When you think of winning, what comes to mind? Shiny medals hanging beneath smiling faces? Giant trophies hoisted overhead? Gatorade showers? Victory laps?
For the Ann Arbor Brawlstars, winning means chocolate frosting, raspberry jelly, creamy custard, and lots and lots of sprinkles. That’s right: DONUTS. Winning means DONUTS.
“What the heck is with all the donuts?” We get this question a lot, and reasonably so. We sport donuts on everything from our denim vests to our athletic shorts. Donut stickers decorate our helmets and water bottles. Our headshots and program pages are full of the tasty treats. And we can often be found eating them after a hard-fought game. The reason is simple: DONUTS ARE FOR WINNERS. And we are winners.
But in order to really understand this package deal of donuts and winning, you may have to redefine what it means to win (we certainly did). And to do that, we’re going to have to trace this back to the beginning.
It was May of 2015, and the Brawlstars were playing at the Big O in Eugene, Oregon. It was only our second season as a full-WFTDA team and our very first major tournament as one. Some of our skaters hit up an amazing local donut shop called Voodoo Doughnut and surprised the team with a big box of treats before our first game. We joked that the donuts were for winners ONLY and that we could only indulge when the game was finished and ONLY if we won. Well, guess what? We won! And those donuts tasted almost as good as the win.
Our last game of that weekend was against Sacred City, easily the toughest team we’d ever faced. There was another trip to Voodoo and another big box of donuts set up in our locker room like a shrine. Again, we said they were for winners ONLY. We knew we were heading into a tough game and that the odds were against us. We let the drive to do our best and the desire to taste sweet, sweet victory (yeah, I went there) carry us into the game. With two wins already under our belt that weekend, we were feeling confident. But that feeling didn’t last long.
Our game against Sacred City was unlike any other match we’d experienced. They were aggressive. They were everywhere at once. Their jammers seemed to fly right over us (and those apexes—DAMN). We were holding our own, but we were so far behind. By halftime, the team atmosphere had changed. We were disappointed. We were panicked. We were defeated. But it was only halftime, right?
We held on to that. It was only halftime. The game wasn’t over. And what about those winners’ donuts?! We couldn’t give up on them so easily! There was a collective urgency to regain our footing. We found a quiet spot in the venue and took a moment to breathe together, to visualize together, to refocus together. We rolled into the final thirty minutes ready to work.
That second half was revitalizing. We fought hard. We made adjustments. And we finished the game as a stronger opponent than when we had started. We only scored 25 points in the first half of that game (ouch). In the second half we scored almost five times that!
Despite our best efforts, the scoreboard still dealt us a loss for that game with a final score of 140-200. We had turned that game around, but it wasn’t enough to take home the win in the end. We made our way back to the locker room, only to be met by the sight of those glorious donuts. You have to understand: these weren’t even regular donuts. These were FANCY donuts. Fresh and delicious. Flavors like maple bacon or peanut butter. Topped with Oreos or Cap’n Crunch. The kind of donut you don’t DARE pass up. And they were calling our names.
But we had lost. And donuts were for winners.
How could we eat them? We hadn’t earned them.
But hadn’t we? We had been totally in control during that second half. We showed amazing mental toughness being able to successfully reset at halftime, and we made smart adjustments in our gameplay to take advantage of our opponent’s weaknesses and to prevent them from taking advantage of ours. We actually out-scored our opponent in the second half—a team that, at the time, was ranked fifteen spots ahead of us in the WFTDA. That felt incredible. We decided we had won the second half. Which made us winners. Which meant DONUTS.
And thus began the tradition, which quickly became a way of derby life.
There were lots of games after that. Lots of wins, lots of losses, and lots and lots of donuts. We learned to find the good in each game, no matter the outcome. Even when we lost, we picked out that one thing we WON at—and then we feasted. We may have lost, but we beat the projected spread. Or we executed that offensive play we’d been practicing. Or we stopped a negative spiral dead in its tracks. We have walked away from each game we’ve played knowing that we’ve had something to show for it, even if that something wasn’t the win.
So yes, we are obsessed with donuts. Because we are winners. Winners who lose sometimes but are always willing to look at how far we’ve come and what we’ve done right (even if so many other things went wrong). Failure happens. But no game and no loss is a waste. You’ve always learned or accomplished something. Maybe there was one great jam or a really smart play. Maybe you kept it together and tried your hardest until the very end despite crushing defeat. Maybe you didn’t succeed but were fearless. Maybe you lost but had the time of your life anyway.
I think the reason why the Donuts Are For Winners mentality has stuck with us so much is that we have grown a lot in the last few years as we have learned more and more about being a competitive roller derby team at one of the highest levels available. We’ve learned that winning and losing aren’t black and white. And we’ve learned that losing can be just as satisfying as winning if viewed in the right light (and especially when there are donuts involved).
DONUTS ARE FOR WINNERS encourages us to celebrate the small victories because they ARE worth something.
DONUTS ARE FOR WINNERS reminds us that losing is inevitable, but real winning is more than just a score.
DONUTS ARE FOR WINNERS teaches us that sometimes the real prize is working hard, having fun, and learning something that helps you improve.
Which means that you can always be a winner. If your heart and brain are in the right place.
So here’s to the winners. And the losers who are winners anyway.
Now go get yourself a donut.
Slamlet is a co-captain and trainer for the Brawlstars, and when she isn't playing roller derby you can find her reading novels about the end of the world, narrating the internal dialogue of video game characters, and writing feminist rants. Check out her blog here: https://inknotblood.wordpress.com.