It may be hard to believe that there are places where librarians regularly push other women to the ground and math teachers gleefully body check someone who is on skates. However, at many roller derby bouts held most Saturday nights across the country, that is exactly what many people come and watch. Roller derby is quickly coming around again as a resurging sport that is growing in popularity among women.
“I like knocking people down. It helps me get my frustrations out and it is great exercise,” said Margret Thackler, a member of a roller derby team located in Austin, Texas. Thackler explained that she teaches trigonometry and geometry during the days, but at night, she is transformed into “Olivia Shootin’ John,” a skater for Austin’s Hot Rod Honeys.
The resurgence of roller derby is an interesting combination of trends that seem to fit together nicely. First of all, roller derby is about exercise and relieving frustration after a long week at the office.
“Everything’s real. The injuries are not staged. We have people on our team that train four or five times a week. It’s a lot of fun, and you can get aggression out,” said Alana Westwall, assistant editor of the Ohio Magazine, “A friend of mine was skating and I went to watch her. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I immediately joined and have been skating for a year and a half. “
In addition, the rebirth of roller derby seems to also be rooted in the popular pursuit of retro-history. According to Slate.com’s Felix Gillette, the roller derby craze is a flashback for a lot of skaters who recall the glory days of roller derby that appeared on ABC each Saturday morning in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Teams back then were famously known as the Chicago Hawks, the New York Bombers, the Texas Outlaws, the Detroit Devils, and the Los Angeles Thunderbirds
Los Angeles Times reporter, Samantha Schaefer explained that roller derby today has taken on a whole new twist. Today, women skate while dressed up in flamboyant costumes and fishnet stockings. They fly madly around a banked track that is illuminated by a flashing disco ball. Indeed, today’s roller derby queens are as stylish as they are brash. During most bouts, the roller derby athletes can be overheard talking about the game and its accessories, using terms like the “hyper witchdoctor wheels” and “fruit boots” that describe skaters on in-line skates.
In addition, today’s skaters add the unique spin of donning individual pseudonyms that describe the skater’s unique personality. Names like “Dinah-Mite” “Michete,” and “Rocksy Balboa” fill the rosters of teams like the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes, Appalachian Rollergirls, and the Bakersfield Diamond Divas.
According to New York Times reporter Steffie Nelson, women across the country are joining teams by the scores, proving that roller derby is coming around again as a resurging sport. Nelson explained that roller derby was born in the Depression era, when promoter Leo Seltzer first introduced the sport in 1935 as a way to bring fans to the Chicago Coliseum. By the early 1950’s, ABC was showing Roller Derby three nights a week. The network continued to broadcast roller derby bouts throughout the 1970’s before the sport folded due to lack of attendance. The recent growth in the sport can also be seen in the number of teams for younger skaters as well. These leagues are for girls 12 and under are cropping up across the country as well. The A&E Network recently produced Roller Girls, a 13-episode reality show on the sport.
Nelson explained whether it is boredom, a bad breakup, or the opportunity to create a new persona, the sport of roller derby has exploded. New York City has more than 24 teams competing in the Gotham Girls Roller Derby League.
“Before I got into the roller derby I was a shy and nerdy girl who hid behind my glasses,” said Bronx resident Leslie Sisson, a skater for the Manhattan Mayhem. Now, Sisson explained, she can be sexy, tough and “have a closet full of miniskirts.”
The competition is real, as is the thrill behind the sport. However, roller derby is not for the timid. Skaters must wear helmets and mouth guards. It is a full contact sport where injuries are not uncommon. Still, roller derby is also a very tactical game that demands quick thinking as well as power and pace.
As for the rules of roller derby, it resembles football in that the sport alternates between shots of action and lulls as teams shuffle players back and forth. Roller derby is broken into four 14-minute periods with “jams” that last for no more than two minutes each. At the start of each jam, four skaters from each team form a pack. The referee blows a whistle, and all eight women start skating counter-clockwise at a rapid pace. Each team keeps one skater behind the pack, called a “jammer.” When the referee blows a second whistle, the two jammers take off and try to catch up with the rest of the pack. Each time the jammer passes an opponent – always through a gauntlet of pushing, shoving, hitting and hip checking – she scores one point for her team.
From Los Angeles, California to Lincoln, Nebraska, roller derby is making a resurgence and attracting women and girls to the bone crunching sport. A split lip and blackened eye can not dissuade the new breed of roller derby queens, who are proving again that what goes around comes around.
By Vincent Aviani