The Voice: An Interview with Sweet Willy T

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Photo: O-Jen Ishii Photography

Sweet Willy T-Bag has been an integral part of ARG since 2008. It’s a rite of passage for every rookie to hear their newly-christened derby name announced by Willy during roll-out. In addition to announcing for all of our home bouts, he’s also taken his signature voice to the international level at tournaments, including the 2014 Blood and Thunder World Cup. We had the chance to talk with Willy before he gears up those vocal cords and breaks out his latest adorably tacky jacket for the upcoming season. 

When did you get your start announcing for ARG?  I had announced an ARG bout in early 2008 as the visiting announcer when the Classic City Rollergirls played the Toxic Shocks. ARG then had a big scrimmage called the Southern Fried Smackdown in November and I was one of the dozen announcers for it. At the end of the day, ARG was playing Nashville in the big feature bout. Lucky Yates, one of the original ARG announcers, didn’t have a partner for the bout and he asked me if I would sit in with him. I guess I did something right because in January the Bout Coordinator emailed me and asked if I would become Lucky’s full time partner for 2009.

What do you love about announcing for roller derby?  I started out as a roller derby fan going to bouts in Cincinnati when we lived there. As a fan at heart, announcing gives me the best seat in the house! What keeps me coming back for more is two fold. First, I am enjoying the evolution of the game. It has changed so much since 2007 but the one constant is the incredible athleticism. The skaters do things to make me speechless and send shivers up my spine every bout. Second, it’s the people involved with ARG. From the skaters to the NSO’s, referees, and all the volunteers, ARG is a first class organization. There is a tremendous amount of respect for one another and everyone’s contribution is valued. It’s a great environment to work in.

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Photo: O-Jen Ishii Photography

How have you seen the league and fanbase change throughout the years? The biggest change I have seen is ARG going from a league to a program. I started announcing when the bouts moved from the All American Skate Center to the Yaarab Shrine facility. There were 4 home teams and an All-Star team with practices held at the roller rink. Now, there is the number 13 in the world All-Star Team, a B team that could compete in Division 2 in my opinion, a C team, 4 home teams, a rec league, a men’s team and Atlanta Junior Roller Derby. Did I forget anything? Oh yeah, a dedicated practice facility that is one of the nicest in the nation.

I don’t think the fanbase has evolved too much throughout the years. There are still lots of family, friends, and LORDS in the crowd. There are definitely less fans who are coming solely to watch girls in tutus skate around and hit each other. I think you will always have a few of those fans coming as a curiosity. What we do have more of is hard-core derby fans – fans that follow the sport, not just the Atlanta Rollergirls. And I’m not talking retired skaters, I am talking those like the group of Apocalypstix fans who sit in turn #4. Those are hard-core fans and I see more of them each year.

Are there any other area leagues for which you’ve announced? I regularly announce for the Classic City Rollergirls in Athens. It’s where I got my start. I have announced for the Soul City Sirens in Augusta and the Columbia (SC) Quad Squad. I really want to do a bout up in Asheville for the Blue Ridge Rollergirls as I have several friends on that team.

You’re pretty derby famous, having worked not just at WFTDA tournaments, but also at this year’s World Cup. What do you like best about the higher level events? How does the experience compare to home bouts? In some ways, the big tournaments are expanded versions of ARG home bouts. Instead of having two high level games in a night, you have 6 or more each day for 3 days. It is an intense experience for anyone involved even the fans. At these tournaments you are likely to have some lopsided scores but you are also going to see some incredible roller derby being played. As a fan at heart, you will find me sitting up in the stands when I am not working, watching and cheering.

I pride myself on knowing the skaters and being able to rattle off their names quickly. With ARG, I can recognize a skater from just seeing a toe stop because I see them skate all the time. At big tournaments there may be teams I have never seen live before. I will watch online footage of them, watch their warm ups very closely and practice recognizing the skaters. Because once the broadcast starts, there might be thousands of people ready to point out on the internet that you called skater X by skater Y’s name.

The World Cup was an even bigger challenge because there was no video footage of many skaters to even watch. Luckily, I called bouts involving most of the Team USA, Canada, England and Australia members. We had announcers from all over the world so the Head Announcer tried to pair people up who had some familiarity of the teams playing.

What connections have you made through derby/ARG that you wouldn’t have otherwise? When you get involved with a league you expand your network immensely. Whenever I have a question or need some advice, the first place I go is my Derby network. We needed a nanny. I called up the Rouxbicon when she played in Athens. I needed a fancy cake made and Daft Spunk was there for me. I needed to talk to someone on Team USA for a piece I was doing at the World Cup. Wild Cherri, can you help me out and introduce me to a couple of skaters I have never met? We recently bought a farm and Jammunition is helping me plan the garden. It just goes on and on. ARG truly is a family and there are some pretty amazing people with unique talents outside of derby. Everyone is always willing to help each other.

Beyond ARG I have contacts around the world in derby now. I have hosted announcers from as far away as London, England. The derby community is a wonderful thing to be a part of.

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Photo: Jennifer M. Ramos

Tell us about your awesome trademark jackets. How did the tradition start and where do you source them? When I agreed to be the announcer for the Classic City Rollergirls, I felt I needed to create a persona. The skaters had funny names and cool boutfits, I wanted that too! When I was growing up my favorite TV show was W.K.R.P. in Cincinnati. One of the characters, Herb Tarlek, had the most incredible wardrobe of loud jackets, pants, shirts and shoes. I wanted to dress like Herb, but I needed something more. In the hockey movie Slap Shot, the announcer Jim Carr has a terrible hairpiece. So, I bought a terrible hairpiece and started shaving my goatee into a cheesy 70’s style mustache.

My wardrobe coordinator (who also happens to be my vet and my wife) loves shopping at Goodwill and other used clothing stores. She would regularly come home with amazing white dress shoes or a jacket that would make Herb Tarlek proud. I think it’s because Athens is full of musicians, artists and students that there always seems to be unique clothing kicking around.

As derby has matured and I am spending more time on camera at big tournaments, I decided to tone down my look. I don’t wear the hairpiece anymore or full suits of awful 70’s polyester. I kept the jackets though because they are recognizable and, frankly, are me.

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