When you walk into the rink on bout day, you are greeted by a few things: the smiling girls at the will call window, the merch booth, people milling around trying to find seats, and a small sign hanging on the ceiling below the projectors that reads, “Don’t toss bread above sign.”
If you’re thinking, “Toss bread? Well that’s a silly thing to do,” this must be your first time at a Queen City Rollers Girls bout.
At halftime during every QCRG game, the crowd rises in anticipation. People wave their arms—or signs, in some cases— to grab the attention of league members carrying tiers of delicious, Al Cohen’s rye bread. From the center of the track, the parcels are launched into the mob of fans, who transform into derby maniacs as they fight to catch a prize of their own.
What started off as a Devil Dollies event has survived as a Queen City Halftime tradition. Kiki Concussion, a former Devil Dollie, forged the gateway between the QCRG and Al Cohen’s during the league’s first year.
“We needed money and sponsors if we were going to grow. My dad said he wanted to sponsor but he wanted to do something creative,” said Kiki.
Mark DiDomencio, Kiki’s father and Al Cohen’s owner, described how he came up with the idea.
“My daughter came dressed as the Easter bunny, hopping around and tossing plastic eggs to the crowd,” he said. “I thought hey, you know what? We could toss rye bread out to the crowd. We did it the next game and we’ve been doing it ever since.”
DiDomenico donated a few tiers each game in honor of his daughter’s newfound love of roller derby. After the first loaf was thrown, it created a bond between the two organizations, sealing Al Cohen’s as one of QCRG’s first sponsors.
However, Kiki said that the Dollies originally had a different idea for raising money. “At the time the Dollies were a rowdy, earthy bunch,” she said. “The team originally thought it would be funny to toss panties into the crowd but that didn’t really seem to be a good idea and my dad suggested that we throw out loaves of bread instead.”
Kiki said that the league had to develop a method for safely delivering the loaves. “People used to get clobbered by the bread. But then we sort of came up with rules… you had to make eye contact with the person you were throwing it to. Eventually people started getting rowdy over the bread, fighting over it.”
Al Cohen’s started up in 1640. The company first began to make rye bread in Warsaw, Poland. After emigrating to America in 1888, Joseph Cohen was the first person to bake and sell his family’s pumpernickel rye bread in Buffalo. The business stayed in the Cohen family until 1994, when Henry sold the company to John Blando and Mark DiDomencio. They still produce the same high quality bread the company has made for hundreds of years.
“We didn’t do it for marketing, I just thought it would be a cool thing,” said DiDomenico about becoming a QCRG sponsor. “If we get some more customers out of it, that’s great, if not, I don’t care, we’re having fun out there. I’ve gone to a lot of games and I just enjoy the whole atmosphere.”
To this day, the half-time bread toss is a Queen City fan favorite. Even the league mates enjoy tossing the loaves of bread football-style into the bleachers.
“I just think it’s a unique Western New York thing,” said DiDomenico. “You can go around the United States and you won’t find anyone else throwing bread at bouts.”
So the next time you’re in the rink on bout night at halftime, DUCK! Or get on your derby gear and bring out your butter! These parcels hit almost as hard as the roller girls themselves…almost.
~by Ace Bandage