In the Gotham Girls Roller Derby league, the history between the Queens of Pain and the Bronx Gridlock is well documented, and one evident with just a glance at the banners that will be hanging at John Jay College in Manhattan this coming Saturday:
10 years of Gotham;
Four championship titles for Queens;
Three titles for the Bronx.
In fact, for the first six years of the league’s existence, the only champions wore yellow or black, as the Gridlock and Queens traded the Golden Skate trophy back and forth.
Everything changes in sports though, and no dynasties last forever. In more recent years, Manhattan and Brooklyn got into the championship sweepstakes themselves; with title wins in two of the last three seasons, the Mayhem might be starting to build a dynasty of their own.
Yet the old guard has not faded away, content to live on past glories. Queens won the league title in 2013, the only team between the Mayhem and a three-peat. And against all odds, the Gridlock has battled back from retirements, skater turnover and injuries to become a thrill-a-second contender, a team that’s never out of any game.
So as the season opener for both approaches this weekend, it’s not a meeting where the two teams are focusing on the history of this rivalry, but on creating a new standard to build on and take to a championship game, no matter who else is on the track when the whistle blows.
“We look at all of our opponents the same way,” said one of Queens’ newly drafted skaters, Kitty Roadkill. “So it’s not really us against the Bronx, it’s really us playing like it’s for the championship. For us, it’s very important to be a good team, a very clean team and play against the other teams in a way that we can succeed this season. But I am aware of the Bronx and Queens’ rivalry, so hopefully we’ll be able to bring it for Queens.”
One of the Bronx’ newest members, GGRD All-Star and former Mayhem skater Swede Hurt, is also no stranger to the rivalry, having seen it from afar when she was on Manhattan. While she respects Queens and the legacy it has carved out for itself, she’s only looking at the skaters who will be trying to hit her on Saturday.
“I remember when I was still with Rat City, I came out and played Queens with one of my home teams from Seattle, and it was a big thing to play against Suzy Hotrod,” Swede said. “After that, I wound up playing with her on the All-Stars. I think Queens has a lot of legends who have been there for a while, though they had a lot of retirements and had to bring new skaters in. But their team is really solid. They have ShortStop, a fantastic transfer from Australia who played in two World Cups. She’s super strong, super athletic. Their new skaters are really good and they already had a solid team, so it’s going to be exciting to play them.”
That may be the key to the lack of nostalgia around this matchup – that only a select few remain from those early days of the Queens–Bronx rivalry. For Queens, it’s the venerable Suzy Hotrod, Hyper Lynx, Puss ‘n Glutes, and Pippi Strongsocking, while Speed McQueen is the only Bronx skater who helped raise those championship banners. In other words, it’s a new era, but no less intense.
That aforementioned Queens core is as fearsome as it has ever been, and there are more than a few veterans like Babe Brawlins, Allifornication, Celtic Thunder and ChopStick Murphy to help acclimate the team’s newcomers to the order of the black.
“It helps very, very much that we’re not new skaters per se, so we know strategies and Gotham strategies, and now we’re just building the team,” Kitty said. “We’re building Queens and not individual skills at this moment. We’re working on Queens strategies, which are very, very particular, and on team building and working together as skaters.”
And Suzy hasn’t stopped pushing her team in practices that have taken on a mythical air over the years for their intensity.
“For me personally, this is a great, great fit,” Kitty said. “I’m also one of those people that push themselves to the limit, so it’s great for me to be skating with people the caliber of Suzy, Lynx and Puss, and seeing them on the track and pushing it every time.”
The conditioning and cohesiveness of Queens may be their biggest asset come Saturday night, and they’ll need to be firing on all cylinders against a Bronx team that bears a distinctly different look from the one it sported last year. In fact, while last year saw a group of underdogs pull together to battle the juggernauts of the league, this year the Gridlock may very well be that GGRD juggernaut, with a lineup that employs seven All-Stars (the most of any home team in the league), returning jamming phenom Slambda Phage (who is now skating as Fisher Twice), and an imposing front line that includes Swede, returning All-Star Cherry Napalm, and noted knockout artist Davey Blockit.
That’s a lot of star power on one team, but talent alone doesn’t produce winners; teamwork does, and as Swede points out, Bronx is coming along in that area just fine.
“A lot of us are new to the team, so there are many things we have to learn together,” she said. “It’s a lot of communication, a lot of talking, and I’ve become to feel more and more secure in the team. I feel like I can make a difference and be an asset, and we’re helping each other. It’s a team sport, so we all have to work together and that’s fun. I’m finding where I can fit in and where I can be helpful to girls who might not have skated as long as me, or are new to Gotham strategies. It’s always an adjustment time for everyone, but I feel like we’re doing really, really well.
“I think we are building something really strong,” Swede continues. “We’re kind of a nerdy, quiet team. It’s hard to explain, but it feels like we’re starting to get together as a group, and being able to feel like the team trusts me and I trust the team is super important to me.”
So how do you beat a cohesive squad packed with skill and size? Queens has some ideas about that.
“We’re trying to make strategies that will work against that specific team, and when I look at them, they are very big,” Kitty laughs. “You can see that, so we are adjusting our strategies accordingly, and it will definitely be a challenge. But we’re getting ready psychologically and physically – we’re not allowed to eat chocolate before the bout, so we’re taking it very seriously.”
Never discount the chocolate factor.
Written by Michael Gerbasi