Last week, I shared my opinion on the city’s unjustified adoration feeding LeBron James’ egotrip. Of course, on Thursday, we saw how the train went off the tracks with the self-aggrandizing, outlandish circus of his ESPN ‘Decision’ special. It was nothing more than a ludicrous publicity stunt which may have been a disappointing night for Cleveland, but was even more devastating for the perception of pro sports.
Just to clarify, I don’t have a problem with his decision to go to Miami – at its core it was a business decision. Albeit, it was one that I believe demonstrated his immaturity and shortsightedness (I agree with the Orlando Magic GM and other commentators that even if LeBron does win championships in Miami, not being able to do it on his own will keep ‘King James’ from the Jordan-level stature he seems to think he deserves).
What was pathetic about Thursday, though, was the unnecessary spectacle of it. Although ‘Decision 2010′ was watched by close to 10M people, it has been criticized by nearly everyone as a rock bottom moment for pro sports, journalism and even society (considering that without the eager audience there wouldn’t have been a need for it).
However, the purpose of this post isn’t to add more criticism to how LeBron handled his decision. Instead, the shamelessness of it serves as a sharp contrast to the true athleticism and sportsmanship I had the joy of witnessing this weekend. For anyone who didn’t catch my updates on Saturday at @ADHicken or Clue Into Cleveland’s facebook page, I’m referring to the Burning River Roller Girls‘ finals.
The BRRG is Cleveland’s first all-female, skater-owned, flat-track derby league, and on Saturday night the league’s 4 teams battled to determine the season’s Hazard Cup champion.
If you’re unfamiliar with Cleveland’s roller derby league, you can read my previous overview of the league and recap of their Semifinals. I’ve been a huge fan since the first time I watched the BRRG women play; however, after the LeBronpocalypse, I’ve gained even more respect for them. In addition to dishing up 2 epic, nail-biting bouts on Saturday night, the Burning River Roller Girls offer an inspiring substitute to the selfish behavior of many so-called ‘professional’ athletes.
Saturday night was a doubleheader between The Cleveland Steamers and Hard Knockers, followed by the Hazard Cup championship between The Rolling Pin-Ups and The Hellbombers. Congresswoman Marcia Fudge blew the opening whistle to the Steamers-Hard Knockers match. A proponent of maintaining an active lifestyle and female athletes, Fudge was also a fitting choice given the derby’s location in her district.
Heading into Saturday’s match, The Hard Knockers were 0-4 for the season having recently been defeated by the Hellbombers 117-42 in last month’s semifinals. The Cleveland Steamers, on the other hand, were 2-2 – most recently defeated by The Rolling Pin-Ups in June’s other semifinal match.
Saturday’s match started with the Steamers’ captain Killustrator taking lead jam to put the first three points on the board. The Steamers played a tight game early on, not allowing the Hard Knockers to score too many points. However, Mommy’s Little Monster turned the game around for the Hard Knockers when she took lead jam and the Steamers’ jammer got placed in the penalty box. Mommy’s Little Monster worked this power jam to her advantage by racking up an incredible 20 points and flipping the score to 34-21 in favor of the Hard Knockers.
Although the Steamers tried to close the gap, Mommy’s Little Monster proved a devastating force when more Steamer penalties placed her in two additional power jams where she scored 20 and 14 points, respectively. Thanks in large part to Mommy’s Little Monster’s 54 point contribution, the Hard Knockers won their first match of the season with an overwhelming 89-49 victory.
The Hard Knockers’ victory was an excellent start to the evening. However, the main event was the finals match between The Rolling Pin-Ups and The Hellbombers. Both teams were victorious in last month’s semifinals, so they were set to battle each other for the 2010 Hazard Cup. For the first three seasons of the BRRG league, The Hellbombers have won the Hazard Cup. And leading up to Saturday’s match, they had an undefeated 4-0 record for this season. However, The Rolling Pin-Ups headed into the finals with an intense motivation to win. The last time they competed against The Hellbombers in May, they very nearly defeated them with a 47-50 score.
In the first half of the match, it seemed as if the Pin-Ups weren’t going to be able to stand up to The Hellbombers, who demonstrated jam after jam why they’ve been league champions for three years. The Hellbombers controlled the pace time and again by taking lead jammer, accumulating points, then stopping the jam before the Pin-Ups could make up a lot of ground. By the end of the first half, the Hellbombers held a substantial lead over the Pin-Ups with a score of 48 to 24.
The second half started off with the Hellbombers’ trio of skilled jammers – Stroker Ace, Gargiulo and CoCo Sparx – scoring 4, 5, and 4 points, respectively. However, a couple of jams later, the Pin-Ups’ Professor Booty earned lead jammer status. The Hellbombers’ jammer, on the other hand, tried pushing through a strong Pin-Ups’ defense, but only succeeded in getting penalized. Reminiscent of the first match, this gave Professor Booty a power jam opportunity to score 16 points and close the gap to 61-45. Because the Hellbombers’ jammer was still stuck in the penalty box when the next jam started, the Pin-Ups’ Punk’d Pixie was the only jammer on the track and used this to her advantage to score another 20 points putting the Pin-Ups in the lead 65-61.
Unfortunately for the undefeated Hellbombers, the Pin-Ups’ turnaround occurred so late in the match that the Hellbombers didn’t have much of a chance to recover. As the Pin-Ups skated to a shocking victory, the crowd in the Wolstein Center erupted with chants and cheers for the first-time Hazard Cup champions.
Although the back-to-back underdog victories provided some of the most exciting athleticism I’ve experienced in a while, the Burning River Roller Girls continually demonstrate that they’re much ‘more than a player.’ Whether they’re on or off the track, the ladies in the BRRG practice sportsmanship and team bonds not often seen in other sports.
On the track, pack members will throw themselves in front of other skaters to protect a jammer in trouble. And in roller derby, a sacrifice like this can have damaging consequences with the potential for signficant injuries a constant given. The off-track bonds were likewise evident through Saturday’s finals as members of the Hard Knockers donned green gear to cheer on the Pin-Ups, and during halftime the players celebrated the upcoming nuptials of a teammate to one of the league’s refs.
The BRRG also does an excellent job in supporting the local community. When it comes to community outreach, they work with and encourage The Cleveland Firestarters – the city’s first Junior Roller Derby for young women ages 7-17. Although not officially affiliated with The Firestarters, the Burning River Roller Girls invited the young players out to the finals so that they could introduce the future of the sport to its current fans.
In my opinion, though, the most impressive part about Cleveland’s roller derby league is the sincere gratitude the teams show for their fans. The league keeps tickets reasonably priced giving Clevelanders an affordable opportunity to experience quality sports. Moreover, when they’re not on the track, the players are happy to speak with fans and always invite the audience out for drinks after each bout. On top of all of this, none of the players are paid for their participation – so there are no bidding wars, free agency periods, or ESPN specials. These women are playing solely because they’re devoted to promoting the fastest growing women’s sport in the country.
Although the season may be done, there are plenty of events to keep you occupied until the next season starts in the Spring. For those interested in possibly joining the BRRG, the Fresh Meat recruitment period starts August 1. For everyone else, there’s the annual Black and Blue Fundraiser in November with Full-Contact Musical Chairs.
At Saturday’s finals, the Burning River Roller Girls thanked the city of Cleveland for the support this past season. However, it’s really the city that should be showing appreciation for this league of dedicated women. Not only are the players talented athletes, they are also passionate, unselfish members of the community who provide a refreshing alternative to the nonsense we’re unfortunately accustomed to in more mainstream sports.
Burning River Roller Girls 411: