August 2015 Featured League: Burning River Roller Derby

August 4, 2015


The derby world will be watching Cleveland this August 21st-23rd as Burning River Roller Derby hosts the first WFTDA tournament of 2015, the D2 Playoffs. Formed nearly a decade ago, Burning River Roller Derby has continued to evolve and grow with roller derby, including a recent name and logo change to represent more inclusiveness within the sport. Read more about Burning River's plans to showcase their hometown during Playoffs, plus how they are planning for another successful year on the track in 2016.

August 2015 Featured League: Burning River Roller Derby

Photo by JPaden Photography

Where are you located? Cleveland, Ohio

At the start of the year, your league chose to change your name from the "Burning River Roller Girls" to "Burning River Roller Derby." What prompted the change and what has the reception been from fans and sponsors?
The change has been very well received. There were a number of reasons we wanted to change the name. For one, we wanted to be perceived more as athletes rather than just a novelty. After all, are we trying to promote the sport of roller derby, or “rollergirls”? We also have so many members of our league that do not identify as “girls.” As a league made up primarily of adult female skaters, many skaters found the word “girls” to be infantilizing of our group. On top of that, we have a large number of people making up this league who are not female, whether they be our male refs, NSOs, announcers, volunteers, or any members that identify somewhere in between. We wanted to go beyond just being accepting and move towards being truly inclusive in our public identity as well as our policies.

How does your season run?
This year we are trying something new. Previously, our interleague teams and home teams all skated during the same season. This led to challenges being able to schedule bouts and fatigue. This year, we split our seasons: interleague plays January – August, and intraleague bouts are in the fall.

What are the closest WFTDA leagues to you?
Rubber City Rollergirls and NEO Roller Derby in Akron; Glass City Rollers in Toledo, Ohio; Ohio Roller Girls in Columbus; Little Steel Derby Girls in Youngstown, Ohio; Sandusky Roller Girls in Sandusky, Ohio and Steel City Roller Derby in Pittsburgh.

How many skaters/teams do you have?
We currently have about 50 skaters (though tryouts are taking place this month). We have three interleague teams and four home teams.

August 2015 Featured League: Burning River Roller Derby

Photo by Hispanic Attach

How is your league structured (home teams, travel team, management)?
Interleague (travel team): All Stars, HazMat, and Pyromaniacs - all split by level of skill and ability to travel. Intraleague (home teams): Cleveland Steamers, Hard Knockers, Hellbombers, and The Rolling Pin-ups - we use a draft system for these teams.

Who is your biggest rival? And have you had any outstanding, memorable moments when you've played them?
Our All-Stars just came off an almost undefeated season. We were taken down by the awesome skaters from Ann Arbor Derby Dimes, so I guess we can call them our rivals! They were fantastic on and off the track and we'd love to skate against them again.

Do you have any sister leagues you’d like to give a shout out to?
There are so many in the area it is so hard to pick just one! Shout out to Sandusky, Toledo, Rubber City, Steel City, Ohio Roller Girls, NEO & Little Steel!

What are the individual challenges of your city?
Cleveland has a bit of a reputation it has been fighting for years now. Lots of people know about the river that caught on fire, and our league name is even a cheeky throwback to those events. But that was decades ago, and we're so proud of our city and the exciting ways it is thriving. (And the parks and waterways are great and a must-see for outdoor types). There is quite a bit of sprawl in Northeast Ohio, which makes it a challenge to find good centralized bout and practice locations, but we really work hard to get ourselves out there.

What are your biggest training challenges?
This was our first year going to a new league structure, which gave us an awesome opportunity to teach league-wide strategy and best practices. The challenge with this model is the variance of skill level and keeping practices engaging for the higher level skaters as well as teaching basic derby and skating skills to the newer skaters.

What kind of training/bouting facilities do you have?
We moved into a new facility for our interleague season that gave us the opportunity to be extremely flexible with scheduling practices. But during our intraleague season we have two skating rinks in the area that we use for our practices, one of them has even put down a derby track permanently.

August 2015 Featured League: Burning River Roller Derby

Photo by Hispanic Attack

How many days a week do you practice? How are your practices divided/organized among your teams/skaters?
We typically practice 2-3 days per week and also offer an off skate workout once or twice per month.

Who are some “behind the scenes” skaters/members who really help your league run?
Action Jackson - She had to retire from active skating but is still very active with us by Reffing as well as Coaching the All Stars and the HazMat Crew alongside her husband, C-Pain, who also plays for Cleveland's Men’s Roller Derby team, The Guardians. Together their knowledge is endless and they are so supportive of all the players and have an amazing way of offering feedback and solutions to things they see on the track. Star Crash - She ended up retiring as well but has been a very active “behind the scenes” person by helping with so many things. She is a pivotal person in the league and we love and cherish her. She is never allowed to leave us (seriously Star...never!) They both also served on our Executive Board in 2014 and helped pave the way for many of the changes that we have experienced this season.

Who are some of your star skaters on the track, and why?
Maul-ibu Barbie - She is a former speed skater and is simply amazing. Her jamming skills are off the chart and her apex jumps are always on point. ...oooh SHINEE! - She is our double threat, not only is she a phenomenal blocker but a ferocious jammer. She always gives 110% on the track. Tuety Turmoil - New to our interleague teams, Tuety has become a real standout jammer for the HazMat crew, bouncing back up after hard hits twice as fast as women half her age… yeah, she’s 63 years old!

Do you have any big bouts coming up that you're really looking forward to? Why?
Obviously all eyes are on planning the D2 Playoffs right now. But in the fall/winter we host an annual charity fundraiser bout called Black & Blue that is a big hit with the skaters and the fans alike.

Congratulations on being selected to host the 2015 International WFTDA D2 Playoffs August 21-23rd! What motivated you to decide to host this huge event?
First of all, Cleveland is a city on the rise, and we were excited for the opportunity to show it off to our fellow skaters. Second, roller derby is a sport on the rise, so we also want to show it off in a really spectacular way to our city! Third, northeast Ohio and the surrounding areas have a really rich roller derby community, and there is no better teaching tool for up-and-coming skaters than to watch top level roller derby. See what Cleveland has to offer participants and spectators in town for the D2 Playoffs in the WFTDA Fan Central blog's Host City Spotlight.

August 2015 Featured League: Burning River Roller Derby

Photo by Dave Brown

How does your league give back to the community?
Well speaking of our charity bout, each year we align ourselves with a non-profit (usually local) to raise money and awareness for their cause and donate a portion of every ticket sold for Black & Blue. Last year we partnered with the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. We’ll be selecting this year’s charity soon! This year we also have sponsored a local softball team. It’s been so fun to be able to support young athletes, invite them to watch our practices and cheer them on at their games.

Do you have any big fundraisers coming up?
Generally we do smaller fundraisers throughout the year. We have an ongoing popcorn selling fundraiser with our sponsor Campbell's Sweets. We are hosting a car wash fundraiser this month. And then all the focus will be on preparing for the D2 tournament! Our biggest fundraising event is usually our art auction in late winter/early spring.

Who are some of your favorite sponsors?
In addition to Campbell’s Sweets, other major sponsors of ours include: Rapid Mailing Services; VooDoo Monkey Tattoo; Americano: Great Lakes Bistro & Bar; Panini’s Bar & Grill; CLE Clothing Co.; Uber; The Beauty Bar; Paddy’s Pour Haus; Design Monkey, LTD; Spontaneously Combustible Records; CTown Crossfit; Robert H Gray, CPA; Cleveland Exotic Dance; Bolder Bands; Madison Graphics; Next Level Skate shop; & Victoria Stanbridge Photography. They’ve all been incredibly helpful in different ways, whether it is giving us a killer after party location, donating their time to taking our team photos, printing our swag, supporting our website, or giving us a ride home from an after party.

Do you have a special message for your fans?
We love you! So many of our friends and family come to support us, and that is so so wonderful. But it is extra special when you look out into the crowd and see faces of people who were once strangers, but have since become your friends and family through the derby community. <3

Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.