July 2012 Featured League: Ohio Roller Girls

July 5, 2012

The Ohio Roller Girls might be a smaller league, but what they lack in size they make up for with might and moxie! Playing 18 games in just four and a half months in 2012, OHRG has put in the work to tighten up their game and prove that small leagues dedicated to teamwork can not only compete but also succeed. Aside from making a splash in the world of the WFTDA, OHRG has been making their mark in the Buckeye state including recognition as a part of Columbus’ bicentennial. Read on to learn more about the Ohio Roller Girls.

Photo by Dorn Byg

Columbus, Ohio

How does your season run?
We schedule our home opener in February or March, and play about one game a month at home until August. We also play away games during that time. This year, we really tried to do as many multi-bout weekends as we could, in order to get as much bang for our buck travel-wise, and to prep for tournament season.

What are the closest WFTDA leagues to you?
Columbus is located pretty dead center in Ohio, so all the Ohio leagues are within 100 miles of us. Cincinnati Rollergirls, Burning River Roller Girls, NEO Roller Derby, and the recently graduated Glass City Rollers and Little Steel Derby Girls are the closest, and there are a handful of upstart leagues and WFTDA Apprentice leagues in Ohio, too.

How many skaters/teams do you have?
Our league currently has 27 skaters on two teams. The OHRG All Stars, our sanctioned charter team, and Gang Green, our B team.

Late last year, we started the O-H! Rec League. This season, we welcomed our first graduating class of seven rookies from the Rec League. It has been impressive to see how fast they have adapted to regulation play in such a short period of time.

How is your league structured (home teams, travel team, management)?
Since our league is very small, consisting of only 27 skaters, what works best for us is a core group of players who play strictly with the All Stars and another core group, largely composed this year of the rookie class from our Rec League, who play strictly for Gang Green. However, we also have players who play in a “swing” position for both teams. This allows them to gain experience at a higher level of play and also serve as leaders on Gang Green.

League business is conducted through a representational democracy. We elect a five member Board of Directors who manage the business affairs of the league. Many jobs are delegated to skaters and volunteers across the league, managed by those on the Board.

Photo by Dorn Byg

Who is the Ohio Roller Girls’ biggest rival? And have you had any outstanding, memorable moments against them when you bouted?
Our biggest rivalries are probably with the teams we’ve faced the most over the course of our existence: the Cincinnati Rollergirls and the Grand Raggidy Roller Girls.

Cinci is nearby and we’ve been playing them since our first season of inter-league play, finally beating them in 2011 at a closed-door bout at our practice facility. They returned the favor at the North Central Region Playoffs – Monumental Mayhem – a month later, so the rivalry continues!

Grand Raggidy is another team that we have played many times and we have always had a great relationship, but we weren’t able to beat them until several years in.

Perhaps the emerging rivalry would be OHRG and Arch Rival Roller Girls. The leagues are very amicable with each other, in part because Chewblocka has been a skater for both teams. It’s looking like we’ll be neck-and-neck going into Big 5 tournament season, and the prospect of facing them at playoffs is very exciting.

Do you have any sister leagues you’d like to give a shout out to?
NEO Roller Derby in Akron was one of the first leagues to graduate from the Apprentice Program. One of our skaters was their mentor, but we’d already had an informal mentorship relationship before that. They are a great group of skaters, and have been very supportive of us as well.

What are the individual challenges of your city?
Columbus is Buckeye Nation, and Ohio State University’s sports programs dominate our sports market. Columbus is also home to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Columbus Crew, and the Columbus Clippers. There is a lot of competition out there to get fans to attend your sporting event. Promoting on skates to get our name out there, and making sure not to book bouts the same weekend as Buckeye events, has been crucial.

Columbus is very independently spirited though, and we’ve had great success working with a city that has a very strong current of independent and driven people working to support local businesses, artistic endeavors, neighborhood revitalization programs, etc. We’ve tried to be involved with those efforts whenever we can. Having a presence at events like Comfest, Independents’ Day, Stonewall Pride, and Summer Flea, and partnering with other small local businesses has helped us gain recognition in a very Buckeye saturated market.

What are your biggest training challenges?
For our first five years of existence, we were locked in to practicing at the local skating rinks. They were great to us as far as providing us with a low-cost space when we were starting out. Unfortunately, that meant we were locked in to their schedule, forcing us to practice late at night. One of the rinks had a permanent walled-in dance floor in the center, so we couldn’t lay down a track. Getting a warehouse facility was a huge boon to OHRG because it meant being able to scrimmage twice a week rather than once, being able to run drills on a regulation track, and having practices earlier in the evening, so we were able to get a better handle on derby/life balance.

Also, we are almost entirely self-coached. Some of our bench coaches are former or injured skaters and some moved on to coaching after volunteering in other capacities. We have two volunteer speed skating coaches, but skaters run all of our derby practices. Every year we elect a small training committee of skaters, and in conjunction with the coaches and captains, they plan out our goals for the year, set practice schedules, plan and run tryouts, and run all of our practices.

What kind of training/bouting facilities do you have?
We acquired our warehouse space (dubbed the “WarHouse” after a well-timed typo on our forums by Kitty Liquorbottom) in early 2011. We have our track set up there, and we have some space for boot camp-style workouts, with some weight equipment, treadmills, and stationary bikes. We can also host hangover bouts there, though there’s not really a lot of spectator space. Right now our home games are held at the state fairgrounds, also known as the Ohio Expo Center. We’ve been there for four of our seven seasons.

Photo by Dorn Byg

How many days a week do you practice? How are your practices divided/organized among the league teams?
We generally have four practices a week available to skaters, with a fifth practice open only to rookies. Tuesdays are half speed skating and half derby, Wednesdays offer an hour of boot camp, an hour of speed-skating, and an hour or two of focused strategy/derby skill. Thursdays are the main scrimmage nights, and Saturday mornings are a combo of scrimmage and derby skills focused at various levels. Once in a while we offer team-specific practices, but mostly, our practices are open to all skaters. Since our league is so small, and several of our skaters play on both teams, often it makes more sense to divide things up by skill level rather than by team. We end up building teamwork across the entire league – which is good when you’re so small and close-knit!

Who are the "behind the scenes" skaters who make your league run?
We spent a lot of time early on getting our business and legislative processes down and getting our infrastructure in place. In the past couple of years, we’ve finally gotten to the point where the work is beginning to be spread out more through the league – and not just among skaters, as we’ve pretty much always had a non-skating league member on our Board of Directors, and many of our officials and retired skaters are still involved in running the show too. Though our Board members work hard, every OHRG member pulls their own weight!

Who are some of your star on-track skaters and why?
OHRG has been working so hard on gelling as a team that it’s sometimes hard to single people out. If not for the hard work of every single skater, official, and volunteer in our entire league, we would not have been able to make the strides we have.

Phoenix Bunz was recently named the MVP of the Midwest Brewhaha tournament, and she excels in every position. We’ve had three jammers who’ve hit the century point mark: Kitty Liquorbottom, Bigg Rigg, and The Smacktivist (in her rookie season). And four of our skaters have been keeping their nose to the grindstone since the very first season: Pippi RipYourStockings (a serious triple threat on the track), HellionBOI, Dixie Heartless, and Amy Spears. One of our Charter Team coaches, Triptease, who was sidelined with an ankle injury in 2011 has also been around since the league began. Finally, without the hard work and impressive progress of Gang Green, who continues to push themselves and our All Star team, we would not be here!

And our officiating crew has also been working hard over the years. Our head ref, Great Scott, recently became the first Level 4 Certified Referee in the state of Ohio, an Kill C. Grammar, Deadeye Knight, and a whole host of others have been working for us--and on the road with other leagues--for years.

The Ohio Roller Girls are a member of the WFTDA’s North Central region. What do you think are the benefits and challenges of being in the North Central region?
The North Central has really seen a lot of parity this year. June’s Midwest Brewhaha tournament and subsequent games have really shown that the top 10 is not set in stone, and teams are moving around a lot. Overall, our region’s play has been stepping up a lot.

A lot of us, especially in smaller markets, can look to other regions and be really envious of the kinds of attendance numbers they are drawing in, but we’re starting to see a slow but steady amount of growth in the crowds we’re bringing in, right along with the upswing in play level.

Photo by Dorn Byg

Ohio is burning up the track this year! Can you please tell us a little about being a team that has refocused its goal and worked hard to "get small to get big?" What went into this process? How do you feel other leagues could learn from your league’s experiences?
“Getting small to get big” was a phrase that our then-league president Amy Spears coined to describe a series of things that kind of happened at the same time for us, and that luckily, yielded positive results both on and off the track. The first was the decision to disband our four home teams and focus on an A/B model of interleague play only.

The second was a plan to get us on the right track in financial and business matters. It might have seemed counterintuitive, but instead of a big marketing push, we scaled back the scope of our business. We focused on grassroots and word-of-mouth efforts while simultaneously moving to a much smaller, no frills venue we knew we could fill with spectators for every game. That helped us immensely in keeping our business afloat during the downturn in the economy and allowed us to come back to our larger venue two years later debt-free, as a whole new team, with a lot of buzz building.

Similarly, playing in a smaller venue kind of took off the pressure from the public eye. It may seem to a lot of derby fans that we’ve come out of nowhere this year, but in fact, we’ve been steadily building to this over the past few years. We just weren’t really high profile because our capacity was 350 people per game for a while, so no one was really seeing us play.

Please tell us more about your recent bouts in Ontario, Canada. What were some of the challenges for your league of traveling to another country? How was the experience?
This was our first trip out of the U.S. (though not our first international play – we’d played Montréal Roller Derby at ECDX in 2009 and Hammer City Roller Girls at previous Brewhaha tournaments). As usual, we tried to get the most bang for our buck by scheduling multiple games. We played Tri-City Roller Girls in Kitchener on Saturday, then Toronto Roller Derby at their venue on Sunday. Kill Basa, OHRG’s travel coordinator, certainly got a workout with who would be at which hotel in which city when. Other than that, it was like a lot of the trips we took this year in that we had to make our own arrangements to get ourselves there and be prepared to focus on playing shortly after a long drive – and then turn around and do it again the next morning.

June marked OHRG’s first ever triple-header home bout. Why a triple-header? What were some of the challenges of organizing such a large single event, and what successes can you share from the experience?
Honestly, we went into it thinking “why not a triple-header?” We had interest from multiple teams on that date, and it made sense to take advantage of who we could get there. It also seemed that playing games so close together was good preparation for tournaments. It ended up working well for the other teams as well, since we were able to host our opponents (Demolition City Roller Derby and Old Capital City Roller Girls) the following morning at our practice space for a hangover bout. The main challenge was that there were a couple of very large events going on in Columbus that day and we were a little concerned about fan attendance, but it turned out that having games pretty much all afternoon meant the crowd could come and go as they pleased and attendance built pretty steadily throughout the event. The other thing we worried about was that – because we are such a small league – skaters we rely on to work the door and merch during the early bout were actually on the track playing, not to mention that our swing players had three games back-to-back. Everyone pitched in where they could and our regular non-skater volunteers really stepped up, so we pulled it off.

Photo by Dorn Byg

Since this time in 2011, OHRG has climbed from 10th to 7th in the North Central rankings, and based on your performances in Q2, could be looking at an even higher ranking. Please tell us about how you have achieved this improvement in the rankings. What goals has OHRG set for the remainder of the season?
At the beginning of our season, our captain, Bratislava Bruiser, talked to us about the goal of going into Playoffs ranked higher than we were last year when we came out (at 9th). We actually achieved that earlier than we’d expected when we moved up to 7, assuming we can expect to stay there or higher going in to Playoffs, so we are trying to work on further cohesion as a team.

Part of our success has come from the sheer number of games we’ve played. We started our season in mid-February, and just in the last week of June went on our mid-year break. During that four-month period, we played 18 games, with a record of 17-1. That’s more games than any WFTDA team has played this season, and when you consider the double-headers, and how many of our players play for both our teams, we have some people who’ve played 30 games already this year.

What we’ve learned over our history is that as a team, we play better when we play more. So we’re pretty ambitious when we set out our season schedules. By virtue of our better season last year, we were able to attract a couple more highly ranked teams this season, and we expect that to build next year, so we can up the strength of our schedule and hopefully keep our forward momentum going strong.

What next big bout are you most looking forward to and why?
We’re winding down a little bit before going into Playoffs, but Gang Green will be facing off against Derby City Rollergirls in July, and then going to a tournament hosted by Little Steel Derby Girls in Youngstown, Ohio the following weekend. Both teams head down for a rematch versus Hard Knox Roller Girls in August, and then our last home game is a double-header versus The Chicago Outfit on August 18. We’re very much looking forward to that because we’ve never beaten the Outfit before, and it’ll be a good match up heading into playoff season.

Ohio Roller Girls have a commitment to charitable work and donations. Please tell us more about Columbus’ Neighborhood Pride Program. How did OHRG get involved, and why is this program so near and dear to your hearts?
Neighborhood Pride is just one of the many things we’ve gotten involved in both to try to reach a variety of potential audiences in Columbus and have a positive impact on the community. It’s a program that Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman created to focus on the variety of neighborhoods and services in Columbus, and we’re happy that our involvement with that and other groups helped us get the Mayor to blow the first whistle at our March game, which was dubbed an official 200 Columbus Event to celebrate our city’s bicentennial.

Photo by Dorn Byg

Congratulations on being recognized by Columbus Alive! as part of their “200 Arts and Cultural Events that Shaped the City’s History!” How does it feel to be recognized in this way? Have there been any positive outcomes to receiving this recognition?
Part of the OHRG mission statement reads, “We are dedicated to becoming an important part of Columbus.” Being mentioned in an article representing the face of Columbus’ cultural history and being a part of the 200 Columbus Bicentennial Celebration has really made it apparent to us that we are meeting our goal! We focus on sending volunteers out to great community events all over town that help us get our name out there as athletes and leaders in the community.

Who are some of your favorite sponsors?
That’s a tough question because ALL of our sponsors are extremely supportive of what we do. Revolution Cycles helps us get where we want to go, Integrity Moving and Mobile Storage stores and transports our sport court, CD 102.5 gets our name on the radio waves, Village Crepe gives all of our fans a free crepe every time the All Stars rack up 100 points, Ohio Krav Maga punches our mascot Greenman in the solar plexus at half time, the list goes on and on...basically OUR SPONSORS ARE ALL AMAZING.

Do you have a special message to your fans?
Thanks so much for supporting us through our growing pains over the past six years, and this season, as all that hard work is starting to really pay off.

Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.