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Gotham Girls Roller Derby

Stocks Falling? Not on this New York Shock Exchange.

by: Thomas Gerbasi
August 9, 2011

The New York Shock Exchange men's roller derby team opens 'Roller Derby Daredevils' on Aug 13th with a 2pm bout vs Baltimore's Harm City Homicide at Brooklyn's Aviator Sports and Events Center.  Get tickets at www.ggrdtix.com, or watch live via streaming at payperview.gothamgirlsrollerderby.com.

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Stocks Falling? Not on this New York Shock Exchange
by Thomas Gerbasi

Jonathan R was stumped. A referee for the Gotham Girls Roller Derby league at the time, he was being interviewed about the rebirth of the sport when asked why the men hadn’t joined in on the flat track revolution, especially considering how they were a big part of the early history of derby.

And he didn’t have an answer. So he made one for himself.

“You know what, I’ll start a team.”

The year was 2006, and that was the easy part. The hard part was going to be building a team, and eventually a league and a movement. But first things first, and after a little research, Jonathan found out about the Pioneer Valley Roller Derby league which fielded co-ed teams out of Northampton, Massachusetts. In late 2006, they played a public bout against the referees from Charm City, and Jonathan contacted them about getting a game together with a men’s team called the New York Shock Exchange.

They agreed. There was just one problem.

“He had a game before he had a team,” recalled Maulin’ Brando, who was simply a derby fan at the time, albeit one with a couple key connections to the sport, since he was dating a skater at the time and having also gone to college with Gotham veteran Surly Temple.

“I saw my first bout and said ‘this is really neat,’ and at the same time had no intention of being a ref or a manager. I was perfectly happy to watch.”

He laughs, because he should have known what was coming next.

“The New York Shock Exchange came along and my girlfriend at the time said ‘you know there’s this men’s league starting up,’” recalled Brando. “‘You want me to do this, don’t you?’”

A chance meeting with some of Jonathan’s new recruits at a dinner party followed, and the conversation went something like this.

“I hear you’ve got a men’s team,” said Brando.

“Yes, you wanna join? We’ll get you skates, tomorrow we practice.”

That was it.

On April 29, 2007, the New York Shock Exchange debuted at the Kendall Park Skating Rink in New Jersey with a 109-51 victory over Pioneer Valley’s Dirty Dozen.

“It took some of the guys who had been helping out for a while going ‘I love this sport, I really want to be on skates too, this looks like so much fun, I want to do it too,’” said Brando. “And that’s where it came from.”

The original NYSE team -- 2007.

The original New York Shock Exchange, 2007.  Skaters in Saturday's bout include four-year veterans Maulin' Brando (3rd from left, top row), Psychobilly (5th from left, top row), Wolfgang Von Stomp (6th from left, top row), Jonathan R (7th from left, top row).  Bottom row: T-Stop Tornado (far left) and Vader (far right).

Since then, the NYSE and the sport of men’s derby has been growing and gaining fan support around the country.  The sport’s governing body, the Men’s Roller Derby Association, now has 15 member leagues (and counting), and media coverage has been favorable.

“The growth that we’ve experienced in the last four and a half years has been exponential,” said Brando. “We started out picking up halftime shows where we could or the occasional doubleheader here and there, but it was always traveling and oftentimes when we tried to do it on our own, it was very hard to build an audience.”

The audience is getting there though, and on Saturday in Brooklyn, it will be a milestone for the NYSE when they open up the derby tripleheader at the Aviator Sports and Events Center against Baltimore's Harm City Homicide in their first bout in the city they call home.

“Anytime that we can get new fans or be seen in front of new people is always a good day,” said Brando. “But I think mostly, we’re just really happy to finally be making our New York City debut. To a lot of us, it’s a long time coming and it removes the excuses of friends saying ‘oh, I don’t know if I can make it there.’ So much of our existence for so long has been travel, just out of necessity. It will be really nice to say, after four and a half years, the New York Shock Exchange plays in New York City. That, to me, is what I want to take from the day, and anything else that happens from there is gravy.”

Star NYSE skater Jonathan R, renowned as an expressive agitator on the track.  Photo: Chris Chin

NYSE founding member Jonathan R, renowned as an expressive agitator on the track.  Photo: Chris Chin

Yes, despite numerous bouts since its inception, the NYSE has never been able to play at home. Sure, they’ve been able to find venues in Long Island and New Jersey, but it’s been difficult to build a fanbase in the Big Apple.

“We’ve done a series of doubleheaders with the Long Island Roller Rebels out in Bethpage, New York, and that’s been a very successful thing for us for the 2011 season,” said Brando. “But there are no roller rinks in New York City proper, and we don’t have all the resources that we would love to have, so it’s really a challenge to build a fanbase. And that’s the thing about August 13th, and why we’re so excited.”

And for fans who are used to the excellence displayed on the track by the Gotham Girls, this is the same game of derby played by the ladies. No rule changes, no track changes. If you enjoy derby, that’s what the NYSE plans on giving you this weekend when they play their counterparts from Baltimore.

“The Harm City Homicide is a team that’s one of the three original men’s derby teams and they’re great guys and a great team,” said Brando. “I hope that no matter how the game goes, people will say that was some really good derby.”

As for his own squad, one that is growing to the point where the league will introduce a B team and home teams later this year, Brando says, “The thing that I’m most proud of is that we really are just a great team. We’re more than just a collection of great individual skaters; I think we’re one of the smartest teams out there and we work really well together. And I think that’s why we’ve been as successful as we’ve been.”

In 2010, the NYSE won the Men’s Derby Coalition (the precursor to the MRDA) championship, and they are 7-1 thus far in 2011. What’s the secret to their success? Some good ol’ fashioned elbow grease.

The Shock Exchange vs St. Louis Gatekeepers earlier this spring.  Photo: MrMcWheely.com

The Shock Exchange vs St. Louis Gatekeepers earlier this spring.  Photo: MrMcWheely.com

“There are some guys around the country that come from a speed skating background or a jam skating or hockey background, but if you don’t do that, where else are you gonna come from?” said Brando. “So many of our guys just say ‘I think that’s cool; teach me how to skate.’ And we do. We call our new guys 'futures,' and we work with them for months and we teach them the basics, and all it takes is a love of the sport and a commitment to work. It’s a matter of keeping with it, and that’s the beauty of the sport. You want to learn how to do it? We promise that we will teach you.”

And while it’s been a wild ride to make it to Brooklyn for this weekend’s milestone bout, Maulin’ Brando, Jonathan R and company wouldn’t change a thing. You’ve heard it dozens of times from female skaters, and it’s true – derby is more than just a sport. The men agree.

“We have guys on our team from their early 20s to mid 40s, and there’s something about this sport,” said Brando. “When, as an adult, are you gonna get a chance to be on a team again, to really replicate that closeness, that bond that you had as a kid in playing team sports? It’s such a rarity to be exposed to something like this, People always joke that derby’s a way of life, but there’s something about something that everyone creates together. We all have to get together and put the track down, we have to sell our own merchandise, do our own promotions, and it comes from your own two hands and the hard work of all the other guys around you who take the time to build a website or write press releases. It’s such a self-created thing that you can’t help but love it. It can be stressful putting in all that groundwork, but then you get on the track, and I’m like ‘oh that’s right, I remember why I do this.’”

Maulin Brando after another NYSE victory.  Photo: Chris Chin

Maulin Brando after another NYSE victory.  Photo: Chris Chin