Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Post on the Roller Derby

Yup, that's what I did last night. Thanks to an assignment for anthropology class (which didn't make much sense to me), I got to experience the thrill of witnessing the intense championship game between two local teams in my area. Something I never thought I'd get around to doing otherwise. It's just one of those things that either is or is not on your list, and for some reason it never occurred to me that I would enjoy going to the roller derby, but I'm bummed now that I didn't have it on my 20s List to cross off.

I'd only ever seen footage of what a roller derby looks like from trailers for that one show that Ellen Page is in and that Drew Barrymore directed. I wanted to see it, and I do even more now. Going into the game (with m good friend KC!), I knew absolutely nothing about how it's played, just that a bunch of crazily-dressed girls skate around in circles and beat each other up at the same time. Turns out there actually is a point, though, and strategy is involved, and it gets pretty physical.

An excerpt from Wikipedia:

"Contemporary roller derby is an American-invented contact sport with roots in sports entertainment. The game is based on formation roller skating around an oval track by two teams. Points are scored as the designated scoring player (the "jammer") of both teams each laps members of the opposing team, including its "blockers,"[1] hence offense and defense typically occur simultaneously.[2][3]"

So pretty much one person scores points during each round for their team by lapping the most people from the opposing team. Many tactics are used to prevent this from happening, which lead to rough tumbles and ripped tights and many bruises. Referees are constantly in the middle of the track following the "jammers" and keeping track of who's in the lead and how many people they've passed. It's a demanding job, as they have to simultaneously loop around their inner circle to keep up with the girls they're tracking, usually while displaying their status (lead or non-lead) with arm/hand signals.

The game started out slow, making it pretty easy to get a hold of how the rules worked. The second half picked up quite a bit though: Shoving started much earlier on in the rounds, more people were getting penalties and sent to time out, larger point tallies were being wracked up each time, and it was never a guarantee of who would win. During the last minute and a half, the teams were 118-110 (the team we were rooting for being the losers at this point), where previously there had been 30+ point differences that left you wondering if there was even hope. But like I said, things got intense and sometimes a team would earn 20 points at a time. The very last round started out great until the jammer on our team fell to the ground and lost a wheel on her skate, which forced her to basically forfeit trying to get any points. She sat on the side while the opposing team's jammer wracked up 20-something points, and furthered their score to win the game. The crowd was heartbroken.

At the end of the night, we obviously were very excited about the turnout of the game, but there was reason to be excited even before it started. If it's your first time, the atmosphere is definitely fun to soak in, as you will find obvious that it's not your typical contact sport. These girls are decked out in funky tights, usually bootie shorts or a short skirt (tutu optional), glitter and/or heavy make up, plus all their protective gear covering their heads, elbows, knees, and teeth (mouthguards are a must). Each skater has a unique name on her jersey that usually plays on words to make either a provocative or intimidatingly aggressive nickname. Examples are Babe Ruthless, Iron Butterfly, Katie Karnage, or Mudd Girl (even the referees have names!) Basically, if it's anything a normal person would be embarrassed to wear on their back, it could be seen as the moniker of a derby doll.

The variety of girls participating in roller derbies seems to be greater than your average sport. Size and age seem to be the most varied factors - this is definitely not something that limits players to having a Barbie physique, which made me happy. Heavier girls proudly strut their stuff in what a lot of women are too scared to wear in public, and skinny minnies can do the same.

What I was surprised to notice was the amount of calmness that resided in each team despite the fighting nature of the sport. When they're out on the track, everyone is trying to push the others down, or one-up them by sneaking up from behind and gaining the lead. Even when the more aggressive maneuvers lead to big falls and penalties, the teams always kept their cool and left the anger on the track. KC and I sat very close to the team's sitting areas, and never heard or saw any shouts or expressions of hatred. They play fair and respect the other teams, which I respect and admire, even though naturally I think people tend to be attracted to violence.

All in all I'm not as upset as I was before about spending $12 to go to the roller derby. I'd definitely do it again, when it's not required for a school assignment, and I'm still hoping I get to see that movie sometime.

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