I am, of course, talking about June 16th 2013. The date may not ring a bell with many people but it was a watershed in roller derby as it was the day that the reigning men's champions
played the reigning women's champions Gotham Girls Roller Derby, winning 166 to 88.
I'll admit that I was nervous when this game was played as I thought that Gotham had little to win and everything to lose in what I was expecting at the time to be seen as a turning point in modern roller derby and here's the reason why: one of the raisons d'etre of modern flat track roller derby was that it was a grass roots, women run, women led, women focused sport. The W in WFTDA stands for women's, after all. And let me point out that there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Absolutely nothing. If anything it should be applauded that a group of visionary women have managed to create something that could have such an appeal to women who wanted to participate at whatever level, and particularly for women who had never been keen on team sports because of fear or gender bias or body issues or bullying or felt like it just wasn't something they were comfortable with doing. Or any one of a hundred other reasons.
It's frankly astounding that there are 100,000+ women playing worldwide, in a strong, athletic, empowering team sport irrespective of color, creed, body type, gender identity or shoe size. To my mind, if there's anything that should be the legacy of roller derby, it's the fact that it has genuinely changed the way that legitimate women's team sports have been viewed worldwide. Lingerie football it is not.
So what's the problem? Well part of the 'problem' is due to the very success of roller derby. It's so much fun that guys want to play it. And with that came a very real risk that part of the essence of roller derby would be destroyed, that the rise of the men's game would see the decline of the women's game and men would take over the one sport that women said was ours. Do not take something that is ours and make it yours. And that was a very genuine fear held by many people so when those two power houses duked it out in New York with Gotham being defeated I'm sure I wasn't the only one that was worried that we were seeing the death of something unique.
Fortunately I was wrong.
In fact, quite the opposite has happened; the rise of men's roller derby has helped women's roller derby, without there being a shift in focus or audience from the women's to the men's game. Nowadays you see many WFTDA leagues that practice against the MRDA counterparts because they want to be harder, faster, stronger. Arch Rival will tell you that they've benefitted enormously from practicing regularly with the Gatekeepers and ditto Team United with Your Mom. I know that Southern Discomfort open practices and scrimmages were always popular from the get go.
There's many reasons that there hasn't been a male takeover of roller derby on the track, not least that there roller derby is just one of many team sports that men can play which dilutes the pool, but also there is a general respect from men that roller derby is primarily a woman's sport and want to see it stay that way and help raise the bar which is one of the reasons for the sudden explosion in co-ed scrimmages as the barriers between the sides have either been broken down or been seen to not really have existed in the first place. Roller derby is truly symbiotic - I've lost count of the number of guys who've said they play against girls to learn the strategy and improve their footwork and girls who've said they want to learn to be better at wall breaking and taking hits.
With all that said, it does make me sad to see that some people still consider co-ed (or even the men's game in general) to be a pariah. I can understand that some people don't want to play co-ed or go to co-ed scrimmages, that's fine. You can choose not to go to them or even set up your own scrimmages/bootcamps. You have a choice. Make a scrimmage single sex and you're removing that very choice from others and you're going against the concept of inclusivity that is one of the finer points of the roller derby world.
For myself, the roller derby spotlight is, and should be, on the women and I'm more than happy to be on the sidelines. The majority of men are supportive. Let them be so.