By Thomas Gerbasi
With all due respect to Joey Chestnut and the gang downing hot dogs last week, the real summer sport of Coney Island returns to Abe Stark Arena on Saturday, as the Gotham Girls Roller Derby league hosts its annual doubleheader, an always festive event highlighted by visits from GGRD alumni and fans that prefer world-class derby action to rides on the Cyclone (though that is a post-event option).
And when it comes to derby, this Saturday in July always produces one of two things: it either determines who battles it out for the Golden Skate trophy that is awarded the league champions or it previews the following month’s playoff action.
In 2019, we’re getting a championship preview, as the Bronx Gridlock and Manhattan Mayhem collide in advance of their August 24 title bout at John Jay College in NYC. Plus, the teams competing in the August 3 third-place bout at John Jay – the Queens of Pain and Brooklyn Bombshells – get acquainted in their final regular season contest.
Yet even though such matchups in other sports might be categorized by resting starters, testing out new strategies and the like, with so few home games in the GGRD season, there is no holding back or saving anything for the swim back. Every game is played to win by everyone on the track.
That’s why loyal Gotham fans will show up for what is expected to be another sold-out event, and there is plenty of intrigue in both bouts on the boardwalk.
In 2018, the Bronx Gridlock were the comeback story of the year, as they roared back from years of bad luck to win the league title, breaking an eight-year championship drought in the process. This year, the cabbies are in a much different position, as they look like a team not just in position to repeat as champs, but one that could become the league’s next dynasty. That’s how they’ve looked in their wins in 2019, finding a way to win a close one against Queens in March, and then defeating Brooklyn more comfortably in May. As for Manhattan, a squad seeking its first title since 2016, they’ve been the league’s juggernaut in 2019, with a 53-point win over Brooklyn and a 66-point victory over Queens. Those are two teams you don’t blast through, but Mayhem have done it. Suffice to say, this is a clash of the titans in Coney Island.
When it comes to the preview of next month’s third-place game, Brooklyn and Queens meet up, and while it’s been rough for both teams in the nuts and bolts of wins and losses, it got rougher for the Bombshells when All-Star jammer Miss Tea Maven went down with a knee injury that will keep her sidelined from Saturday’s bout. For the fans in attendance, the key thing to watch is how Brooklyn’s other jammers will step up against a Queens team that remains as dangerous as they’ve ever been, despite the 0-2 mark for the year.
So while it’s going to be hot outside in Brooklyn on Saturday, it may get even hotter once the whistle blows inside Abe Stark Arena because while playoff spots are already secured, that little something-something called skater pride means both bouts of this doubleheader will be fought as if a championship is on the line.