April 2012 Featured League: Tucson Roller Derby

April 11, 2012

Everyone in 2012 should know about this league, and the many contributions they have made since their start in 2003. As a founding member of the ULC, the precursor to the WFTDA, and hosts of the first American flat track roller derby tournament, they’ve had big derby dreams for a long time, and they keep working hard to make them come true. Read on to learn more about Tucson Roller Derby…

Photo by PaPa Rottsy

Tucson Roller Derby is based in the great city of Tucson, AZ, also known as the Old Pueblo.

How does your season run?
For our home teams, our typical season usually runs from September to May. For the last two years, we have partnered with some of the other women's flat track derby teams (both WFTDA and current non-WFTDA) in the state to create the Arizona State Roller Derby Conference where all of the State's competitive home teams play each other during the September to April months, culminating in a championship held in May to crown the Conference Champion for the year. There are currently four leagues participating in the conference, but Flagstaff has just started a league, and we will be looking to include them in the conference when they're ready. June, July, and August serve as extra time for our travel teams to go out and play some away games, with the option of having some fun home exposition bouts for all of our skaters and fans that want to see more derby.

Are you close to any other WFTDA leagues?
Arizona Roller Derby is just up the interstate to the west in Phoenix. They are probably the closest WFTDA league that is within a couple hours of Tucson. Duke City Derby in Albuquerque, NM, is just a six-hour drive from us, while the Fabulous Sin City Rollergirls of Las Vegas and the Angel City Derby Girls out of L.A. are each about an eight-hour drive away. We also have a couple of WFTDA Apprentice Program leagues that aren't TOO far: El Paso Roller Derby is just over four hours away to the east, and So Cal Roller Derby is about six to seven hours to the west.

How many skaters/teams do you have?
We have five teams (three home teams and two travel teams that are composed of home team skaters), and about 80 skaters at the moment, with more people being interested and getting involved every week or so. About two thirds of those skaters are full league members and skate on at least one team. We currently have about 25 newbies/fresh meat.

Please explain, for those of us not “in the know,” what a Saddletramp is, and why Tucson Roller Derby's WFTDA Charter team is called the Saddletramps?
In short, the term “saddle tramp” is a term for a nomadic cowboy (or gal). Tucson is in the Wild West, and many people meander through the area, staying for various amounts of time, so the name is kind of fitting for our hometown. The TRD Saddletramps were born when TRD founding member, Kim Sin, and travel team captain, Jezebel, were tossing around team ideas that had a “Wild West Rootin’ Tootin’ Gang of Tuff Broads” feel (and that phrase was perhaps a bit too long to be a team name). Kim tossed around both the Saddletramps and the Outlaws, but there was some concern about the Outlaws being associated with other Outlaw organizations, namely those organizations that have involvement with criminal activity. You can see how that may have given the wrong idea about the members of the TRD travel team. Because of that concern, Saddletramps officially became the name of TRD’s travel team. The idea came to Kim Sin from the song “Saddletramp,” by the Supersuckers (originally from Tucson). You may find many kinds of saddle tramps out there, but TRD is the only organization that has them on skates and playing derby.

How is your league structured (home teams, travel team, management)?
TRD currently has three home teams: the Furious Truckstop Waitresses (Tucson's oldest team and annual fan favorite), the Vice Squad, and the Copper Queens. Our WFTDA Charter team is the Saddletramps, and we just added a B team this year, the Bandoleras. Our league is owned and operated by the members, with annually elected board members from each represented team and major committee along with a league president and CFO to handle most day-to-day operating decisions. Major decisions or policy changes are voted on/ratified by a majority of all active league members. All the members of the league do have a voice in what the league is doing, and decisions to be made.

How many days a week do you practice?
TRD currently has practices on six out of seven days of the week. Three of those days include league-wide practices, while specific teams have practices throughout the week (some the same day as a league practice, some not). Wednesdays are special practices that focus on building up our fresh meat/newbie skills to prepare them for upcoming skills tests they must pass in order to be eligible to be drafted to a home team.

Tuscon vs Jet City at 2011 WFTDA West Region Playoffs
Photo by John Nyman

Who is Tuscon Roller Derby's biggest rival? And have you had any outstanding, memorable moments against them when you have bouted?
Back in the day, it was Arizona Roller Derby, simply because they were one of the first derby leagues to emerge in 2003, and they were the only ones that would come and play us besides the Texas Rollergirls, who beat just about everyone they played for a while. The first time TRD beat TXRG on their home turf was a huge moment back then! Today, TRD still has a friendly rivalry with AZRD because of history and proximity, but we also have an unofficial thing for the Jet City Rollergirls for some reason. We are usually closely ranked, and each of the three meetings with Jet have resulted in a loss for TRD. The games tend to be very physical and demanding, but exciting as well. We will meet again…and we will be looking for the win.

Do you have any sister leagues you’d like to give a shout out to?
Are we limited in shout outs?! We have a ton of sister leagues that we love! AZRD for sure! We were practically birthed from their skating loins! Duke City Derby, what up! Pikes Peak Derby Dames deserves a holla! Rocky Mountain Rollergirls and Oly Rollers for the things they’ve taught us. Texas, Gotham Girls Roller Derby, the list could go on and on. We do want to give a huge shout out to Victorian Roller Derby League, Rage City Rollergirls, and Pacific Roller Derby for accepting our Dust Devil invitation this year and choosing to travel so far to compete!

What are the individual challenges of your city?
Our location, compared to the teams in places like the Mid West, make travel costs a bear at times, but we work hard to get ourselves out there for bouts, as well as bring teams to Tucson to play. Tucson is a city, but it really is more of a small town of a million or so people. TRD has deemed roller derby “The Unofficial Sport of Tucson,” and we mean it. We have a great city and many fans that support us in our endeavors, but the city itself, really is not known for major sporting teams outside of the University of Arizona collegiate teams. The small town feel allows us to really be involved in the community, but some of the major business sponsors other leagues have available to them in larger or more industrial cities just aren't around in Tucson. We love all of our local fans and sponsors, though, and we wouldn't trade them for the world! We want to grow that fan and sponsor base even more, and build on some of the dreams in mind when TRD was created.

While we love Tucson, the small town atmosphere sometimes makes some of our skaters want to venture out for new adventures elsewhere in the world. We've had several of our talented skaters and support personnel leave Tucson for other pastures due to personal, professional or educational opportunities. It's sad to see them leave, but we always wish them the best when they decide to continue their derby career somewhere that meshes better with their non-derby lives.

What are your biggest training challenges?
Since we've had a lot of our skaters and support personnel venture elsewhere throughout the years, we've lost some of our talented coaches and trainers. A lot of our gals come from a limited athletic background, as in they’ve never played a sport, let alone rolled around on skates. It’s awesome to see women blossom into bad ass skaters, but it’s difficult to teach people how to skate, sometimes from scratch.

TRD Members at practice during summer of 2010. It was a cool 99 degrees (or more) in the shade!
Photo by Mystery Meat

We also practice outside a lot of times during the week, so weather has a tendency to trump our practice plans. The desert heat sometimes causes modifications in training, and extreme downpours during monsoon season make it hard to skate on a puddle-riddled track. Believe it or not, it is sometimes cold at night during the winter months in Tucson, and practice has been cancelled due to extremely cold (below freezing) and icy conditions, though not too often. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and ready to skate outside in some sort of outdoor summer or winter classic challenge, should one ever be organized.

What kind of training/bouting facilities do you have? Please tells us about the "TRD Warehouse Challenge" advertised on your league website.
TRD does have some wonderful city resources at our disposal for practice times, but when the weather doesn't want to cooperate, we are at the mercy of the elements. We currently rent space from one of our local sponsors for scrimmage on Sundays, as well as for bouting events. We would like to find our own space at an affordable price to call our own 24 hours a day, seven days a week so that we are not at the mercy of the elements during the week for practice. We'd also like to be able to extend that space to our Derby Brats and the local men's league for practice and bouting times. We have been raising money specifically for a warehouse space to fulfill that need the last couple of years, and will continue in our endeavors to own our own facilities one day! Anyone that would like to donate specifically to that cause would be greatly appreciated, and can contact us at info@tucsonrollerderby.com for more information on how to give!

Tucson Roller Derby was one of the first modern flat track roller derby leagues, forming initially in 2003, and was an early member of the United Leagues Coalition (ULC) the precursor to the WFTDA. How does it feel to be a "grandma league" in today's international, ever growing roller derby community?
TRD was a founding member of the ULC along with TXRG, AZRD, and Gotham. It’s kind of funny how we’ve been around since 2003, and yet there are many in the derby community that don’t really know us as a league (or so it seems to us, but that’s okay and actually beneficial sometimes). Derby has come a long way, gone through a lot of growing pains, learned a lot of things the hard way, made a lot of mistakes, seen a ton of victories, and always seems to be doing more! Like dog years, a derby year is like seven regular years. That being said, TRD is old.

TRD’s founder, Kim Sin still lives in Tucson, and still supports her league with sponsorship and helping attain other sponsors, even though she is not an active member:

“I am proud of where we started, and how far derby has come. Less than 10 years ago, there were 3 leagues in the southwest actually bouting and bouting each other, with a smattering of other leagues starting up. Now, there are over 500 leagues worldwide. Flat track is now the fastest growing sport in the world! Personally, I think the rules need some tweaking and the focus of the rules should only be on safety first and watch-ability second. If derby is to see the financial success it deserves (paid skaters – paid positions), then it has to keep an eye to the fans when making rule changes without sacrificing safety. Soft hits, slow skating, does not a pay-per-view event make. Still, I get misty-eyed and sentimental when it comes to derby. It will always have a place in my heart.”

Our very own Sunni Sideup has been around since the early days and says,

“It’s crazy to look back on the years that we’ve been involved. The sport has grown and changed at the speed of light, and I, honestly, don’t think we had any idea it would be possible. I think that’s part of the draw with derby, that it moves so fast you almost can’t believe it’s actually happening, and you don’t want to miss a minute of it.”

Tucson Roller Derby has been a 501(c)3 since late 2003. What prompted your league to make this move so early in its existence? What do you see as the benefits of having this structure for your organization?
Back in 2003, Kim Sin thought that going the 501(c)3 route for TRD made the most sense for a women’s amateur sports league. She always had a dream to create a junior league for girls, a skate park for skaters and kids, and eventually, a rollerdome with both a banked and flat track, bowls and ramps, and a home to practice AND bout in, complete with workout equipment and other amenities that a rollergirl would need. To make that happen, she figured being a 501(c)3 would allow TRD to better solicit sponsors and donations from the great community of Tucson, all while giving back to that same community, especially and most importantly the women, teen, and pre-teen girls. It made sense to her, helped along by her background in accounting. It’s a dream that hasn’t been totally fulfilled yet, but we’re working on it. Dreams don’t come with deadlines.

You can fit at least 23 derby girls in a dog kennel made for washing! TRD's 4th Annual Tails & Ales fundraiser, March 2012
Photo by Brandy Holden

How does TRD give back to the community?
TRD gives back to the community in so many ways. We very much believe that our organization is not just about skating. We want to be examples for other women in the community and show that women can be strong, athletic, and so much more. Derby is probably one of the only sports that will mold skaters, even ones that have a little more life experience than others, into athletes, no matter what background they come from. It also helps women realize that the limits of what they can handle are far beyond what they thought they were. It’s empowering, and we enjoy being able to give the community an improved version of ourselves once derby has reached down within our souls and enhanced all of our qualities that make us that much better. During our home seasons, we always have a featured charity for the bouts, giving some of our proceeds or raising other money or services to support them. Most recently, TRD held the 4th Annual Tails and Ales in conjunction with the Humane Society of Southern Arizona. It’s one of our biggest non-skating events during the year, and probably one of the most fun for our league members. Beer is available on site while derby girls scrub down pooches with suds and water; need we say more?

We understand that you hold monthly open “fresh meat” practices for new skaters to learn the skills they need to try out for Tucson Roller Derby. How often do you have try outs? What are you looking for from new skaters wishing to join the league?

TRD at Roller Con 2011
Photo by Brandy Holden

We take anyone that wants to play derby, teach them how to skate, and then teach them the derby skills they need to play in bouts before they take their skills test and get drafted for a team. We are looking for heart, hard work, and dedication to the organization and the sport. Some skating background is helpful, but we don’t require it of our “fresh meat.” If you really want to play, we will teach you, and you will learn if you have the motivation to do it. We are currently revamping our “fresh meat” training regime into a new format where all new recruits will be part of a “class” and advance to skills together, so our coaches can focus on each skater. The details haven’t been worked out yet, but they’re getting there. Until then, we always invite those interested to come and check out a bout and a practice or two to see if hitting other women while on skates is really something they want to do.

Who are the “behind the scenes” skaters who make your league run?

  • Maggie KneesEm is our current CFO and then some. She handles many different situations that come up with poise and grace day after day.

  • Metal Maiden is TRD’s merchandise guru, always making sure we are stocked with items, but she also knows a lot of people in Tucson and that helps to get things done.

  • Downtown Dave has been around since the beginning, doing whatever needs to be done. He loves TRD, and TRD loves him.

  • K’Mean Streak is a master of the graphic and design arts; she puts in so much hard work and creativity for our bout programs along with designing many other things for various events throughout the year despite sometimes short deadlines. Her work is beautiful, but not many people know she’s behind it.

  • BAM Bina has taken over the reins as our Communications Committee Head, and has handled it superbly. She’s still learning, but she does a lot that isn’t always credited.

A lot of people give a lot of time to the league, and they never ask for any recognition. The organization is a great group of women who enjoy working with each other to be successful.

Who are some of your star on-track skaters and why?
We have a lot of skaters that may not be known too much outside of Tucson, but you’ll soon know who they are. Within the last few years, many of our long time vets have either decided to retire, or move on to opportunities elsewhere in the derby world. Because of those departures, some of our other good skaters may get more mentions as they may have been overshadowed in the past.

Pixie Axe is hard to miss any time she is on the track; she’s probably the one that just sent you to the ground as the TRD jammer skates on by with ease. Lindsey LoBlow has been making her name in the derby-verse ever since she graduated from the Brats program; you’ll see more of her as both a jammer and a blocker. Kosma Nauti is a sweetheart, but try remembering that when her and fellow teammates Pinky McLovin’ and Bea N Hayve keep recycling you out of bounds time after time after time. You’ll also probably see Elektra Highvoltage a lot, and there are always other talents that will shine. Each game seems to highlight another skater, so keep your eyes peeled and your ears tuned for who that will be in the game you’re watching.

Tucson v AZRD
Photo by Alethea Photography

For Tucson Roller Derby, what are the benefits and challenges of being in the WFTDA's West Region?
Doesn’t the saying go, “the West is the best,” or something similar? We have Rocky, Oly, Rat City Rollergirls, Denver Roller Dolls, B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls, and more! Really though, we are blessed to be in a region where we have chances to regularly play against some of the best skaters in the derby world today. The other regions have some great teams and skaters too; however, Colorado and Washington have a lot of great hockey and speed skating stars that have been skating since they were wee little ones. It is tough competition, but we love a challenge! That challenge has lit a fire in our Saddletramps to increase training and play in order to stay competitive in such a tough region. It is also very beneficial when we get to learn from some of the great skaters around the region during games, scrimmages, or practices.

TRD hosted the first-ever roller derby national tournament, the Dust Devil, in 2006. At the time, no one had roller derby tournament experience, and very few leagues had any interleague experience. Please take us down memory lane and talk a bit about what this was like.
Kim Sin, Sloppy Flo, and Jezebel represented TRD at the first ULC meeting in Chicago, Illinois. On the way to the Windy City, they worked through the agenda and agreed that if talks came up of a tournament, TRD would step up to host. The ladies already had a venue lined up, even before any talks of a tournament had started. The soccer tournament experience of Sloppy Flo, the event production experience of Kim Sin, and a kick ass attitude to make it work all added to the confidence that TRD could successfully pull off a tournament. Once talk of a tournament came up at the meeting, Kim Sin was ready, volunteering Tucson as host since we were already set with a venue and basics of how the tournament would work. From there, it was time to put up or shut up, and TRD put up, setting the tournament standard bar at the time. The production team was amazing, and the volume of volunteers was amazing. The level of effort put into the tournament was astounding, and the overall feel of the tournament each day was one of tremendous excitement. Teams brought a lot of hometown fans with them, and there was great pride to be a participant in that first tournament. Every year takes the hard work of all of our league members and our volunteers, along with the participating teams and fans; we can only hope to keep hosting such an amazing event, year after year. You can see some pictures from the original Dust Devil Tournament here.

2012 Dust Devil

This year marks the 5th Dust Devil Tournament in Tucson, Arizona and is being co-hosted by Tucson Roller Derby and Arizona Roller Derby on April 13 to 15th. How does the Dust Devil tournament fit into TRD’s league identity? What made you decide to co-host this year’s event?
Every league that hosts a large annual tournament probably asks themselves “WHY DO WE CONTINUE TO DO THIS?!” The Dust Devil is a historic derby event, and our community pulls together to help host such a great tournament. The tournament is quite a feat to pull off, and something TRD takes pride in. While we originated the tournament, we realize that it is a big responsibility to make successful, and we don’t mind sharing that responsibility and success with our fellow derby sisters from Phoenix if it means a better experience for everyone involved and the derby world. We try to plan the event at a time during the year that will make it a good time for everyone involved; not too hot under the desert sun, but still warm enough to enjoy a dip in the pool after a long day of derby! More details about this year's tournament can be found on the Facebook site.

We’ve heard that the Dust Devil has its first international participants this year: Victorian Roller Derby League from Melbourne, Australia. What prompted you to invite VRDL? How do you think they will be received by fans at the tournament?
We had some ideas floating around of trying to get some other international teams involved along with Victorian, such as Montréal Roller Derby and London Rollergirls. Those two teams weren’t able to fit the tournament into their schedules, but we still wanted Victorian to come, so we invited them! Fans are going to love those girls! Heck, our gals already love them, just because we enjoy listening to people from other areas talk! Our local fans are great, and they recognize when someone makes the effort to travel across the globe just to come to Tucson. People are going to want to see them show off their derby skills! Maybe their participation will encourage some of the other international teams to make their way to Tucson in the future…South America, Canada, Mexico, Asia, Europe…we are calling you OUT for next year!

It looks like this year’s Dust Devil features some exciting competition, including teams like 2010 WFTDA Champions, the Rocky Mountain Roller Girls. Dust Devil is one of the few tournaments that ends with a final winner, whereas many modern roller derby tournaments (other than the Big 5) feature a number of leagues competing in pre-arranged bouts over the course of a weekend. How do you organize for an elimination tournament? Do you have any predictions for the outcome of this year’s Dust Devil?
We first organized the seeding by ranking and implemented a bracket structure that mirrors WFTDA tournament play. This Dust Devil looks to potentially be the most unpredictable tournament yet. With so much skater movement since the 2011 Big 5 tournaments, any team can win. It was important to have the tournament broadcast by Derby News Network since this tournament could really stir up the West Region. With three of our leagues coming from outside the “lower” 48 states, it is important that their fans get the opportunity to watch their teams play, as well. In earlier tournament play at the Big O and Wild West Showdown, it was apparent that underdogs can win while legends may fall. This is one of the most exciting aspects about this tournament this year. In addition, this is the first tournament opportunity for several of the leagues looking for a spot to compete at 2012 Region Playoffs. With the championship up for grabs by any team, THIS is the tournament to see via DNN or in person!

What team does TRD most look forward to playing at this year’s Dust Devil?
We really wish we could have invited more teams to play, but our current venue options just aren’t big enough (hint, hint, anyone wanting to contribute to our dream of a rollerdome/derby warehouse that can support many derby dreams, please contact us!). That being said, I think we’re really looking forward to the possibility of a rematch with Angel City. Sure, they beat us at West Region playoffs last year, but we’re out to prove ourselves and work our way back up the rankings. Hopefully, that match up will happen, and the outcome will be different than the last time!

The Tucson Derby Brats was the first junior derby league, offering roller derby for girls from 10 to 17 years of age. What prompted the development of the Tucson Derby Brats?
The Brats had always been a vision to branch out to, ever since the league began in 2003, but TRD was worried about liability and other issues at the time. Our founder had been a troubled youth, and she had wanted girls 13 to 17 to reap the benefits of what derby does for the soul, and for a girl’s self-esteem. Eventually, Venus Dynamite (still a TRD skater) along with Dylan Hasman, Libby Lawless, Swerve Frehley, and friends Mario and Sharon decided to fill that void and started the Brats league in 2006. Tucson now has a program that instills some great values in the young women of Tucson, turning out some pretty spectacular up-and-coming derby players.

What is the relationship between TRD and the Tucson Derby Brats? How many skaters have graduated to playing with TRD or other senior WFTDA roller derby leagues?
The two leagues are still separate, but they work together, and we currently want to continue working with them more and more. Many of the TRD skaters and officials volunteer their time to help out with coaching the Brats and assisting at their bouts. Many of us just get out and support them in what they do, too. The Brats, in turn, help TRD out at our bouts with various jobs. You’ll see a lot of them during the Dust Devil selling some baked goods and promoting derby. We want to do more with the Brats and keep working as a partner to cultivate their skills, do some promoting of derby with them, and give them a place to be able to skate on a regular basis, just to name a few things. We’ve had five Brats, so far, graduate from the program and skate for TRD. One has since moved on to TXRG, and you may have heard of her: Luce Bandit of the Texecutioners…ring any bells? Lindsey LoBlow is also a standout graduate of the program, currently skating for the Saddletramps and Vice Squad. Great White Narc (formerly known as Stellastarr) skated for Vice Squad after she graduated from Brats too. Tenna C. Risky (formerly known as Roarschach or Turtle) of the Copper Queens is the most recent drafted Brat graduate. Dirty Verde should be seen on the track during a TRD game soon; being the newest Brat graduate to turn 18, she has not yet been selected for a team.

Who are some of your favorite sponsors?
Bookman’s Entertainment Exchange and Nitroburn Industries are two local businesses that have done a lot for the league. Bookman’s provides us with space for scrimmaging and bouting at a very affordable rate, and we are grateful. Nitroburn Industries is our official screenprinter and fills our merchandise orders over and over again. We have many sponsors that help our league be successful! If you catch a Saddletramp game this year, check out their black and gold helmets, painted by Cutting Edge Refinishing. They’re pretty! And we cannot forget Don and Diane Bombshelter, supporters of the derby world, and seen at most of the large derby events! We’re glad they call Tucson home!

TRD practices outside in some chilly temperatures in winter 2011 with a smile! Coach Sami Automatic kept the girls warm with 2 hours of endurance drills.
Photo by Sami Automatic

Do you have a special message to your fans?
We love all of our fans, whether you live in Tucson or beyond! We are proud to represent you all in the derby world, and we hope we can continue to fuel your love of roller derby with exciting action! Thank you, Tucson, for supporting us year after year with open arms!

Is there any other information that you would like to share with wftda.com?
Our website – www.tucsonrollerderby.com – is currently being updated, so check it soon for a fresh new design and layout!

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! Please contact webmaster@wftda.com

Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.