About 2 years ago, after a difficult but not very directed practice, the members of Your Mom Men’s Roller Derby Team sat around the concession stand at Skate North. It was really the first time we slowed down long enough to think about what each of us wanted to do with this sport. In the beginning, my brother Dante (TinkerBelle/ Frank Notsohotra) had been following his wife Romina (Stella Italiana) and her teammates on The Des Moines Derby Dames as she transitioned from being a speed skater to a roller derby player. I had been an interested and good brother in law and watched a few of her bouts as well as catching some of the girls training at the rink when I was leaving speed practice. Some of the other YMMD players at the time had spouses or significant others playing on the women’s teams or were rink regulars especially on dodge ball night. Individually we all had bits of derby knowledge but more passion for skating then anything. Our practices were fast and intense but more about alpha male then about how do we succeed at derby. We needed this meeting really bad.

Each one of us talked about why we were playing and what we eventually hoped to get out of roller derby. It was during this time that the core group of leaders stepped up and talked about becoming the best roller derby team in the country…..world. We were willing to sacrifice and practice with the idea that if we veterans could lead others with our experience and fire, our younger teammates would infect us with their youthful energy. That night we lost a few players (some didn’t come back, others lasted a few more practices and then fizzled out) but started our quest in becoming the team you see today.

We really worked overtime to try and make the national tournament last year in New York. We played St Louis (top ranked team in the country) twice and played them close both times. We flew to Seattle to play another great team in the Puget Sound Outkast, losing pretty bad based on our expectations. We played a number of other local games but none against top ranked teams. Our 7th place ranking kept us out of the tournament as only 6 qualified.  Looking back, that may have been exactly what we needed. We watched and dissected every game from that tournament and used the anger from missing out as well as the extra time we got to spend learning to catch up with the other teams. We set our compass towards Spring Roll in 2012 as an opportunity to see how we would fare against the best.

Fast forward to October 20th and 21st 2012. Your Mom Men’s Roller Derby rolls into St Louis as the number 1 ranked team in the country. Luckily for us we don’t feel like the top ranked team in the country. Magic City was undefeated, Puget Sound played us close short handed, New York was the defending champion and St Louis was playing at home where only a few weeks earlier they destroyed our squad (missing a few players). A few outsiders gave us a chance but for the most part, we were still the underdogs. For the tournament, we created brand new white jerseys to remind us what the excitement felt like to put the jerseys on for the first time.

Our first game was against the 8th seeded Mass Maelstrom. This team was highly under rated and under respected and gave us a great first round wake up call. The Maelstrom had one of the best big men in the tournament in Jack Hammered and a handful of quick agile skaters to help funnel the game towards him. We came into the game wanting to show nothing to later round opponents so we played random lines with random jammers with the hopes that we could “athlete” our way through any issues. We started out just fine but eventually our lack of time in those positions started putting us in the penalty box. By halftime we were forced to go to a more traditional look to our lines as well as change our strategy. In the end we won by over 100 points but we lost one of our best blockers in Tyler Dearth (Dearth Bag). We all also had a bad taste in our mouths because we were not able to execute like we thought we would coming in. This again would be another blessing as it left us all really hungry and seeking that perfect game…one that would be required to play the undefeated Magic City Misfits.

After watching some amazing and physical roller derby the rest of the day (we played in the opening game of the tourney), we headed out for a nice meal and some rest. Before bed, our coach Mark Muse, Tallyn, Dante and I watched our previous bout and were all relieved to see that we had played a decent game against a strong opponent. We also re watched the game that Magic City had played earlier in the day against Puget Sound….a team we were familiar with the style of play. We were able to find some areas of opportunity as well as make the needed adjustments to our line up to play such a strong team. The most notable changes were to take Nick Becker (B.S. Smacker) off of the blocking rotation and put him as a jammer where he could use his speed and power. Secondly, we moved Donovan Sellers (Milatto Madness) and Dante to Jamming only on the blocking line of Jason McDaniels (Sea Horses) and I in order to put the speed those two posses into a different style blocking scheme. The other Jammer would be Ryan Dearth (Twinkle Toes) who was powerful on what ever line he found himself.

The second game was maybe the best game Your Mom has ever played as a team. The first line of Larry Hopper (Dirty Larry) Chris (Sugar Boots), Tallyn Holtmeyer (Queen of the Winter Carnival) and Lucas Storey (Little Bunny Fu Que) did a great job of sticking together when needed and recycling when needed while dominating the amazing jam skating jammers of Magic City. Sea Horses, Stevie Williams (Cleveland Stever), Jim Larson (Arsenal) Kip Ireland (Skatin Worshipper) and James Olsen (Lilly Pad) did an amazing work on the second line of containing the other jammer while doing their best to stay out of the box. With Your Mom getting lead jammer almost every jam, The Misfits were having a difficult time making up ground lost from earlier jammer penalties. The match up was a great match up for both teams however the physical game the Misfits were forced to endure the previous day against the Outkast came back to haunt them as numerous ailments and injuries narrowed down the bench by the end. Another 100 point victory was in hand and Your Mom was 1 game away from reaching that goal set some 24 months earlier.

After what felt like forever waiting (again we had the first game of the day), game time was finally upon us. The St Louis Gatekeepers are the most organized, most deep and most unified team in all of Men’s Roller Derby. The NY Shock Exchange plays amazing together and is always at the tip of the spear in game play development but ironically enough (based on population),New York has to sometimes rely on athletes due to a lack of depth compared to St Louis. We know the Gatekeepers all to well. One of our first big events was a closed door non sanctioned game against them in which we battled all of the way to the last jam before winning. They then came to Des Moines in an official bout and dealt us a defeat that many consider the one that kept us out of Nationals last year. After a few bouts with the Bee Keepers (Gatekeepers “B” squad), it was time for our top team to play the Gatekeepers top team just three weeks ago. Due to a handful of injuries, your Mom showed up short handed but ready to play. St Louis again prevailed but this time by more then 200 points. It was the largest loss Your Mom had ever faced and it happened only a few weeks before the big dance.St Louis had tweaked the roster a bit for the final and we noticed new faces as well as regular faces that were missing. They too had a specific strategy to play us and it was all going to play itself out shortly.

The game started out exactly as we had imagined. One point here, one point there, another point here and maybe a couple points to the other side. This was going to be a chess match and who ever could keep their team from giving up jammer penalties would eventually win. I would say that this is the hardest thing to mitigate about roller derby. When teams are at full strength, nearly every jam is worth a handful of points, tops. When you start giving up jammer penalties and then compounding them with blocker penalties, 30 points can tick off just like that. To make things more confusing to follow, you may go from one game where officials see it and call it one way, to the next game where a whole new crew sees and calls it differently. Since the penalties are the biggest area where teams can differentiate themselves from the other team on the score board, the officials and more specifically the jam refs, have nearly as much control in the flow of the game as the athletes on the floor. This isn’t meant to be negative….only that as jammers we know this is part of it going in and we need to understand how our particular jam ref is going to see things and penalize things.

Unfortunately for us, our jammer took the first jammer penalty of the game and St Louis pounced. Magnum P.I.M.P. put up a 30 point jam on us and we were suddenly way behind. After some clawing back and forth from both teams and a set of off setting jammer penalties by both teams, the score at half was 70-60. Near the end of the first half, Dante and I traded off jamming, him and then me and then back again, until we felt like the game was manageable going into the half with regards to penalties. Our team had weathered the first storm and had largely stayed out of any individual penalty problems, which usually is one of our worst adversaries.

Half time was a bit of talking, a bit of complaining to each other and a bit of problem solving. In the end, some of the corrections paid off and others kept getting us in trouble.

As we entered the second half, we went back to our original lines and took me off of the jammer rotation. Jason and I make a nice yin and yang combination as he loves jammer control and I love pack control. Together with the help of our teammates, we can block, control and seal when needed. The first line was rock solid with Larry holding the inside and Tallyn and Chris taking turns running at the Gatekeeper jammers. Down to a man, every one of our players was needed to pull off the weekend triumph.

We started the second half like the first, trading small point differentials waiting for some big event to happen. Unfortunately again, B.S. Smacker had a major cut and was headed to the box. Bat Wing put up a 19 point run on us and like that we were back down by 25. We again battled back and forth until a St Louis jammer finally made a mistake. Before the tournament we brought on an amazing speed skater fromDes Moines named Donavan Sellers. He is currently the fastest indoor sprinter on inline skates and he had to wait until the World Speed Skating Championships in Italy were over before he could risk his body playing derby. The National Championships were his first time playing a full on game and his third bout was for a National Championship. Donavon was on the floor as the Gatekeeper jammer went to the box but since Donavon had made a minor infraction somewhere, he was not lead jammer and so he could not call it off and send in a more experienced scorer. The rookie did the best that he could against the experienced four wall of the keepers and they were able to limit our advantage to only five points before Bat Wing rejoined the pack after his penalty. A few jams later,St Louis ran into jammer problems again but this time Donavan was lead. He quickly called off the jam and gave the job over to Frank Notsohotra to try and close the gap. After 27 points of Frank, Your Mom was in the lead with nearly 15 minutes left in the battle.

B.S. Smacker handed it back to them with a quick jammer penalty handing them back nearly 15 points only to be given redemption when Magnum goes in near the end of his jam sending Smacker out to score 10 for only a net gain of 5 for the Keepers. After a couple more small gains,St Louis again was given a power play as Mulatto runs into the back of the Keeper blockers sending Magnum out to gather 15 more points and putting the home team up by 20 with around 5 minutes left to go in the game. Now things get really interesting…..I am set to jam with 5 minutes to go and my team down by 20. We are just sitting 2 blockers in the box to serve the minutes they have and both of the blockers on the track for me have stacked penalties which means as soon as the other 2 get up, those 2 have to go sit down. For sure we are going to be short handed for the next 2 minutes and we will have to try and score while keeping them for putting up any points. I know that I will have to get lead jammer and then kill as much time off of the clock as I can in order to put us back to full strength. After the game I had so many people tell me how stupid of a call that was and that I nearly ruined it for my team. I can honestly say I did not even consider anything different and I did not hear anybody on our bench or in the building heckling me for playing it that way. After a couple minutes of slow play with an agreeable Bat Wing, I raced around for 2 points and called the jam off with our team at full strength.

Down 18 with 3 minutes to go we were a long shot at best but we knew we were at least fighting with all guns blazing. With Frank now jamming and Sea Horses, Dirty Larry, Sugar Boots and Twinkle Toes blocking, we were hoping for some magic. It came in the form of a Debaucherous Prime penalty sending Your Mom on the power play. Frank manages 14 points with some amazing help from his teammates before he calls off the jam hoping to send our next jammer onto the floor with a few seconds of jammer less action left before the Keeper jammer would be released at the start. We used our time out and spent a fair bit of time arguing about theSt Louis jammer being released too soon. The officials check and decide he is officially released so we will start the jam all even trailing by 4 points. Normally this would be my turn to jam and a great opportunity to finish strong with us brothers at the end jamming with a one two punch. We knew that I was carrying 3 minors at the time which is risky (fourth sends me to the box) and typically when I jam Dante will rest but if he jams, I will stay on the floor to block. After a moment of indecision, Frank decides he is ready to go back to back. We send out Sea Horses, B.S. Smacker, Twinkle Toes and his borrowed Streak skate (he broke his early in the second half), myself with Frank as the jammer. The keepers line up with Magnum wearing the star. After a bit of positioning and battling, we secure Magnum in the pack and Frank escapes. Panic sets in for the keepers as Frank is nearly around and Magnum is still fighting, tweet, Jammer penalty on the GateKeepers, Your Mom power play. Dante makes his way around and passes the pack, comes around one more time 3-2-1-0 Dante hits his hips and calls off the jam. Your Mom wins with a most improbable comeback in what some call the most amazing game of roller derby ever played. Your Mom was able to keep the St Louis Gatekeepers scoreless for the last five minutes and win by 1.

Your Mom Men’s Roller Derby from Des Moines Iowa is the 2012 MRDA National Champions!

Photos courtesy of Romina Muse, Laurie Larson Gillis, Point N Shoot, John Eggysan, Amelia Kennedy, Matt Wilson, Bob Dunnel, Erich Bennar

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