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Brewcity Bruisers: Milwaukee Rollergirls
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Brewcity Bruisers: Milwaukee Rollergirls

a picture of some of the Brewcity Bruisers, Milwaukee Rollergirls

By Colleen Rook

Milwaukee is, among many things, a city strongly rooted in its sports traditions. This past year especially, fans of Wisconsin teams have had a lot to be enthusiastic about. But beyond the baseball, football and other more “mainstream” athletic events, excitement continues to build over a sport whose popularity is surging across the country and around the world: roller derby. The once-televised competitions of decades past have given rise to a modern day resurgence of pandemic proportions, and Milwaukee houses its very own league—your
Brewcity Bruisers Milwaukee Rollergirls! In the midst of their sixth home season, these hometown athletes are working as hard as ever to bring you fast, hard-hitting action and leave you excited for more.

The Name of the Game—‘This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Roller Derby!’
Roller derby has a long, rich history and has undergone many changes over the past century. For many who may have seen or heard of the game in the past, the words may conjure up images from the '70s-'80s of professional wrestling-like scenes involving choreographed hair-pulling and other similarly-staged thrills. Those days have long been left behind: today’s skaters endure intense training to prepare for the hits, falls and occasional injuries—including broken bones, concussions and torn ligaments—that are all very real. It’s the players’ genuine athleticism and gracefully brutal competition that attracts present-day fans and prospective skaters alike, as well as the dozens of referees and support staff who are needed to successfully run a league.

Many present-day roller derby leagues skate on a flat surface, as opposed to the banked oval-shaped tracks usually shown in films or on past television broadcasts. Banked track leagues are still in existence today; however, owing to the cost of constructing such a venue, flat track teams have been growing in strong numbers. Flat track derby can be played on nearly any level surface (gymnasium floors, skate rinks, asphalt parking lots—anywhere with enough space to outline a track), hence its surge in popularity within derby’s present-day revival. Since the majority of roller derby teams are self-started with resources limited to what fledgling members can muster, a more accessible playing surface has lead to a greater number of flat track leagues playing competitively on both local and national levels.

a picture of derby girls on the trackThe Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) is the governing body for flat track derby teams, currently listing over 130 member leagues (incidentally, the current WFTDA president is Brewcity Bruiser’s very own Grace Killy). Earning status as a full WFTDA member allows for a team to participate in tournaments and national rankings, but is also important for keeping one’s proverbial finger on the pulse of what is still an evolving sport—WFTDA member leagues are given opportunities to vote on new policies and test out new rules of the game before they are implemented at large. “Do you want to see the growth of a sport—where it came from, how it started, before it’s reached the grandness of the NBA, NFL or MLB?” probes Shari “Romaniac” Comstock, a five-season veteran skater of the Bruisers. “Then you MUST come and see!”

Quick n’ Dirty Derby—Basic Rules of the Flat Track
As any current participant or fan may caution newcomers to the roller derby world, it is usually an extremely fast-moving sport involving rules and strategies that may overwhelm—at first. But with a basic understanding of positions and the object of the game, it’s easy to pick up on—and even easier to get caught up in the enthusiasm.

a picture of derby girls in actionCompetitions are called bouts—a reference to the sport’s fighting spirit—and every match is played between two teams. Both halves of the bout are divided into two-minute periods called jams, during which each team fields four blockers and one jammer. Jammers wear helmet covers with large stars on the sides and are the only players who can score points for their team. Both teams’ jammers line up together behind the pack of blockers, and points are scored after they are able to fight through the blockers and make a full lap around the track—one point is awarded for every opposing player that a jammer legally passes during each successive lap. No points are given for the initial fight through the pack of blockers; rather, the first jammer to legally make it through all blockers from both teams is given ‘lead’ status, meaning that for any strategical reason, she can stop the jam before its two minutes have passed by repeatedly placing her hands on her hips.

a picture of some derby girls in actionWhat does it mean to pass an opposing player ‘legally’? The goal of the game—getting your team’s jammer through while trying to stop the opposing team’s jammer—means playing both offense and defense almost simultaneously, and the only implements in use to accomplish this are skaters’ bodies. Players hit each other with their shoulders and hips to get into better position or to move an adversary out of the way for a jammer’s scoring pass. While big hits are common (and often a favorite part of the spectacle for fans), there are rules in place designed to keep skaters safe on the track, so they
must be controlled with their calculated aggression. A ‘legal’ pass means lapping another player without getting penalties. Tripping, punching and head-butting are some examples of what is not allowed, and referees are present to monitor game play and ensure that rule-breakers serve their time in the penalty box (also endearingly referred to as the ‘naughty box’ or ‘sin bin’).

Still confused? Don’t worry about it! Watching bouts is the best way to learn. As skater Nyssa “Nyssassyn” McClain points out, “because we didn’t grow up learning the basic rules in a phys ed unit, as a fan it’s a harder sport to break into, but there are plenty of girls on skates who are more than happy to answer any of your questions!” Before you know it, you’ll find yourself on your feet cheering for your favorite team.

Who are the Brewcity Bruisers (BCB)?
The Brewcity Bruisers league formed in 2005 with the intent to promote positive, empowering athletic competition and entertainment, to develop strong female athletes and to give back to the Milwaukee community at large (both charitably and through support of local businesses). The league is comprised of four home teams, two traveling teams, referees, Beerleaders (their own aptly-themed cheerleaders) and support staff. Their home season lasts from January through May and is played tournament-style, with the season’s final bout determining that year’s champion. The four home teams competing annually for the trophy are the Shevil Knevils, Maiden Milwaukee, the Rushin’ Rollettes and the Crazy 8s. Select members from all four home teams combine to make up the two travel teams, the Brewcity Bruisers All-Stars and Battlestars. 2012 is the second season during which all home bouts are skated at the US Cellular Arena downtown, a testament to their growing fan base—past seasons saw sell-out crowds at the Franklin Sports Complex, where bouts used to take place, and the 2011 home season’s record attendance at the US Cellular Arena topped well over 3,000.

Some readers may be surprised to learn that all league members are volunteers—no skater is paid to play and members pay monthly dues to participate. Because the league is self-organized and run as a business in addition to the actual skating involved, members also work on a variety of committees spanning from from athletics training to merchandising. This do-it-yourself spirit is at the heart of today’s derby resurgence, and being part of a community so supportive of all things local makes the Bruisers league no exception to the rule. “I think [we] help bring out the local city pride,” affirms Anna “Thunderpants!” Wilson. “There is so much fan and business support, it’s amazing! And since we are a brewing city, I think it only fitting that we represent Milwaukee.”

a picture of some of the derby girls at Horny Goat HideawayWork Hard … Play Harder!
Actively participating in any sport takes commitment. Hours of practice and preparation pour forth from these teams: early mornings and late nights are spent perfecting drills and phrases like, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t make it … I have derby’ become second nature. Have no doubts about it, however; along with the intense workout regimen, there is plenty of fun to be had. It’s all a part of the camaraderie—there is nothing quite like knocking back a few drinks with a woman you’ve just been literally knocking back on the track. Teams commonly congregate after their weekly practices to refuel and share a drink, and fans can get a taste of the fun after every home bout by attending the after-parties at Turner Hall (across the street from the US Cellular). As Stevie “Strykher” T. asserts, “BCB brings entertainment—a wonderful night out at the after-parties. We also support our sponsors by going to brunch at their shops or stopping for a few drinks after practice.”

One of the Bruisers’ sponsors, the Horny Goat Hideaway, recently brewed an individual craft beer for each of the four home teams, pitting them in a competition to see whose beer would sell out first. Each team named its own brew and special labels were designed for the promotion: Shevil Knevils’ “Never Say Die!” amber lager, Rushin’ Rollettes’ “Lenin’s Choice: AKA Your Only Choice” Irish red ale, Maiden Milwaukee’s “Maiden Motor Oil” chocolate stout, and Crazy 8s’ “Coco Loco” coconut porter. The first to sell out will become Horny Goat’s official Brewcity Bruisers beer.

Derby Love
a picture of some derby girls at Horny Goat Hideaway A heart-warming point of pride for the Brewcity Bruisers is the amount of charitable work done for the greater Milwaukee community. As a non-profit organization, the league donates much of their proceeds to a local charity every month during its home season. Fans can expect discounted admission to each home bout by making a specified donation (for example, with a non-perishable food item, tickets to this season’s opener were $3 off regular adult admission, and the February 11th bout has a similar offer for $3 off with a donation of toiletries to the YMCA). The Bruisers have volunteered their time at many local charities and have maintained community garden plots that yielded hundreds of dollars’ worth of organically-grown produce for neighborhood soup kitchens. Employees of (and volunteers for) local non-profits, community organizations and first responders (police & fire stations) also take note: the Brewcity Bruisers offer a chance to win up to 20 free tickets to every bout simply by taking a survey through their website. Visit the BCB Community Service site for more information—your non-profit organization could be next month’s big winner!

Why Roller Derby?
Ask any number of derby players what it is they love about the sport, and you will be sure to hear many variations on the same basic themes: the camaraderie. The challenge. The feeling that anything is possible through practice, drive and dedication. Several skaters offer anecdotes illustrating how their lives have been transformed by what started out as a ‘just a hobby’—there is something innately empowering about training to play derby: somewhere between the hours of practice and unwavering support of fellow league members, a jolt of confidence awakens and leads to a stronger sense of self.

One of the most impressive aspects of the sport is the diversity of its players and volunteer support staff—there really is no such thing as a “typical” derby participant. They come from all walks of life. The Brewcity Bruisers are teachers, students, stay-at-home-mothers, accountants, dental hygienists, lawyers, artists, chefs and musicians—to name just a fraction of what they do with their time off the track. You will find that their fan base reflects the same spirit: everyone is welcomed with open arms, and the crowd ranges a full spectrum of ages and backgrounds.

There are also body types of all kinds found in this sport—from short to tall, thick to thin and everything in-between, each skater learns to use her size to her advantage. Don’t allow looks to deceive you, either—tiny skaters can pack explosive hitting power and bigger women are quite nimble on their skates. Some skaters found the sport as a natural extension of their life-long athleticism and/or love of roller-skating. Others had little to no background in competitive sports, and many had not been near a pair of roller skates since the days of grade school birthday parties. What binds this league is the strength of its members’ differences pooling to create something bigger than its individuals alone.

a picture of two derby girls getting ready for a boutWant More?

Whether you have attended a roller derby bout previously or not, there is still plenty of time to jump in and follow the rest of the 2012 home season.

All home bouts are double-headers, so any date(s) you choose to attend will allow you to check out all four teams as they duke it out for the championship trophy.

March 10th
April 14th (semi-finals)
May 5th (championship)
Doors open at 6 pm and the first bout begins at 7 pm

Along with the skating action, fans can expect a variety of halftime entertainment. “This year, we have racing beer bottles ON SKATES!” Melissa “Melissa Mayhem” Radtke beams. “Anyone can run in a sausage costume, but try skating in a beer bottle costume! Where else could you see that?”

Although the home season lasts just five months, there is plenty of derby to be had year-round. Early this June, BCB will again host their annual tournament, the Midwest Brewhaha. More than twenty leagues will converge upon Milwaukee to participate over an entire weekend packed full of bouts at the US Cellular Arena. Both the All-Star and Battlestar travel teams continue their season over summer months. Make sure to follow the schedules once they have been set and posted on the Bruiser’s website so you can join in on cheering the league’s battle cry: “BREWCITY BRUISERS! BEER! BEER! BEER!”

Get Involved!
Are you interested in becoming a Brewcity Bruisers roller girl, referee, Beerleader or volunteer? For those who decide that the thrill of cheering from the track-side isn’t quite enough to feed their new-found derby addiction, rest assured—regardless of the amount of time you wish to commit, there is an opportunity available.

a picture of some derby girls in actionFor prospective skaters, the league holds annual tryouts. Boot camps covering basic skills are run several times each year to help interested women prepare (refer to for questions about recruitment and submit your info if you wish to receive news about upcoming events). Skaters must be at least 21 years of age. Basic forward skating skills are preferred and safety gear is required—a limited amount of used gear is available to try out if you aren’t quite ready to invest, but we are lucky to have a local skate shop in Bay View—stop by Bigfoot Bike & Skate to try on pads, helmets and skates that will have you rolling in no time.

BCB is offering a recreational league for the first time: BCB Lite Brews accept women 18+ for 6-week sessions offered year-round, an opportunity to start training before tryouts in the summer. It’s also a chance to participate for those who cannot consistently devote the amount of time it takes to play through an entire home season, and a great way for retired skaters or women looking to try a unique athletic challenge to stay in shape.

While skaters receive a lot of attention, the fact stands that many other crucial roles exist that must be filled in order to successfully run a roller derby league. Referees (AKA “zebras”) devote much time and training to their skating skills as well as keeping up-to-date on rules and penalties. NSOs (non-skating officials) are the folks you see in the center of and all around the track wearing Pepto-pink shirts—these vital volunteers keep track of the score, tally penalties, run timers for players in the penalty boxes and document a number of other statistics. Volunteering as an NSO is an excellent way to learn the game from the inside out. If interested in joining the ref or NSO crew, please see BCB’s website for more information. BCB needs you!

Hop on the Wagon!
There is no question that the derby bug has bitten on a global scale. 2011 saw the very first World Cup take place, bringing women across the planet together for an international battle on the flat track (it may be no surprise to learn that Team USA crushed its competition across the board—the sport was born here, after all). Roller derby is here to stay, and Milwaukeeans have every reason to support their women’s flat track home league—the Brewcity Bruisers have it all: entertainment, athleticism, philanthropy and BEER! BEER! BEER!

a picture of some derby girls at Horny Goat Hideway