May 9, 2013
2012 was the year that the Gent GO-GO Roller Girls really "flipped the switch" from newbie in the roller derby world to big-time competitor, from rookies in tournament play to graduating to full WFTDA member league status! Their current season shows no sign of slowing down the pace set in the previous year. And they are looking forward to hosting Europe’s second WFTDA tournament this month. Read on to learn more about the Gent GO-GO Roller Girls, this month's featured league!
What city are you based in? Gent, Belgium – Europe!
Gent GO-GO Roller Girls--or, as the league members refer to themselves, GO-GO Gent--is Belgium’s first roller derby league. Wow! How did you introduce the sport of women’s flat track roller derby to your country?
It started out with one crazy American ex-pat (Grace S. Melly) with a wild idea, a bunch of adventurous Gent inhabitants, and a former Carolina Roller Girls’ derby skater as a trainer. Throw all that together, add a lot of perseverance to the mix, and that’s how the Gent GO-GO Roller Girls got founded in 2009. Belgium was so ready for it, at first, it was the hot pants that got the attention, but now roller derby is no longer a gimmick. It’s a real sport and here to stay!
What are the benefits and challenges of being the first roller derby league in Belgium?
There are a lot of ups and downs to being the first league in a country, even a small one like Belgium. Being pioneers here made us work hard on being taken seriously, getting venues, funds, etc. We were not only fighting for our league, but also for the sport itself, as in Belgium nobody had even heard about roller derby before 2009.
Our country has not much of a history in skating. The Belgians are not very big on ice hockey or speed skating and such. So one of the first challenges was teaching each other how to skate before we could even start to play derby. We only hosted our first home bout in early 2011, but everything went very fast from there. Where in other sports you first have to be good at something before you get to travel and play abroad, we had to travel internationally to be able to bout. It made us very ‘exotic’ in the eyes of non-derby folks.
Luckily we had Julie Jawbreaker as one of the founders. She’s a former skater for the Carolina Roller Girls, now living in Gent. She pointed us in the right direction and gave us a head start compared to other emerging leagues.
The derby virus was easily spread and soon leagues were popping up all over Belgium. We paved the way, but also became ‘big sisters’ to a lot of new skaters. We really enjoyed helping leagues around us, not only in Belgium, but also in the Netherlands and France, too. Our motivation wasn’t entirely unselfish either. We also wanted a competitive derby scene in our neck of the woods. That way we didn’t have to travel so far to bout.
Our next challenge is to make this amazing sport better known to the general public. And make them fall in love, just like we did.
What are the closest WFTDA leagues to you?
During our apprenticeship we had to travel to Berlin, Germany, to visit Bear City Roller Derby or London, England, to visit the London Rollergirls for the closest full member WFTDA league. Paris Rollergirls in France was the closest league that was a member of the WFTDA Apprentice Program. Now, the wonderful Antwerp One Love Roller Dolls are a WFTDA apprentice league and they’re only half an hour’s drive away from us. The closest full members are still London and Berlin.
How does your season run?
Our season kicks off in August, after a one-month summer break. It’s divided into two parts, with a two-week break at Christmas to reload the batteries and celebrate the holidays. Both our A-team and B-team play all year long, whenever they can. We try to organize a Fresh Meat Intake once per semester and end our season at the end of June in style: with an awards ceremony.
How many skaters/teams do you have? 52 skaters
How is your league structured (home teams, travel team, management)?
For our very first home bout, we divided up our players into two home teams:The Mad Megs and the Belles of Mayhem. Logos, team colors, the whole shebang. It was a bit premature though. We realized that having only ten players per team was cutting it a little short. So we abandoned the idea of home teams and focused solely on our A-team, then our only team.
Currently, we have both an all-star team and a B-team (the Cuberdonna’s, named after a delicious candy typical of Gent: cuberdons). With a couple of players shifting between A and B, we manage to get by. Meanwhile, we try to recruit as many skaters as we can through intake events, which take place about twice each year.
Aspiring derby players can prepare for these intakes at Rec.Attack, a recreational roller skating group that is affiliated to our league. Together, we offer a wide range of skating possibilities in Gent, whether you want to play derby competitively or just have fun on skates, we have everything on offer!
Who are Gent GO-GO Roller Girls’ biggest rival? And have you had any outstanding, memorable moments against them when you bouted?
We have a lovely rivalry with Paris Rollergirls and Bear City Roller Derby. The Paris Rollergirls are our ‘historic’ rival, as they started around the same time as we did. We are within driving distance of each other, and have skated with and bouted against each other several times. There’s this “we started out in the same class, but we both want to be the top student” thing going on there.
Bear City Roller Derby (Berlin, Germany) is our competitive rival. They are an athletic inspiration to many leagues in Europe, and one way or another, each time we’ve played them, we managed to take our game up a notch and have a super interesting game for both players as well as the crowd. They beat us the first time, to no surprise, but we coped pretty well for it being one of our first games. When travelling to Berlin, we showed them not to underestimate us, and last November at Track Queens – Battle Royal, the first European WFTDA tournament, we made them realise they had to work to move up in the tournament. It’s a bit like David and Goliath. ;) The bout against them at Track Queens is one of our favourite games ever.
Do you have any sister leagues you’d like to give a shout out to?
We consider all the leagues in the Lowlands (Belgium, the Netherlands, and also parts of France and Germany) as our sister leagues. They are the ones who travel to scrimmages, the ones who come to our bootcamps, and come to support us at bouts, every single time. We really appreciate the relationship we have with them. And a special shout out to One Love Roller Dolls of Antwerp, Freaky Mons’ter, and Brussels Derby Pixies are always there to cheer us on wherever we go #DOETA. (DOETA means, “You can do it.” When Antwerp comes out to support us, they always bring a cartoon with this text on it.)
What are the individual challenges of your city?
Gent is a very vibrant city. There is a lot going on all the time. That also means we have to compete with a lot of cultural and sports events to get a bit of attention and any kind of funding. We found our practice venues quite easily, but appropriate bouting venues are really hard to come by. There are too many competitive teams and sports for way too few venues. But what’s new, right?
What are your biggest training challenges?
As we are a rather small league, we don’t train with that many skaters present. Sometimes this makes it hard to do certain drills or even to scrimmage. Indeed, more often than not, we find ourselves scrimmaging five against five. This, however, brings some advantages as well: more track time, better endurance and stamina, etc. For the same reason, we do not have separate training times for A and B-teams. This can be very stimulating, as A can teach B a lot and vice versa; working with B-players makes our A-players better communicators and leaders on (and off) track. But at the same time, both teams would benefit from training separately too, so that they could work on their own focus points as a team.
What kind of training/bouting facilities do you have?
We are quite spoiled! At first, it was almost impossible for us to book training space/hours. We even had to drive to another city to train! But the last couple of years, the city of Gent has taken to us more and more. We now practice in several of the city’s sports halls. One of our venues is renewing their floor this summer and they’ve consulted with us on what floor is suitable for roller skating. We even get a permanent track on the floor!
How many days a week do you practice? How are your practices divided/organized among the league teams?
We have four practices a week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Friday and Monday are mainly for advanced players--those who have passed minimum skills. Wednesday is Fresh Meat only, and on Sunday we lay two tracks and everyone is welcome.
Who are the “behind the scenes” skaters who make your league run?
Like every league, there are some leading people to keep everything moving, but since our league is so small, everybody pitches in. It’s the only way to be able to get everything done.
One requirement of an active skater is to do off-track work. For us it’s a part of roller derby and our league. We are also very lucky to have our non-skating volunteers and their help at every bout and event.
Who are some of your star on-track skaters and why?
We have some skaters who are very hard to miss, like PussyPit who was chosen as MVP at the first Benelux (Belgium/Netherlands/Luxemburg) Championship. But bringing our team to Track Queens, the first WFTDA Tournament in Europe, really put the spotlight on our TEAM. Not only were we the underdogs, almost no one had ever heard about us.
When watching a GO-GO bout, you’ll most likely notice PussyPit as a versatile legend, Olga Volt as a strong and focused double threat, Fallwafal for being anything but a princess on the track, Veronica Fever for appearing skinny but being a ridiculously fierce blocker, Guts n’ Glory for being the face of derby (check the “2013: A Skate Odyssey” poster) with an unbeatable derby face, Miss Miyagi as a resistant blocker and mastermind, Tammy Whammy for her pow!-factor, Martacus the überwarrior, and Evil Spin-Her as a long-legged pacesetter.
We understand that 2012 was a big year for your league, from becoming a full WFTDA member league to competing in two first-time tournaments! Congratulations! How did your league prepare for all of these accomplishments in 2012?
Somewhere through the year, we flipped a switch. You know, the one where you go from “hey, let’s play roller derby!” to becoming a competitive league with ambitions. It was a pretty overwhelming season. We had never experienced anything like it, so it was rather sink or swim. We had no time to take a breather along the way, or regroup, or sometimes even to think! Just keep going and enjoy the ride.
It all came down to the end of 2012. Not only had we never played more than one bout per day, we headed into two full weekend tournaments in just ten day’s time. One week we’d be crowned as the next Benelux Champion, trying to cope with the pressure of performing, the next we were the underdog with nothing to lose. Now we’ve lost that position.
Becoming a full WFTDA member league was the cherry on top after a year of changes, years of a lot of work on and off the track, and the reward for becoming a cohesive competitive league. And for that cohesion, credit should be given to the ref crew as well, since they share the same ambitions as us: becoming better and stronger, day by day. And we all know, without good refs, no great derby.
What were some of the benefits and challenges that Gent GO-GO Roller Girls faced in the process of becoming a full WFTDA member league?
We were an apprentice league for quite a long time. Having one WFTDA rep leave and another taking over slowed down the graduation process and put us in the ‘grey zone’ between two generations of apprenticeship programs. It did give us the time to really grasp the ways of the WFTDA, and practice and show our value as a future WFTDA league. We are pretty proud to have become a part of this organization.
The two major challenges were finding our way in this large organization, and scheduling mock sanctioned bouts against WFTDA leagues. Even the apprentice leagues had such busy schedules that it was sometimes hard to set a date. The distance between the WFTDA (apprentice)-leagues was one factor, but also we were fishing in the same pond as so many other ambitious leagues who were trying to become an apprentice or full member. Things are different now, as there are more graduated leagues and the European leagues are helping each other more and more.
You were crowned champions of the Benelux in the Skates of Glory Tournament and took 6th at the WFTDA-supported Track Queens – Battle Royal tournament just a few DAYS later. Wow! What were some of the big lessons that Gent GO-GO Roller Girls learned from your first experiences in tournament play?
Those were some exciting days! We went from being the favorites at Skates of Glory to being the underdog at Track Queens--two very different experiences from which we’ve learned a lot--not only about our game, strategy, and skills, but maybe even more so about the mental game of roller derby. Playing a lot of bouts over the course of two weekends was a challenge we’ve never met before. While our endurance proved to hold up well, upping our mental game was perhaps the toughest challenge. Mentally resetting and getting pumped for every new jam, period, and game was key.
During Track Queens, people started referring to us as the “Comeback Queens”--which we loved--because we kept coming back super strong in the second half. And while rumour had it we were taking some kind of magic potion during half time, our secret was much more mundane: team spirit, faith in each other and our game, and a never-ending fighting spirit was what made us the strong unit we were.
How are the Gent GO-GO Roller Girls using your 2012 tournament play experiences to train for the 2013 season?
Our training recipe hasn’t changed much: a good mixture of skating skills, agility, endurance and power training with as much strategy and actual game play as we can muster. This should keep our team up to speed with the rest of Europe. Adapting to the new rules has, of course, been a big part of it, too. To top it off, we like to throw something extra in the mix once in a while. In April, we had a bootcamp with Kamikaze Kitten--a surprise like that instantly boosts the entire league.
We understand that you are hosting this year’s European WFTDA tournament, 2013: A Skate Odyssey, in May. How is your league working to prepare to act as hosts and participants in this tournament?
Becoming a host for this year’s WFTDA Tournament was a very last minute decision. We’ve hosted some big events before in Gent (WFTDA Ref Clinic, large bootcamps, the Derby Revolution, etc.) and this is the next big thing.
We have a small, but hardcore, group of people who are working their magic to create an awesome athletic event. Good time management and people management will be key to be able to compete and host at the same time. Appreciation and a huge thank you go out to our tournament producers for making this possible, especially with us being a very small league. This experience will definitely push our limits on all levels.
What are some of Gent GO-GO Roller Girls’ big goals for 2013?
Track Queens was a major breakthrough for our All-Stars. We’ve finally shown Europe what we’re worth. 2013 should be an affirmation of this; we hope to consistently play a good game and be worthy opponents to the best of Europe’s teams. We want to keep growing and keep surprising people.
As for our B-team, we would just like to give them as many opportunities as possible to play and grow as a team in its own right, a tight-knit group of skaters who make their own game.
What next big bout(s) is Gent GO-GO Roller Girls looking forward to and why?
Right now, all eyes are on the 2013: A Skate Odyssey tournament with the GO-GO’s and a couple of Cuberdonna’s bouts. Then we’ll have time to regroup and prepare for the new season, starting September 2013.
Please tell us about your work with Think Pink and the campaign and subsequent “Boobytrack” bout to raise funds for breast cancer awareness and research.
In October 2010, a member of our team, aged 33, was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. Obviously she was off skates during the treatment, but having a team member go through this affected everyone, especially since 1 in 7 people are diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Many team members were close to someone who also fought the battle.
As a team, we decided we wanted to raise awareness and funds for this cause. Because, unfortunately, it’s a disease that mainly targets women, it seemed appropriate to hold a bout, which we called “Boobytrack.” We donated money from the tickets, sold cupcakes in the shape of boobies, and auctioned off the players’ special “pink” tops, which they wore for the bout. It was the only time GO-GO Gent has played in pink. We managed to raise 2000 euros, which was donated to the Think Pink campaign, and we also raised awareness because whilst 400 people attended, articles were written about the bout in many newspapers and online.
What other types of community or charity-focused events do Gent GO-GO Roller Girls participate in? How do you choose your community partners and/or events?
A bout is a good time to help raise awareness about a certain issue, so every first bout of the year is dedicated to helping one charity. We try to steer away from the obvious, and pick initiatives that don’t necessarily get a lot of media attention and that we can connect to. This year, we chose Kitten in Need, a Gent-based shelter for abandoned/street cats. Instead of just asking for money, we urged people to donate cat food, toys and other stuff the shelter needs on an everyday basis. While doing so, we introduced Kitten in Need to a lot of people, who’ll hopefully remember them when they’re looking to get a cat.
Who are some of your favorite sponsors?
First of all, we love our checkerboard team helmets, courtesy of Nutcase. Staying safe in style! Secondly, we have a princess in our league whose parents are the best bakers in town and owners of Bakkerij Baccaert-Bader. They provide us with the most delicious cupcakes to sell at our bouts. And without a doubt, we feel the love of the Sucker Punch Skate Shop, run by our own Miss Miyagi, who is always ready to fix our skates and give us good advice!
Do you have a special message to your fans?
We love you, seriously. We thank you for every euro spent on a bootcamp ticket, every kilometer driven to a bout, every cheer to make us come back, every #DOETA sign to let us know you’re there for us.
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Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.