Roller Derby Girls

So, Jana and I went to our first roller derby match.

And loved it!

Somewhere a few months ago I had read an article about how roller derby was growing in the US and how the resurgence of roller derby has been connected to third-wave feminism--a sport organized by women for women athletes, and a sport that combines toughness, athleticism and femininity. I found that link--roller derby and feminism--to be interesting. But for my part, I mainly love anything having to do with the '50s and '60s. Roller derby was at its cultural peak during those decades, so I was interested in its resurgence. I love anything retro.

So last week while visiting my family in Pennsylvania Jana was reading the paper about local events coming up. And she noted that the Eerie Roller Girls where having a double-header bout in a few days and would I like to go? You bet, I said. And so it was that Jana and I, along with my two sons and three nephews, all went to our first roller derby.

It was a double-header. In the first match the Eerie Roller Girls took on the Queen City Roller Girls from Buffalo, NY. The second match had the B-squad from the Eerie Roller Girls going against the J-Town Roller Girls from Johnstown, PA.

Prior to the bouts we took the time to familiarize ourselves with the rules. But it took us awhile to understand everything that was going on, the various rules and strategies involved. But by the second bout we started to really get the hang of it. I found myself, at one point, screaming at the lead jammer to call the jam before the other jammer reached the pack. You know, the stuff you yell at a roller derby match.

I can't say how much our teenage sons and nephews liked the event. The main word they used to describe the evening was "interesting." Jana and I loved it. We're officially roller derby fans.

Now the burning questions you are probably wanting to ask is was event a show or a sport? And were the women scantily or provocatively clothed?

Regarding being a show, when some people think of roller derby they think of something like professional wrestling. And I think some roller derbies are like that.

But what we saw was a sport, associated with the Women's Flat Track Derby Association.

Regarding clothing, while there were some feminine flourishes to the basic team uniform it wasn't, speaking as a man, an ogling sort of experience. The whole thing was very different and unique and had a campy, theatrical flair, but we experienced it as a sporting event. Those women were competing as athletes. There was an injury (and emergency medical people were on hand like you see at a football game). And beyond skating ability, strength and cardiovascular stamina were really, really important. If a jammer was too fatigued to get through blocks that team was in deep trouble.

As for roller derby being the quintessential feminist sport I don't know, as a man, if I can say. But we do know this: roller derby is a full contact sport (like football) that is also a female sport. Roller derby isn't a female version (and therefore a lesser version in the eyes of some) of what was originally a male sport. Roller derby is a female contact sport. Roller derby doesn't imitate the guys. So if men want to play roller derby, and male roller derby leagues are starting up, they are going to have to follow the lead of the roller girls.

If a guy wants to play roller derby, and it looks like a ton of fun, he's going to have to learn to block and jam like a roller derby girl.

At one point during the double-header I looked at some of the little girls in attendance cheering on their favorite roller girl.

I leaned over to Jana and said, "If I were a little girl I bet this would be pretty empowering and inspiring."

And if you looked at the faces of those little girls, they seemed to agree.

Eerie Roller Girls taking on the Queen City Rollers

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13 thoughts on “Roller Derby Girls”

  1. The revival of roller derby in general and flat track in particular actually got started here in Austin. Back in the 2000s, my youngest daughter and I went for a number of years. (She got older and the games moved to the convention center, so we stopped going eventually.) She loved the games. Had her favorites. Followed the action. Even thought about joining the youth league (Derby Brats) for a while. Glad y'all enjoyed it!

  2. Before the bout we were visiting with on of the Eerie Roller girls and she mentioned, when she found out that we were from Texas, that the resurgence had started in Austin. And we also found out that a Roller Derby has started up in Abilene.

  3. Really enjoyed this post! And glad you are now fans of what I think is the greatest of sports! - InstaSLAM, #84, Oklahoma Victory Dolls

  4. I have to say my only knowledge of it is from the movies. I always have viewed it as the opposite of anything feminism. I viewed it like this:

    or this:

  5. I have attended games where the girls are in it for sport and those games have been watching true athletes and I would go as far as to say it was watching something that deserves to be in the Olympics.

    But, I could write a small book on how destructive the roller derby scene in my home town has been to families. In the smaller leagues that are caught up in the spectacle rather than the sport and it has basically been a platform for people's egos to run wild. When you get involved with roller derby it's quite common to hear the expression "derby widow" which is used in humour when they're referring to the partner (usually a man) of a derby player because of the amount of time the players spend involved in the game and training and then all the outside socializing they do with fellow players and the partners get left behind and neglected, but it's not just the partners. The children get left behind and neglected too. But, I guess "derby orphan" doesn't have the same humourus tone.
    The lesbian scene is quite big in roller derby and the problem that myself and many others have found is the amount of women that have finally discovered that "they're gay" since joining roller derby and left their marriages. And not just come out and been open about it, but have had affairs, been caught, then "come out". My ex-wife now, was the president of the roller derby league in my hometown and is one of the women I'm talking about. If you look into it (not just derby in my home town), my story isn't very unique.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not bitter. I've been severely hurt, but I'm not bitter anymore and I forgive. I have nothing against roller derby as a sport or the people that play it as a sport. I don't have anything against lesbians either, and if my ex-wife is truly gay then it's sad that she put herself through 12 years of marriage and 4 children with a man because she didn't have the courage to be honest back then. Like I said, my story isn't very unique in the roller derby scene and I din't want to put a downer on your post, Richard. I just feel I wanted to share my story (the nutshell version) of my experience with roller derby.

    I would encourage anyone wanting to get involved with roller derby to make sure you join a league where it's all about the sport, not the after-parties and the derby names and the roll outs. Some leagues have got to the point where they don't use derby names anymore, because they want people to be playing the game for a sport and the team and they're really trying to let go of the "spectacle."

  6. I remember watching both women's and men's roller derby on TV as a kid in the late '60s or early '70s. I notice that a 1971 book by Frank Deford (expanded from an extraordinarily long Sports Illustrated feature article) has recently been republished as an e-book.

  7. I enjoyed the post, Richard. Linda and I attended a roller derby on base, where we are now in S. Korea. It was fun! I kind of doubt it is taken that serious here, as they are not presented that often. Of course, a lot of the women are in the Army or Air Force (two base teams were playing each other) and look pretty tough. I think we'll go again!

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