoffs. What was the experience like and how are you preparing to get back to the Playoffs in 2015?
We had a 2-year league-wide plan to get to D2 playoffs. We worked hard in 2013 and 2014 and scheduled carefully to reach our goal. It took a lot of time and hard work and number crunching, but it paid off as we watched our team climb from 98 to 48. When we saw the rankings, we were not surprised, as it was all part of our plan, but we were ecstatic! Seeing our hard work and planning pay off was exhilarating, but we knew we had to work that much harder to prove that we belonged and were not a rankings fluke. The support we received from our league, our fans, and our community was amazing. We truly could not have made it to Duluth without them. We have our eyes on D2 Playoffs again this year. We scheduled carefully and are playing some tough opponents. We have team goals for the year and are working tirelessly to perfect our plays and advance our skills. We just had a group return from Camp Elite in Austin and we cannot wait to implement the skills they are bringing back to the league.
You can't be from New Orleans and not love to party! We understand you just finished up Carnival season and Mardi Gras: how do the Big Easy Rollergirls prepare for a party parade?
Parades in New Orleans are unlike anything else. For starters - you need throws. We order cups with our season schedule, light-up blinky rollerskates, character rubber ducks (this year was unicorns), beads with our season schedules attached and extra special hand-made items like glitter covered wheels! Costuming is essential. Countless hours and dollars are spent collecting, preparing, customizing, sewing and glittering each costume just right. Hydration, snacks and gear all have to be packed and accessible because skating in a parade can take anywhere from 5-10 hours and often happens on work day. Skating the route, especially at night, is hazardous as our roads are not always the smoothest or the most well-lit. There are times that you just have to trust your skills and move forward because you can’t see anything but the crowds! We are very lucky to have a dedicated krewe of volunteers and officials willing to walk the parades and sweep away the beads and debris and keep us safe.
Do you have any big bouts coming up that you're really looking forward to? Why?
Detroit! They were the toughest team we faced, and yet the most gracious afterwards. We knew it was an honor to play them and everyone was thankful for the experience. When they agreed to come to New Orleans, we were thrilled.
How does your league give back to the community?
We love our city and being active in the community is incredibly important to the league. We hold a raffle at bouts that we share with a local charity. Recently we have worked with the New Orleans Women’s Shelter, NOLA HAMPfest (HIV/AIDS Awareness Music Project), NOLA Habitat, and Metropolitan Center for Women and Children. We also participate in community events like Krewe of Muses, Pontchartrain, Excalibur and Barkus parades, Freret Market, Algiers Folk Art Festival, Crescent City Classic 10K, Youth Run Nola, Girls on the Run , and the insanely popular Running of the Bulls (San Fermin in Nueva Orleans).
Do you have any big fundraisers coming up?
Our annual fundraiser - the Solid Gold Dance-Off - will be Friday, April 3. This will be the third year we hold the event that is part dance competition between the city's top krewes and part dance party for everyone in attendance.
Who are some of your favorite sponsors?
We have been extremely fortunate in building longstanding supportive relationships with members of our community, such as Shoemaker Chiropractic, Freret Market, Faux Pas Prints, Juan’s Flying Burrito, and Finn McCool’s Irish Pub. Further, we are excited to announce our new 2015 Lead Jammer Sponsor, Smokecignals.
Do you have a special message for your fans?
Thank you so much for your support throughout the years! We cannot wait to kick off season nine with Big Freedia as our special guest filming the music video for “Dangerous!” Laissez les bons temps rouler!
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Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.