Dread and the Freshies waiting to take the track.
The practice facility the ladies use is in a roller hockey rink just outside the Metro Boston area. The building is both poorly insulated and ventilation is an issue. When I was there last, it was June. The walls and floor were slick with condensation. Returning there in February, I was happy to report the rink was dry, if chilly. The lack of heat brought another blessing, as it was impossible to smell the Mens room from the stands surrounding the rink. While I'm not a fan of hand sanitizer, I brought some with me as I was afraid to use the soap in a bathroom that has stalls and urinal dividers rusting off the walls from "excessive water damage." But I, unlike the ladies assembled there, am not an athlete. Their concerns were not the urine stains on the bathroom tiles, nor were they worried about ice crystals forming in their water bottles. They were here to prove they could hang with the vets and be fully-fledged members of the league.
The fresh meat scrimmage is a lot like a regular game of derby. The newer skaters were assigned to either the Black or White team and both rosters were rounded out with veteran skaters. Having the would-be derby dames play against only each other would have been stressful enough...skating with their skater sisters added a whole new level of pressure. But rolling with the "big girls" allows home team skaters to see how the fresh meat play in a way that we can't from the sidelines. In game psychology, pack cohesion, who can take a check from Bully Mia (I can, but only off skates!), and the ability to work with your teammates are all things that had to be taken into account.
Flanked by veteran Derby Widowers "The Prince of Pain" and "Tim," I watched the sixty minute scrimmage. Behind us, a few of the potential widows (we cannot hold tryouts for them...yet) cheered their ladies on while they tried to outpace, outhit, and out-maneuver their way past each other and make a lasting impression in the minds of our home team crew.
The Fresh Meat Scrimmage as they're cheered on.
Some of the plays in that scrimmage were truly amazing. Watching these ladies push themselves to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion made me reflect on the times I had seen Dread and her group of freshies do the exact same thing a few years ago. What added to my nostalgia was listening to Salome Splatter's boyfriend in the stands cheering every play she made. Looking at him, I wondered what kind of widow will he be, and if he had an aversion to wearing a latex chimp mask.
After the scrimmage was over, the team captains were sequestered in an undisclosed location to conduct the draft. By the end of the night, some girls would find themselves teamed, others would be invited to try out again next year. Given my wife's position with the league, she had left with the captains to discuss the draft picks, while I got to go home and hang out with our pug...wondering why it is that the Who didn't attempt to show any nipples to the viewing audience.
By the end of the night, the new teams had been finalized. My wife arrived home shortly before eleven. Her shoulders slouched from the exhausting work of playing against and saying goodbye to some of the fresh meat girls. We sat up for a while, talked about the people she would miss, and tried to focus on the positive side of the draft. Holding Dread in the silence of our bed was another moment where I realized the price of seeing behind the scenes of this sport. Being a derby widow means you get to see the great moments on-and-off the track that so few appreciate, but it also means that you're privy to the parts of your partner's life that are filled with considerably less "yay."
The good news is that the first practice with the newly-teamed skaters was tonight. Playing with these women will pull the hurt out bit-by-bit, and the season will bring the missus new memories and opportunities to shine in this sport. And I will get to see all that, too.