This year there was a bigger influx of leagues outside the United States that got their first invite to WFTDA Playoffs. Middlesbrough Roller Derby was one of those seven invited teams.
Despite being a small league and having to deal with the ranking roadblocks that come with being located in UK, the team has carved a path up the ranks to make it to Division 2 Playoffs this year. Here’s a quick look at who Middlesbrough is, and how their journey has led them to Pittsburgh later this month.
Like many leagues who started up before 2010, Middlesbrough embraced the kitschy attitude of the sport that was full of puns and fishnets. Their original name, the Middlesbrough Milk Rollers, was supposed to play off the milk rolls the town was “famous” for. Ultimately though, MRD’s co-captain Terri Sudron says Middlesbrough isn’t famous for anything. “We just didn’t feel the “milk rollers” tag was quite us, I mean half the team didn’t even know what one was, either. We also had difficulty relating the Milk Rollers back to the sport of Roller Derby, people just didn’t get it.”
For many years they considered a rebrand, but in the meantime they graduated from the WFTDA Apprentice program in 2014 and got their first WFTDA ranking – #144 by the end of that same year. It was tough to get that far, however, and for many years they struggled to grow their league which kept them from becoming too competitive. “There was a turning point in about 2010 where the team got some really promising fresh skaters, and Middlesbrough strength and determination started to shine through.” From there Sudron says they’ve improved slowly and steadily – even placing 3rd in the Premier Tier of the 2015 British Champs.
Still fairly modest in numbers, the teams mainly fields an A team and puts newcomers through a tough minimum skills program before throwing them in at the deep end. All of their players have leveled up through this program, except one. They rely on local scrimmages to help get fresh skaters the track experience they need. “We don’t get any transfers, so we have to really retain and develop our members to ensure the strength of our squad remains consistent season after season.”
When Middlesbrough became a member league, they entered the scene with the default Strength Factor of 0.5 since the Strength Factor Challenge Program hadn’t taken effect yet. Teams can now use mock sanctioned games to help them graduate with a better SF, but MRD had to start from scratch at the point they entered, despite being an established league. They struggled to get sanctioned games as most teams outside the U.S. do, but fortunately they got invited to 2015: A Skate Odyssey, where they picked up four more valuable games.
Last year they really wanted to focus on their ranking, so again, like most European teams, they traveled to the United States where they were able to convince four teams to play them. It was still a struggle to schedule, but Sudron says that Central NY, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Bay State all pulled through for them. “We’ll be forever grateful for those teams hosting us. We wouldn’t be at playoffs this year without them.”
By the end of 2016, Middlesbrough was ranked #56 – making their goal this season to make it to WFTDA Playoffs. “It was a loose goal, as we weren’t sure we could get the necessary results from playing the Euro Teams that would play us.” Luckily Sudron says that Newcastle helped them get two sanctioned games done early in the season at EuroClash. With all the travel they had already done, and two of their skaters – Sudron and Ella Storey – on Team England as well, the team was starting to wear thin. However, British Champs got them their final two games by mid-June, when all they could do was sit back and watch the results of other teams roll in. To their tense excitement, they made it within the cut, ranked at #46 and will now enter their first Playoffs as a #6 seed.
This season, they not only reached their Playoff goals but achieved their dream of finally rebranding as well. In March they released a new logo and simplified their name, giving them a more professional identity. This was some relief, after holding onto the look their founding members had created so many derby years ago. But in Sudron’s opinion, there was one other major thing she was excited about. “The biggest improvement, I think, was getting rid of the pink from our colours!”
Over the years, WFTDA has gone through many growing pains and the organization has adapted and alleviated those struggles with modifications such as the SFC program. This year, they also introduced the WFTDA Summit which took place in Manchester, and Middlesbrough made certain to attend the conference. They were able to go to sessions focused on business resources and gain networking opportunities, an event Sudron says helped Middlesbrough feel part of the bigger picture. “The summit was also useful for getting the European leagues together to talk about the challenges we face and sharing ideas on how we can resolve them. We’re all facing the same difficulties!”
After a small break, Middlesbrough is back to training, and are preparing for Pittsburgh just like any other game. They will hit track 2 at 10:30 am EDT (3:30 pm BST) against the #11 seed, Columbia QuadSquad. If they win this first game, they will then go on to take on either #14 seed Bear City, or #3 seed Paris.
Help the team get across the Atlantic with a donation, and get some Middlesbrough swag for doing so.
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