April 2013 Featured League: Toronto Roller Derby

April 8, 2013

toronto As one of the first roller derby leagues in Canada, Toronto Roller Derby has actively fostered the growth of the sport across the country, including the explosion of leagues in the province of Ontario (nearly 30!). Through their commitment to attending and hosting tournaments, Toronto Roller Derby has shown that they are able to manage the extensive growth of derby in their region, and help show other leagues how to foster growth and success. Read on to learn more about this month's featured league.

WFTDA Featured League: April 2013: Toronto Roller Derby

Photo by Neil Gunner

In what city are you based? We are based in Toronto, Ontario in Canada.

How many skaters/teams do you have?
We have about 130 skaters in four home teams, a farm team, our WFTDA A (charter) team – CN Power, and a B team. We have a great team of zebras, NSOs, and also have a pool of about 30 “fresh meat” preparing to join our league in any given cycle. In addition, we are fortunate to have a network of about 20 volunteers who devote their time and energy to help the league.

How is your league structured (home teams, travel team, management)?
Toronto Roller Derby (ToRD) is a seven-team league with a four-team house league supported by a farm team and supporting B team and WFTDA-level travel team, CN Power. Our farm team, The D-VAS is made up of skaters who have passed fresh meat but have not yet been drafted to home teams. They bout locally against other leagues’ freshies until they are eligible for the annual fall entry draft. Our house league teams are the Smoke City Betties, Gore Gore Rollergirls, Chicks Ahoy!, and Death Track Dolls. Our WFTDA charter team, CN Power, has an independent roster. Our B travel team is the Bay Street Bruisers, and its roster is made up of skaters from the four house league teams.

Most of our teams have some form of off-skates management. Our A and B travel teams have both a Bench Manager and Bench Coach, while most of our other teams have at least one non-skater as part of their management teams.

We understand that Toronto Roller Derby is a huge league, boasting over 100 active skaters and seven teams. Wow! What has your league done to successfully manage such a large league?
We are committee-run with a volunteer policy that ensures every skater is on at least one committee or contributes to the league in some way. To facilitate communication across our 17 committees, we have regular committee heads meetings and monthly BoD meetings.

How does your season run?
Currently, our home team season runs from February through June, culminating in our league championship, where the finalists battle for “The Boot,” the league trophy.

Our travel teams and our rookie team play year round, and all seven teams train all 12 months of the year. We typically go a little lighter in December ahead of the holidays. We also hold an annual bout to coincide with Toronto’s Pride Festival at the end of June every year. We get skaters in from across Canada and the USA to play a fun bout called the Clam Slam that features a team called the Clam Diggers taking on Vagine Regime Canada.

What are the closest WFTDA leagues to you?
There are a handful of other full and apprentice WFTDA leagues nearby. Our provincial neighbours are the Hammer City Roller Girls, Tri-City Roller Girls, and the Rideau Valley Roller Girls. Montréal Roller Derby is the other full WFTDA league in Eastern Canada. Detroit Derby Girls are nearby as well, and we see Queen City Roller Girls fairly often. Ontario also boasts a number of WFTDA apprentice leagues including the Border City Brawlers (Windsor), the Renegade Derby Dames (Alliston), and the Forest City Derby Girls (London). The proximity of all these leagues is great for fans who want to take a short drive to see our teams when they go on the road.

WFTDA Featured League: April 2013: Toronto Roller Derby

Photo by Greg Russell

Who are Toronto Roller Derby’s biggest rival? And have you had any outstanding, memorable moments against them when you bouted?
In terms of house leagues, Toronto has a historic rivalry with the Hammer City Roller Girls and Montréal Roller Derby, but in terms of travel teams, southern Ontario neighbours the Tri-City Thunder (the Tri-City Rollergirls’ WFTDA charter team) and CN Power have engaged in some great battles over the years including a thrilling 112-98 CN Power win at the 2011 Quad City Chaos tournament.

Do you have any sister leagues you’d like to give a shout out to?
Shout out to all of our sister leagues in this great nation of ours!

What are the individual challenges of your city?
Like many larger cities, we have a lot of competition from professional sports. Toronto has Major League Baseball, the NBA, Canadian Football, Major League Soccer, National Lacrosse League, and of course hockey teams at both the NHL and AHL level, as well as plenty of junior and community squads in the vicinity. This means we have to really push to get noticed in this local market that is somewhat saturated with sports options. We’ve been fortunate to develop a relationship with local TV station City TV, which provides event previews and recaps on their CityNews program – handled by sports anchors Hugh Burrill and Kathryn Humphreys – which has been a huge help.

Hockey also comes into our venue equation. When ToRD started, we used a community hockey arena, like a lot of other leagues in Canada do. However, that meant we had very short seasons. When we started our season ran from late May through late August, because the rest of the time, the arenas are full of ice. That ultimately led us to our current venue, “The Bunker,” which is part of a former military base, allowing us to practice and bout year round. The venue is in the northern end of the city, and much, but not all, of our fan base comes from further downtown, so we have to keep in the public eye to make sure people know where we are.

What kind of training/bouting facilities do you have?
We use The Bunker year round for both training and events. The Bunker is a former munitions depot in Downsview Park, which is owned by the federal government (there are still Canadian Forces buildings on the property, as well as a functioning airstrip). Legend has it that The Bunker was built to be able to withstand a nuclear blast! So it’s not a typical sports facility. The floors are poured concrete and are on the slippery side of things; we don’t use sport court. On the plus side, the space is so large it can accommodate two tracks (we’ve actually set up a third for training camps when bleachers weren’t required). This allowed us to be able to host the Roller Derby World Cup and have two bouts running simultaneously. On the down side, the space has no windows, and because the space is so large, there are pillars throughout. (Fortunately, they are far enough from the track that they don’t come into play for our skaters.) Other parts of the building house production companies for TV shows and a farmer’s market.

We have bleachers that we bring in and set up before every event, so that allows the fans to have great sightlines. And an advantage of it being one large space is that all of our vendors can be set up within sight of the track and the scoreboards. We use the standard projected scoreboards on the walls, and also project video – so you don’t miss any of the action if you want to go buy a beer or some trading cards or gear!

How many days a week do you practice? How are your practices divided/organized among the league teams?
ToRD has practices six days a week (Friday is the only day the Bunker is empty). We are lucky to have a space that accommodates two tracks, so it is easy for two teams to practice on the same night – which also helps for setting up last minute scrimmages!

Each house league team has one weekly practice. CN Power has two weekly practices, while the Bay Street Bruisers and D-VAS each have one, as well. Open league practice is every Saturday afternoon, and Fresh Meat training is on Sundays.

On top of all that, the newly formed Toronto Men’s Roller Derby league and Toronto Junior Roller Derby also practice in the same facility!

What are your biggest training challenges?
Our biggest challenge was year-round space, not dictated by hockey ice time. In the early days of the league all of our teams traveled to and practiced in separate spaces and there wasn’t much knowledge transfer. Since moving first to The Hangar, and now The Bunker, spaces we’ve been able to use year-round, we’ve all been able to train under the same roof.

Also, having the diversity of A, B, house, and farm league levels seems to be working well for knowledge and skill transfer among skaters.

WFTDA Featured League: April 2013: Toronto Roller Derby

Photo by Greg Russell

Who are the "behind the scenes" skaters who make your league run?
There are several skaters and volunteers that are the people behind the scenes. They consistently hold the league up on their shoulders and understand that it takes true grit and strategic planning to run and steer the league in the right direction. It’s frequently the case that the hard workers of your organization go unthanked, but we do it for the good, not for the glory. (Well, we do it because this ridiculously amazing sport has a stranglehold on us!)

Something we’ve recently implemented is our weekly Monday “ToRDie of the Week” shout out to the league. It’s a form that leaguemates fill out when they notice someone doing something for the league. It’s always a risk for leaders to thank people in the organization because they might leave someone out. This DIY approach ensures people are skater-nominated so as to represent the opinion of the league and not just a few people. The benefits of this expression of gratitude are incredible: the person who gets thanked feels appreciated and pays it forward to thank the team/committee he/she works with, and as a leaguemate watching it all go down, it kinda feels pretty good for a Monday! People have filled out so many forms that there’s a backlog – but that’s a pretty nice problem to have!

Who are some of your star skaters on the track and why?
CN Power contains some of the most experienced skaters in Toronto Roller Derby. Dusty (co-captain) and Bambi have both been jamming in the league since it began and have been a part of the CN Power roster since it was first formed in 2008. Similarly, Nasher the Smasher and Tara Part are two blockers who have been, and continue to be, essential pieces of the CN Power pack. A couple of triple threats, Dyna Hurtcha and Betty Bomber, who are also long-time members of CN Power, are key players on the team as well.

ToRD’s WFTDA-chartered team, CN Power, is currently ranked 49th in the WFTDA rankings (March 2013 Rankings). Congratulations! Does your league have plans to participate in WFTDA tournaments this year? How will you achieve that goal?
We were so lucky last year to have gotten into both Midwest Brewhaha and ECDX (as well as putting on our own tournament, Quad City Chaos). Both tournaments were a fantastic experience for our team! We learned and experienced so much that we made sure to apply again this year. Alas, we didn't get in to either. We are practicing our butts off, gunning for a high spot in the Division 2 Playoffs, and we have every intention of being a competitive team in that tournament!

Almost all of our games this season have Sunday hangover bouts, which is as close to a tournament experience as you can get without actually being in one. Our main goal this season was to play as many amazing highly ranked teams as humanly possible, in hopes that we carve out a name for ourselves and even surprise some of them. We’re jumping into the deep end...of a shark tank. We know that we will only get as good as those high ranked teams by playing them, so that's what we plan to do!

Congratulations on the completion of the third annual Quad City Chaos (QCC) tournament! This was the first year that all of the games at Quad City Chaos were WFTDA-sanctioned. Please share some tips/advice for leagues who may want to host a WFTDA-sanctioned tournament.
To throw a competitive WFTDA tournament it is, of course, important to establish good relationships with surrounding WFTDA leagues and to make a call out as early as possible. After a few years and building the reputation of the tournament, we now do a lottery for spots. Starting this year, we also now include B-teams, which gives teams more of an incentive to come.

It also helps to have an amazing league of folks to help you in every department. Get all your sanctioning paperwork organized in advance so you don't sweat it close to the tourney. If you have any questions hit up the WFTDA forums or email WFTDA; they are super helpful! DELEGATE. You have so many different things that need to be sorted out, from getting info to your visitors, creating programs, booking vendors, wrangling volunteers, and so much more. We have a separate committee just for QCC, which then subdivides and coordinates with the rest of our committees as required to pull it all together. Email WFTDA marketing to get your tourney listed in events and promote it as much as possible.

Keep your officials in the loop from day one as part of the organizational process. You’re going to need to arrange for a bunch of additional officials to come in, not just those who may be travelling with the visiting teams. Get as many NSOs and refs as possible to come from all around to take part. It’s a great learning experience for everyone, and tournaments are a great opportunity for officials to get evals for their WFTDA certification applications.

WFTDA Featured League: April 2013: Toronto Roller Derby

Photo by Greg Russell

When CN Power is participating in a tournament at home – as they do at Quad City Chaos – how does the rest of Toronto Roller Derby contribute to putting on the tournament?
We are fortunate to have a league full of amazing women and men who know how to run every aspect of a bout. We just combined everyone's amazing knowledge and made a weekend full of bouts happen, instead of just one. Our league is really supportive of our WFTDA charter team, so we are very thankful to have their help. From setting up bleachers, to working the front of house and merch tables, cleaning the track between games and refilling the water bottles, every job gets a body.

ToRD are no strangers to hosting tournaments. In addition to Quad City Chaos (QCC), you made international headlines for hosting the first ever Roller Derby World Cup in 2011. What were some of the unique benefits and challenges of this ambitious project? How has it prepared you for hosting more tournaments?
Just the pure volume of work that needed to be done. It took a full 100% effort from every member of our very large league to make the World Cup not only run, but run smoothly and efficiently. To work together effectively, each committee takes on their portion of tournament planning and come together through our tournament organizer and our tournament planning message board to ensure that every aspect of the event is the best we can provide.

After the World Cup, every tournament seems small! Also, we’ve hosted four QCCs now, so we have a lot of experience with that format (the only change has been the addition of B-teams this year).

ToRD would like to thank the ladies at Blood & Thunder for the opportunity to make history as the first ever hosts of the Roller Derby World Cup, and also the opportunity to host our derby sisters from the world over. We hope that future hosts expand on the model to continue to build an event that is truly extraordinary.

What next big bout(s) is Toronto Roller Derby looking forward to and why?
We just played the Ohio Roller Girls, which is always a highlight. CN Power is really looking forward to playing the Windy City Rollers this weekend, ’cause they RULE and are one of the oldest leagues in flat track roller derby, and it will be an honour to take the track against them! We have a highly anticipated matchup against Montréal Roller Derby’s New Skids on the Block on April 26th – a team that we have yet to beat, and are always motivated to play. We're especially excited to play the Skids this year, as CN Power is playing them in the opening bout of Montréal’s annual “Beast of the East” home team tournament. Most of us played with our home teams at the Beast for the past five years. Montréal Roller Derby in general, and The Skids in particular, are a team we’ve respected and looked up to for a really long time, as they have been setting the bar for derby in Canada since the beginning. It’s also awesome to play a team that wants to see you do well and wants to see Canadian derby more prominent on the map, and they are always gracious in giving us tips and advice for the future.

In what kinds of community- or charity-focused events does Toronto Roller Derby participate? How do you choose your community partners and/or events?
Aside from special one-off events and a continuous relationship with Toronto Junior Roller Derby, we run contests at every game and donate the proceeds to various local charities. Some of the featured charities have been The Covenant House (a youth shelter), the East York Community Centre, Sistering (a women’s agency with whom ToRD has a long history), The North York Women’s Centre, and The Daily Bread Food Bank.

We look for partners who are socially conscious and make a real impact on the community.

As one of the founding leagues of Canadian roller derby, what are some of the changes you have seen and experienced with the extensive growth of the sport in Canada?
It has been remarkable to watch roller derby explode, especially after the movie, Whip It. For the first few years (2006 to 2009) there were only a few leagues up here (in Vancouver, Edmonton, Hamilton, London, Montréal, and Toronto – although Tri-City and Ottawa also got started during that time); since that time the number of teams has grown exponentially. Only seven years later and there are now about 30 leagues of varying levels in Ontario alone.

Having travel teams at every level (in addition to our A and B travel teams, our farm team also travels to play other leagues’ emerging talent, and even our home teams will travel on occasion) has allowed ToRD to take part in this growth and development continuously. We are proud to have been a part of making this happen.

Please tell us about the evolution of ToRD TV. How did your league work to develop your own production/broadcast capability?
ToRD TV was launched in by 2010 by league VP Dawson and boutcaster/writer, The Derby Nerd. Also collaborating was Layer9, run by Mr. Force, a volunteer who had been documenting/archiving all of the league’s home games with a single camera.

Originally ToRD TV provided skater interviews, promos for upcoming games, and entertaining behind the scenes features. By 2012, the promo segments were dropped, and the focus shifted to professional quality boutcasts of the league’s A and B teams, as Rogers TV televises house league games for the local market.

With Mr. Force as Technical Producer, ToRD TV operates a full HD multi-camera set up, including graphics, player stats and commercials. Produced and directed by skater Tropic Thunder, boutcast play-by-play is provided by The Derby Nerd and skater Monichrome, and frequent guests Lightning Slim (Tri-City Roller Girls) and Captain Lou El Bammo (Royal City). A dedicated army of skater volunteers operate cameras, create graphics, program scoreboard overlays, run cables, moderate a chat room, and make it all happen.

Layer9 sources the Content Delivery Network (CDN) and live video access is made available through CanuckDerbyTV, run by Montréal’s Dr. Johnny Capote, as well as DNN. The feed is also projected live on the walls of The Bunker. Post-bout, videos are archived on layer9.ca in full HD.

Thus far, all production equipment and technical expertise has been generously donated. Like WFTDA.TV, ToRD TV faces the challenge of how to recover the costs of boutcasting. Future plans include adding slow motion replays, and getting iPhone and iPad support working.

The evolution of ToRD TV has mirrored that of the league itself. As ToRD achieved WFTDA-member status, and the travel teams blossomed, ToRD TV has endeavored to match this progress with the quality and reach of its boutcasts.

WFTDA Featured League: April 2013: Toronto Roller Derby

Photo by Greg Russell

How did you decide to include the “JamCam” segments in addition to boutcasts?
Although no longer a part of the ToRD TV shooting schedule, the JamCam segments were a fun way to get a more behind-the-scenes look at what happens at a bout. They were always filmed by skaters and were more “rough around the edges” than the more polished boutcasts.

Who are some of your favorite sponsors?
RollerBug.com is one of Canada's first derby shops. They keep the girls in Toronto Roller Derby in skates, wheels, bearings, and pads. Operating online since 2005, Rollerbug is derby-owned and operated by Kandy Barr, a founding member of ToRD who still skates for one of our home teams. In 2010, Rollerbug opened a retail location called Cardinal Skates Co.

My First Aid Trainer not only supplies the EMTs (medics) for all our bouts and training camps, but they are also training our skaters to be first responders so that our practices have trained people to ensure the safety of our skaters.

Foundation Physiotherapy has been helping the Toronto Roller Derby skaters throughout the season with all their physio, massage therapy, acupuncture, and bracing products.

Feisty Jack food truck and KIND healthy snacks have been feeding us and our fans great food at our bouts.

We have been thrilled with our media sponsor, The Grid TO, and love to be dressed by Sugarbomb clothing, also owned and operated by two leaguemates (CN Power skaters, in fact!).

Do you have a special message to your fans?
Thank you soooo much for your continued support over the years!! We can’t wait to see you out for the rest of our season!

Would your league like to be the WFTDA Featured League of the month? Have you had an extraordinarily successful season that you'd like to share with the wftda.com fans? If you are a full WFTDA member league and have the authorization to speak on behalf of your league, we'd love to hear from you! Or nominate your favorite league and tell us why they should be featured on wftda.com! Please contact webmaster@wftda.com.

Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.