Flash forward to June 26 as derby teams from all over the central/standard time zone were packing their skate bags into vehicles and hitting the open road. Their destination: Lebanon, MO and the second annual Midwest Derby Fest.
The Midwest Derby Fest is an invitational tournament that was started last year by derby legend Shane Darby. Since the Division 1 tournaments are only available to those teams who are ranked 40 or higher, Darby wanted to give lower ranked and B-teams a chance to see what they were made of. So, in the entrepreneurial, do-it-yourself spirit of roller derby, he formed his own tournament. There are only two real qualifications a team has to meet to be eligible: they have to play by WFTDA rules and their ranking has to fall in the middle or lower part of the spectrum. Any team from around the world is welcome to play, but being a realist, Darby knew that only teams in the Midwest would be interested in traveling any distance to participate.
Like most folks who live in the middle of the map, I’d heard of Lebanon, but it’s off the beaten path so you can’t even say you’ve driven through it on your way to someplace else and it’s not exactly a vacation destination. When I asked him about it, he said it came down to logistics. It’s centrally located, so with the exception of Minnesota or Wisconsin, nobody has to drive all the way across one state or the other.
Last year, he sent the word as far down as Texas and up almost to the Canadian border. With enough emails and phone calls, he managed to bring together men’s and women’s teams for a three day, double elimination roller derby Enter The Dragon. Everybody had such a good time that most of the teams came back again this year and Darby had fewer phone calls to make.
Participating this year was:
- Capital City Crushers, women’s team from Topeka, KS
- Capital City Hooligans, men’s team from Springfield, IL
- Cowtown Butchers, men’s team from Kansas City
- Dark River Derby Coalition, women’s team from Quincy, IL
- Derby Diamonds, women’s team from Fort Smith, AR
- Fleur de Linquents, women’s team from St. Louis, MO
- ICT Roller Girls, women’s team from Wichita, KS
- Iron Range Maidens, women’s team from Grand Rapids, MN
- Midwest United Lovely Ladies of Excellent Team (M.U.L.L.E.T.), a combination of women’s teams from Cape Girardeau Roller Girls (Cape Girardeau, MO), Como Derby Dames (Columbia, MO), Prairieland Punishers (Decatur, IL), and Southern Illinois Roller Girls (Marion, IL)
- Made in KC, a team formed of Dead Girl Derby players from Kansas City
- Mid America Rebel Rollers, women’s team from Troy, IL
- Milwaukee Blitzdkrieg, men’s team from Milwaukee, WI
- Mo-Kan Roller Girlz, women’s team from Joplin, MO
- OKC Wolfpack, men’s team from Oklahoma City, OK
- Plan B
- Queen B’s, women’s team from Springfield, MO
- T.C. Terrordactyls, men’s team from Minneapolis, MN
- Tulsa Derby Militia, men’s team from Tulsa, OK
- Quad City Rollers, defending women’s champions from Davenport, IA
As the tournament got under way, a few things were noticeable right off. For starters, there was no National Anthem. There were no announcers, team introductions, or DJ. It wasn’t until after the first couple of games that I noticed the genius in this. Everything was running on time. Darby has taken everything about a tournament and stripped it down to the bare essentials like an outlaw motorcycle. Who’s going to sing the National Anthem? It doesn’t matter, there won’t be one. Who will coordinate the announcers? Doesn’t matter, there won’t be any. Who will be found for bout production? It doesn’t matter, we have two teams, a ref staff and some NSOs, go play the game. There were enough delays with time outs and injuries that all of the pomp and circumstance would have made for a long experience that you probably wouldn’t have wanted to relive the next day let alone the next year. The crowds were light, but given that it’s only the second year and it’s on neutral ground, word of mouth will take a little time to spread.
Day 1 went well. It’s still too early for any big upsets. The teams are playing, getting to know each other and the brackets are being filled out. Plan B’s only opponent of the day was Iron Range Maidens from Minnesota. The two teams had never faced each other and neither one wanted to get thrown over to the B side of the bracket on the first day. As they lined up, you could feel the determination. The whistle blew, signaling the charge, and the Maidens' jammer broke through the ranks first. Second year veteran Peanut Butter Panic found herself mired down in the defense and by the time she broke free and made her first pass, Iron Range scored three points and shut it down. First blood had been drawn and Plan B wasn’t going to sit down and take it. In the second jam, they formed a wall and dropped it on the Maidens jammer as Sk8l Attraction worked her way through the pack, answering the three points and going one better. That was the only time the Iron Range Maidens dominated the board.
By half time, Plan B had widened the lead 92 to 60. The second half, however, would show that victory does not come without a price. Recent B team addition Baby Buster took a hit that folded her backwards at the waist. She was slow in getting up but she eventually did and sat out the remainder of the game. In the 19th jam, KCRW rookie Lady Killshot took a hit that aggravated an old wound and she was sidelined with ice packs. When the final whistle blew, Plan B dominated 215 to 113. It looked like June was going to be the month that KCRW turned it all around!
There was little time to celebrate since Day 1 ended around 11 p.m. and Day 2 was going to start at 8 a.m. There was basically enough time to eat, wash jerseys and sleep.
Day 2 is always an exciting time at tournaments. The air is filled with yesterday’s sweat, today's Febreze and the desperate hope that they can hang on until tomorrow.
At mid-morning, Plan B played their first game of the day. It was against ICT from Wichita, who had beaten Mid America Rebel Rollers the previous day. I had asked team captain Peanut Butter Panic if she had any predictions about the tournament and one of her hopes was that they’d get to play ICT since Plan B had lost by 2 points last August when they played each other.
Peanut Butter Panic was the starting jammer. ICT was getting the dish best served cold and she was going to give them the first course. She scored 3 points on the first jam but ICT came back in the second jam with 4 points. Feeling déjà vu, Plan B scored 3 more the next jam and just kept the pressure on. At half time, Plan B was ahead 100 to 60. By the end of the second period, it was 181 to 125 and Plan B avenged their former loss and had their second win in a row. They would now go on to play Mo-Kan Roller Girlz, who had already beaten M.U.L.L.E.T and Made In KC.
By this time, Quad City had defeated Dark River and Derby Diamonds and was waiting to see if they would play Plan B or Mo-Kan.
At the end of the first jam, Mo-Kan was up 8 to 1. Their walls were solid and their offense was quick. This was going to be an uphill battle. By half time, Mo-Kan was leading 100 to 68. The situation wasn’t hopeless, but it wasn’t going to be easy either. There was going to have to be a strong rally.
Plan B came back from the locker room with a renewed focus and determination. Their walls were becoming more effective and the offense was creeping the score up a little at a time. When they tied the score, Plan B really began to see that what can bleed can be killed. The lead would change every couple of jams, but eventually Plan B pulled ahead. In the 19th jam, Lady Killshot scored a 23 point power jam and nailed the coffin shut. The final score was Plan B-201, Mo-Kan-158. Plan B was going to move forward and take on the defending champions, Quad City.
By this point, the B side of the bracket was looking like a rogues gallery with three out of four teams all looking to move on and play Plan B one more time. Quad City had put Derby Diamonds on the B side and they were probably looking for a little pay back as well. Whoever won the last game of the night would be sitting comfortably at the top of the A bracket, waiting for whomever made it to the top of the B bracket.
In the sixth jam, Plan B was finally leading 12 to 6. By half time, Quad City had pulled ahead 64 to 56. The longer the second period went on, the more you could see the fatigue starting to take its toll on Plan B. Quad City was a formidable opponent and they weren’t going to just hand over their title without a fight. Things slowly went from difficult to bleak to hopeless. With two jams left and an impossible point deficit to make up, the best Plan B could hope for was to finish well and not feel used and abused. That miracle came in the form of Rump Wrecker who, in the last jam, got a 26 point power jam and closed the gap. The final score was Quad City-161, Plan B-141. Not a victory but not a blow-out. Luckily, it’s double elimination so tomorrow is another day.
It was another night of jersey washing and sleeping for the well deserving team. They fought hard and there would be more of the same the following day. They were doing better in the last two days than they had done since March. It was an amazing feeling being here to witness it.
Sunday. Here is where it all came together. Mo-Kan would lose their game to ICT and Derby Diamonds would defeat Iron Range Maidens. The winner of that game would move on to face Plan B. Since the game wasn’t until later in the day, the team was taking it easy. Some of the players would check out the tournament action while others were back at the hotel. They would cheer for the other teams, but you could see the look of hunger in their eyes. They were getting psyched up, feeding off of the energy. Victory was two games away. They had proven to themselves, their opponents and their fans that they were capable of winning. They were looking good and feeling good. They wanted this.
ICT was trailing Derby Diamonds by one point at half time but by the end of the second period, they managed to pull off a victory of 125 to 118. It looked as though Peanut Butter Panic’s wish list was coming around again.
The score through the first three jams stayed fairly close but then in the fourth jam, Lady Killshot had another power jam and moved it up to 21 to 14. ICT never recovered and Plan B just kept the momentum going. At half time, they were leading 95 to 27 and by the end they had put 153 points on the board to ICT’s 99. Plan B was getting another shot at Quad City and that was just the warm up.
As everybody was waiting for the main event in the women’s bracket, the men had their big showdown between Tulsa Derby Militia and OKC Wolfpack. In the end, it was Tulsa who won 175 to 135 and becoming the Men’s Championship Team of The Midwest Derby Fest.
Finally, the time had come. Quad City and Plan B took the track and the jam timer blew the whistle. In the third jam, Lady Killshot got another power jam and the score was 19 to 9. Plan B was leading for the first time. The next jam, however, Quad City came back and the score was 29 to 23. In jam 11, second year veteran Peter Baberiel tied it up 50-50, but by half time, Quad City had taken the lead back 90 to 78. Plan B made a valiant rally effort in the second period, but by that point, Quad City just kept their momentum rolling and the final score was 202 to 104. Plan B may not have won the tournament, but they did get a silver medal for their efforts and it was great to see them playing up to their potential.
Through the course of the day on Sunday, every player got to vote on a MVP for the blocker and jammer. After everything was said and done with the two time champions, the awards were handed out. The women’s MVP jammer was Hollywood Chaos of Mo-Kan Roller Girlz and the men’s was Drunken Giraffe of OKC Wolfpack. The women’s MVP blocker was Hotrod Havock of Mo-Kan and the men’s was Goliath of Tulsa Derby Militia.
Both Plan B and the KCRW All Stars will be going to Oklahoma City, OK on July 19. Plan B will be taking on the Battle Squad and the All Stars will be going up against the Oklahoma Victory Dolls All Stars. Now that the streaks have been broken, let’s hope that both teams can keep the momentum going through tournament seaso