by Perry Piper
The squeaking of folding lawn chairs in a sea of spectators is the first clue. Whistles screech and echo across the skating rink. Distant sounds of tough skaters crescendo as they approach the audience’s side and perform waves, exchange high-fives and shout battle cries. Add this all up and you have the opening of a roller derby match.
Everyone loves sports. There’s soccer, football, baseball, basketball and hockey. Although there are female leagues for these pastimes, the men’s teams are what draw the fans. But recently, a growing interest in roller derby for women has launched this evolving sport into the limelight.
Competitive roller skating originated in the early 20th century, but in just the last few years took off in its modern form. Women have popularized the sport through theatrical costumes and performances, spunky nicknames, and “tough-girl” body slamming similar in aggression to football tackles — all on roller skates. Every player has her own stage name or alternate identity like “Pixie Hollow,” “Jo Hurt,” “Ivana Thrasher.” There’s even a local coach named “Shreddy Mercury.” Team names can be equally clever: Rainy City Roller Dolls, Guns n Rollers and Wheels of Justice.
The method to their madness
The game takes place between two teams, each with five players active at a time: Four blockers wear solid colored helmets and function like the defensive wall in football. One blocker, wearing a striped helmet, serves as the pivot, a sort of mini field captain who can become a jammer. The blockers’ goal is the prevent the opposing team’s jammer, wearing a star helmet, from passing and lapping them for points. Despite its theatrical playfulness, roller derby is a rigorous and serious physical pursuit.
“The stamina and coordination these girls have to have in order to make a jam successful,” is impressive, said Kelso resident Chris Orth, who frequents derby bouts. At first, he was surprised by “how they have to focus on their footwork” and always be “conscious of their teammates and the opposing team’s blockers and jammers so they don’t get hurt.”
The game, or bout, is made up of two 30-minute halves containing shorter jams, or rounds, lasting up to two minutes each. The girls exhibit a fierceness in the action-packed rounds, commanding spectators’ full attention at every second. Each team’s jammer is the scoring player, and the goal is to pass the opposing team’s players and lap them multiple times for points.
If You Go
July 27 - Rainy City Roller Dolls vs. Scandalous Brawl Stars Centralia Rollerdome, 216 W. Maple St. Centralia, Wash. 360- 736-7376. Estimated admission under $20. Bring a chair around 7pm (Please check the website for final details.)
August 23 - Wheels of Justice vs. Rat City All-Stars 7805 SE Oaks Park Way, Portland, Ore. Doors 7pm, event 8-9:30pm $14 - Free parking. Food and beverage is cash only. ATM located in Oaks Park. No outside drinks are allowed in except sealed water bottles.
About the Girls
One local team, the Rainy City Roller Dolls, plays regular bouts in Centralia at the Rollerdome, a skating rink in the heart of downtown. They also play in other cities around the area, like Tacoma and Portland. According to the RCRD website, the group hopes to create a positive force for strong, independent and capable women in our communities. They also provide a family-friendly activity. Compared with other sports, Orth said he especially enjoys derby.
“The girls do it,” he said, “not in the hopes of becoming rich and famous, but in the true meaning of being an athlete.”
“It by far is one of the most technical and involved sports I’ve ever been a part of.”
If you’re looking for something fun to do, add roller derby to your list of spectator sports. If, like me, you don’t usually watch sports, you may be pleasantly surprised by this one. Maybe I’ll see you at an upcoming bout.
Perry Piper discovered roller derby when a friend invited him to a bout at the Rollerdome in Centralia. He writes the monthly column “Lower Columbia Informer,” see page 29.