We finally made it to a Rollerderby match (or “jam” “bout,” to use the technical term). Our local league is the Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls. As the website explains,
Gone are the golden days of the 1940s and ’50s, when roller derby was more like a grueling test of endurance than a sport. Gone are the cheesy pro-wrestling-style derby bouts of the ’60s and ’70s, when the MANY fights were staged, scoring seemed like an afterthought, and oh my, that huge hair! Today’s roller derby is a rough, tough, athletic competition, but with enough trash-talkin’ attitude, wipeouts and injuries, and short skirts and fishnets to keep audiences of all ages on the edge of their seats.
This turned out to be a match between two home teams, the Farm Fatales (who have really cool t-shirts — were out of Sarah’s size, unfortunately) and the Slaughter Scouts. RG advised us that the atmosphere was a bit less heated than would normally be the case, since both teams were local and so there was no one obvious to root against.
The atmosphere was a bit more wholesome than I’d expected. The players all have sort of pro-wrestling style names, often with a campy, Russ Meyer or John Waters twist, e.g. Boogie Tights, Lotta Trouble, Violet Outburst. (We were actually proud to realize that we know Boogie Tights, the mother of a kid who used to be in the girls’ preschool class.) And many of them wear fishnet tights, leopard-skin short shorts, and other stripperish gear. Yet, the matches take place in a brightly lit gymnasium with an eager crowd perched on bleacher seats munching on cheese sticks, and the players are all really focused on the game.
Here’s a good summary of the rules of play from a NY Times article about the resurgence of the sport:
Reduced to its basics, roller derby is a simple game. There are two 30-minute halves, during which each team fields five women at a time in shifts (called jams) that last up to two minutes. They skate counterclockwise around an oval track, slightly smaller in circumference than a basketball court. There’s one jammer per shift, who scores a point each time she laps an opposing skater. After her first, nonscoring pass through the opposing team, the leading jammer also has the strategic option of ending the jam prematurely by tapping her hands to her hips [this is called “Calling off the Jam”]. The other eight players skate in a pack and make judicious use of their hips and arms to clear space for their jammer and stymie her opposite number.
Here’s a few shots from last night. The woman with the star on her helmet is the jammer.
By the way, here’s a fascinating article from 2008 about Daniel Eduardo Policarpo, aka “Devil Dan,” the guy who created the first modern rollerderby league in Austin. As the article explains,
under disputed circumstances, the man known as Devil Dan eventually sneaked out of Austin, or was chased out, leaving his weird brainchild to the women he had recruited as team captains. Widely acknowledged, perhaps reluctantly, as the progenitor of the modern roller derby, Daniel Eduardo Policarpo, now 39, settled here in Tulsa to watch the sport spread across the country, though not exactly in the form he had intended.
He explains that he “envisioned low lighting, quick flashes of red, blue and green, glow sticks, drummers, a cramped track, violence and microphones everywhere.” He wanted women “with tattoos, Bettie Page haircuts and guts.”
Roller derby, he said, “exceeded my vision, actually; I had my vision of what things could have been, but it was so fanciful it wouldn’t reach that.” (His original vision involved “a crazy circus with these clowns unfortunately stabbing each other, these bears on fire on these unicycles.”)
We’re hoping to take the girls to the next bout. Seems like it can’t be a bad thing for them to see women (including the mothers of classmates) violently body-checking one another on wheels at high speed in the pursuit of athletic victory.