Skater Profile

Gotham Girls Roller Derby

Skater Profile: Ginger Snap of the Bronx Gridlock

by: Thomas Gerbasi
November 17, 2010

Ginger Snap and the Bronx Gridlock battled for the team's second consecutive league title -- watch the Championship bout video stream on demand at www.ggrd-nyclife.com.

Ginger Snap – A Chat with The President
by Thomas Gerbasi

As far as Ginger Snap was concerned, her foray into the world of roller derby was just going to be a hobby, or as she puts it, “a thing to get me off the treadmill at the gym, more interesting than what I was doing.” Then came the night of Friday, November 12th, 2004, and everything changed for the former actress.

“It was a rainy night in the Bronx in a neighborhood that none of our friends ever frequented, and everybody came out,” she said, referring to the Gotham Girls Roller Derby league’s first exhibition between the Manhattan Mayhem and the Brooklyn Bombshells. “There was no beer. All they came for was derby, and it was just staggering.”

For the skaters on the track that night - some with names familiar to current derby fans like Snap and Suzy Hotrod; others, like Baby Ruthless and Rippin Kittin, part of a different time – that first bout was a statement, a declaration of what their hard work over the previous year had been for. If it took off from there, great; if it didn’t, that was fine too, because they were making their own rules.

Bombshells vs. Mayhem at the very first exhibition

Above: (L-R) Suzy Hotrod, Chassis Crass, Baby Ruthless, Lil' Red Terror, Ginger Snap (jamming for Mayhem), Rippin' Kitten, and Venus Demolish in the very first GGRD exhibition at The Skate Key (November 2004).

“We had been skating around in circles hitting each other for almost a year, and we said 'even if nobody shows up, we’ll just do it in fancier uniforms,'” recalled Snap, who played for Mayhem that evening. “We made 300 programs and over 500 people showed up, and I’ve never felt so much like a rock star. For two weeks after that game, I felt like a rock star everywhere I went, and my team didn’t even win. (Laughs) It was just that we pulled off that event.”

The feeling was unlike anything she ever experienced, and six years later, little has changed.

“Every year, at the first two games when the newbies are announced, I get choked up,” she said. “I know that they’re feeling what I was feeling that very first game. I was a performer for 20 years before derby, and all the standing ovations that casts and I have ever gotten didn’t compare to that opening lap. It’s indescribable.”

What has changed, though, is derby’s place in the modern sports world, and Ginger Snap has evolved along with it. No longer a spectacle with pro wrestling antics and scripted storylines, the modern incarnation of the sport has grown by leaps and bounds since those early days in the Bronx and elsewhere around the United States. And as far as Snap’s “hobby” goes, it has turned into a lot more, as she currently holds key spots as a blocker and pivot for the Bronx Gridlock and the GGRD All-Stars, works on the league’s coaching committee, and most importantly, she is the President of the league, a post she has held since taking over from founder Chassis Crass in 2008.

Snap pivots in the Bronx Gridlock's first bout in 2006.  Photo: Steve Prue

Above: Snap pivots during the Bronx Gridlock's first bout in May 2006.  Photo: Steve Prue

“Like any other President or CEO, I’m in charge of everything and I’m in charge of nothing,” she said. “I’m accountable and responsible for everything, but it’s the delegation that actually matters, and keeping everything below the tip of the iceberg steady and solid is an everyday, billion-hours-a-day job. Day to day, it’s dealing with finding our new [practice] space, dealing with ref relations and keeping tabs on the national scene, making sure that we are in line with what everyone else is doing, and staying on the forefront of making things bigger and better. Our video crew has done an overwhelmingly awesome job this year of stepping up and making Gotham’s video the number one way to shoot derby.  We have the number one [stats] recording program, Rinxter, and we are currently number one in the East. All of that translates into being the biggest and the best, and this is New York; you’ve got to do that. That’s why you move to New York.”

It’s also why being president of the league – in addition to the aforementioned duties, working a day job, and having a life outside of derby – is such a high-pressure gig. But you wouldn’t know it if you talked to Snap or ran into her at a league bout. Always quick with a smile, she presents the image that you want to see at the head of a sports league – affable, approachable, and in control.

Oh yeah, and she has to skate, too, and as this interview is conducted, she’s sitting in her office, looking at the tangible rewards from six years in derby – three bearings for her GGRD championship wins as a member of the Gridlock, medals from various tournaments around the country, and badges from other tournaments she’s worked. She muses for a moment.

“Trophies, badges, and medals are awesome, but the league does so much more than that.”

She continues.

Snap sits on Lucille Brawl of Austin's Texecutioners. Photo: Tom Igoe

Above: Snap sits on fellow redhead Lucille Brawl of Austin's Texecutioners (June 2009).  Photo: Tom Igoe

“I’m constantly staggered by how much we pull off, whether it’s an event where we exceed our goals in fundraising or the fact that we've just found a new warehouse space that’s gonna be triplefold awesome compared to what we have right now. When it comes down to it, we get our hands dirty and we make things happen.”

On and off the track. Try asking a member of the Knicks or Rangers to pull up the hardwood court or put the ice down after or before one of their games, or ask the Yankees or Mets to sell candy or merch at their respective stadiums. But the members of the Gotham Girls league, in addition to their games and grueling practices, also pay dues, build and break down their track, and handle all aspects of their business. Oh, and they work day jobs to boot. But you don’t hear anyone asking out of the league due to these extra duties. And when you see the President getting her hands dirty with everyone else, it undoubtedly adds to league morale.

That’s just this writer's two cents, though, as that won’t come out of Ginger Snap’s mouth. She’ll tell you that she’s just another cog in the machine, and she’s fine with letting what happens on the track do the talking to the outside world.

“I know that we’re bringing fans a sport that they’ve never seen before and it’s a different animal,” she said. “People who have never been sports fans love it; people who are sports fans love it because they know we’re not doing it for a signing bonus. It’s a nugget of pure competition that they haven’t seen before.”

But how do they pull it off, especially during a recent stretch when the GGRD All-Stars from the Bronx and Queens went from a home championship game on October 30th to the WFTDA championship tourney in Chicago a week later?

Snap and the Gridlock celebrate the 2010 league title.  Photo: Chris Chin

Above: Snap (fist raised at left) and the Bronx Gridlock celebrate the 2010 league title.  Photo: Chris Chin

“Every year it’s a new struggle and a new learning process because the level of play at both levels – home and nationally – has been getting better and better and more fierce,” said Snap. “So how do we keep up and still have energy and do our day jobs? You just find the energy. It’s the same reason we bring in the floor for hours before and after every bout. It’s the same reason why we haul our butts out to [the Queens practice space], and sometimes it’s a two hour commute. It’s the same reason we do all the admin work so we can support ourselves. The more you give, the more you get, and then you’re really happy for the off-season.”

She laughs, currently in that off-season, but while the games have stopped for 2010, the work hasn’t. The league is moving into a new practice space, there are tryouts on November 20th, and an awards event on December 5th. That’s not even counting the continuing effort to take the league and the sport to the next level nationally and internationally.

“This started out as a group of girls who wanted to skate around and hit each other,” she laughs. “And we did it on our terms and created our own national governing body. And we want it to grow, but it’s going to grow the way we want it to. So as it has exploded, what we want out of it and where we think it’s gonna go really changes a lot. We have our dreams of being on national television and having super sponsors that will allow us to cover our dues and pay for our insurance and cover our rent. But where do I see derby going? I can’t even tell. It’s just getting bigger and bigger, and when you think about the game, you can’t think about seven jams from now, you think about what’s happening now. And while you know that you want to win the game and have the trophy and be on TV in a professional setting, you have to think about what’s right now, and that’s taking each jam as it comes.”

Last month, before her Gridlock defeated Queens for the 2010 GGRD league title, Snap told me that “the beauty of roller derby is that you get another chance every two minutes.” And when you get that chance, you have to forget about the past, whether good or bad, disregard the temptation of looking at what may happen in the future, and simply deal with what’s on your plate now. Ginger Snap has done a great job doing just that, and it’s because the vision she has is one shared by her league mates and skaters around the country. Modern derby belongs to them, and as long as no one loses sight of that, everything else will work itself out.

“We’re very protective of our image because we’ve worked so hard to not only create it, but to dispel rumors about us,” she said. “Every time you talk to somebody on the street, every time you talk to somebody at a bar, you’ve got to tell that story: ‘no, it’s not elbows anymore, it’s not tricks and spectacle.’ Every girl that comes into roller derby understands that. And every girl in derby also understands that for anything to grow, it needs to have resources to get bigger, and the best way is to use all our super diverse skills and backgrounds to make that happen. And being in New York we know that that takes money, it takes sponsorship, and it takes partnerships with outside resources. But as long as we’re partnering with people that we believe in, people that actually support what we’re doing instead of wanting to buy us and own us and have us as their trophy wife, that’s gonna happen. We made this our own, and we’re gonna keep it our own, because at the end of the day, it’s our bodies on the line, it’s our blood on the track. Nobody’s gonna own that.”

Snap celebrates the second "Street Rumble" fundraiser under the BQE in Summer 2004.

Above:  In October 2004 Snap celebrates at the second "Roller Rumble" - a flash-mob style fundraiser held under the BQE.  Before teams, before uniforms, before interleague play -- just women having fun on skates.