It’s fair to say that everything I know about roller derby comes from (1) Saturday afternoon television where a station used to broadcast matches when I was a kid, and (2) movies like Roller Ball (the James Caan version) and Whip It. So, when I proposed the idea of going to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) championships to my friend Vinocity Vicki, she agreed (because she’s a good friend and because her schedule was open).
"What do you know about roller derby?" She queried.
“Approximately nothing,” I replied.
“So, you want to go why?” she asked, curious as to what my answer might be.
“It’ll be something different and fun! And come on, when else are you gonna get the chance to see live roller derby?”
And off we went….
But First, a Bit of History on Roller Derby...
The term “roller derby” dates to the 1920's, and originally described roller skate races. While the sport has its origins in the banked-track roller skating marathons of the 1930's, professional roller derby quickly became popular. By 1940, more than 5 million spectators watched in about 50 American cities. By the 1970’s, it’s popularity began to dwindle and by the 1980’s and 1990’s, roller derby became more scripted and evolved into “sports entertainment”. Player pseudonyms and colorful uniforms are remnants of that time, which is part of the awesome kitschy-ness of it all!
In 2000, roller derby as we know it, was reborn in Austin, Texas. It’s now an international sport dominated by all-female amateur teams. Unbelievably, it was even considered for the 2020 Summer Olympics! Today, the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), which is what we went to see, has more than 450 flat track roller derby leagues worldwide!
What the Heck is Flat Track Derby?
Unlike an inclined, or banked, track, that I was used to seeing, flat track derby has no pitch to the track. To me, the track looks like a very small running track. As you can imagine, roller derby is a contact sport played by two teams, roller skating in the same direction, around a track. It’s played by approximately 1,250 amateur leagues worldwide, nearly half of them outside the United States.
Totally eclectic! It was just as much fun watching the audience as it was watching the game! There were fans with blue hair, families, attendees in costume and others in sports jackets and jeans.
There are two teams made up of 14 players each, but not everyone is on the track at the same time.
Jammer: Jammers have stars on their helmets. There’s one jammer on the track at a time and it’s the scoring position. A jammer scores points by passing as many opponents as possible.
Pivot: The Pivot is a blocking position and wears a striped helmet cover. BUT, a Jammer can pass the star helmet cover to the Pivot and the Pivot can become a Jammer.
Blocker: The Blocker tries to stop the other team’s Jammer from passing while simultaneously trying to help her own Jammer to score.
That’s the really basic explanation, so if you’d like more information (and an info graphic) go to the WFTDA link on the game. It’s super interesting!
Well, that would be to score….. How does that happen? A team scores when its Jammer passes/laps members of the opposing team.
Games are divided into two 30-minute periods, consisting of multiple Jams. Each team has four Blockers and one Jammer. Blockers try to create chances for their Jammer to score, while trying to stop the opposing team’s Jammer from scoring. Basically, Blockers play offense and defense at the same time. Players can use their hips, butts and shoulders to block, but tripping or elbowing is a no-no.
The match we watched was between the Victorian Roller Derby League of Melbourne Australia vs. Denver Roller Derby. The Australians absolutely crushed Denver 287-65. But, with names like Names like Ivy Kn’Ivey and Lady Trample you know it was going to be fun, even if it was a blow out!
Footnote: Victorian Roller Derby went on to win it all and became the 2017 WFTDA Champs!
What I thought:
I got the impression that roller derby is the love child of hockey and rugby - and it was exciting! While neither Vinocity Vicki nor I were consuming “cold refreshing beverages”, it appeared to have bolstered the crowd’s enthusiasm, so note for next time! It was absolutely fun and completely worth it - even if I’ll probably never be a diehard fan! But judge for yourselves! I managed to film a short one minute video so you can experience roller derby, too! Enjoy!
Have you even been to or seen roller derby? Let me know about it on Facebook or in the comment section below!