With the Gotham Girls Roller Derby league kicking off its second decade this Saturday at John Jay College in Manhattan, you would assume that it’s imperative to get things off to a memorable start.
Well, the Manhattan Mayhem and Brooklyn Bombshells have a history of doing just that.
“These are the two perfect teams to be playing against each other in the season opener,” Brooklyn veteran Raggedy Animal said. “It could not have been better picked.”
“Both teams have this very strong bond, very strong identities and a commitment to each other that shows on the track,” Manhattan’s Roxy Dallas adds. “Brooklyn is happy to be around each other; Manhattan, we’re happy to be around each other. And when you’re feeling that support and are thrilled to be doing this thing together, it elevates everybody. On top of that, there’s so much talent on these two squads. It’s always such a physical game and the intensity is so high.”
Physical. Intense. Evenly matched. Sounds like a recipe for an epic opener, but that’s no surprise when these two squads get together. The last two bouts between the Mayhem and the Bombshells have been decided by a combined eight points, and with rare exception, the result of each bout hasn’t been determined until deep into the game. So what’s the secret?
“We bring out the best in each other, but why us?” Animal asks. “I don’t have an answer. (laughs) But I know that they’re brutal, hard, down-to-the-wire games.”
It may just be that given the close bonds among the two veteran squads, the idea of letting down your teammates is unfathomable. That kind of closeness doesn’t come overnight, but as far as the Mayhem is concerned, it goes back to a conscious decision to not necessarily draft strictly for talent, but for something more important.
“I talked to some of the people that have been with the team for years and they said that when they [Manhattan] were in the perpetual rebuilding years, where Manhattan was taking on five, six, seven new skaters in every season and finding it hard to get any continuity going, that they stopped picking just for skill and they started picking for personality and for character, and building the team as a culture,” Roxy said. “Obviously that’s not going to win you games immediately, but it really paid dividends for us in the long run.”
That “long run” has produced league titles in 2012 and 2014, and talk that Manhattan may just be the next great GGRD dynasty, following the Bronx Gridlock and Queens of Pain teams that dominated the early years of the league.
“We are very interested in dynasties in Gotham,” Roxy laughs. “Our All-Stars set the tone, and when you look back at those championship banners, there’s a lot of yellow and a lot of black and there’s a very little bit of blue and orange, and we would love to see more orange up on those banners.”
Mayhem orange tore through the league in 2014, but en route to an unbeaten season and another title, they were pushed to the limit by Brooklyn, who lost to Manhattan 170–169 in a July classic. So while some skaters don’t prefer to get the first bout of the season, the Bombshells are just fine with it.
“We want it,” Animal said. “We want the first game. I love that our last game was against them and our first game is against them. It doesn’t feel like we’re at a disadvantage. It’s the right thing for us.”
That confidence is well-placed, considering that Brooklyn returns to the track with a seasoned roster bolstered by the return of former skaters Hela Skelter (also back on this year’s All-Stars) and B-Zerk.
“Even though Hela and B-Zerk weren’t technically on the track last year, they were a huge presence for the team,” Animal said. “B-Zerk was at Sunday practice on her due date. She was with us and just checked out to have a baby real quick. (laughs) So she never really left and she contributed a lot during her pregnancy. Hela was managing us, so even though they weren’t on the track, they were a huge presence on the team and contributed a lot.”
Owners of a 0–3 slate in 2014, Brooklyn’s record was deceiving and they know it. More importantly, the Mayhem know it as well, and they’re not taking anything for granted, especially since they went life-and-death with the Bombshells last year. But Mayhem are skating with a trio of All-Stars (Roxy, Bonita Apple Bomb and Violet Knockout) as well as a philosophy that any skater can fill any role.
“We put a huge emphasis on training and a huge emphasis on what we call ‘Everybody Jams,’” says Roxy. “Nobody on our team is not a jammer. We have our starting jammers, our core jammers whom we truly rely upon to score points, but everybody is working to be a triple threat. Everybody is working to fill in whatever role they need to. We don’t have a really high high-end and a very low low-end. Everybody really pulls their weight.”
Animal agrees in reference to her Bombshells.
“When I sit down in a lineup, it doesn’t matter who is in my lineup with me. I feel completely confident with anyone I’m in with. I also know their strengths and they know my strengths and my weaknesses and we implicitly trust each other. There’s not a weak link there.”
You could call Manhattan and Brooklyn mirror images of each other, making it clear why their rivalry is one for the GGRD history books. But at the moment, it isn’t about history; it’s about getting the win. On Saturday, nothing else matters.
Written by: Thomas Gerbasi