Roller Derby today

In June it will be three years since I stumbled onto WordPress and wrote a short paragraph just for the hell of it.

Since then I have somehow written 281 posts and to date have had 223,418 views.

Some posts were trivial, some were not thought out enough, and a few really had a meaningful affect.  I am really proud of  “I Like Women” which is my most widely read and shared post, about Lori Milkeris and the terrible disease of domestic violence;  and there are others.  I think I will finally try to convince Keith Coppage to make sense of them, and put the compilation out as an E-book.

You continuing readers know that although Roller Derby was a significant part of my life (15 years, 3000 games), it was not (and is not) all.  I consider myself a social activist and critic.

The critic part got me in trouble with some of you.

Assuming that I knew what Roller Derby is and should be, instead of getting a better understanding of what flat track Derby today is, I seemingly attacked what I saw.

Image by JR3 from

Image by JR3 from

Well of course the skaters could not initially be those skilled athletes I had known in the game; they had created a game that could be skated easily and had to be molded to the skaters who were playing.

Our skaters were paid professionals, who trained for an average of a year before being rostered, and although the game had many elements of sports entertainment, the players were wonderful athletes who did amazing things on a continual basis that were expected of them; the teams had a maximum of 8 men and 8 women (usually 7 each), and we scheduled up to 6 games per week. And believe it or not, many games (“The Open Game”) were 100% competitive as my father tried to legitimize it in the mid 50’s but had tremendous resistance from TV and the fans.  (Don’t show one game on television and then present another).

I stated initially that I was looking upon the game as a fan and a promoter and felt there were too many slow downs, times out, officials, you name it.

Understand, I have a right to my opinions, but no right to expound them as gospel…….and one of the major ruling bodies was not pleased and showed it.  I am sorry about that, but we all make our own choices.

So let’s look at the differences in the various games, then and today.

Roller Derby evolved from the initial marathon in 1935 through modifications by Leo Seltzer, Damon Runyon, staff, managers and skaters to what was pretty standard by the early 40’s.  The next big change occurred in the late 50s  –  early 60s, with the formalizing of skaters roles determined by the helmets they wore; each team had a pivot skater, two blockers and two jammers.  A jam would start with the pack was “intact”, i.e. the two pivots at the front, the four blockers behind them, and then the four jammers.  Of course it was on the banked track.

The referees (2 non-skating, three for playoffs) blew the whistles and the sixty-second jam would start.  The blockers could not be more than twenty feet in front of or behind the pack at anytime; the pivots could chase the jammers (and actually become a scoring player) after the jammers left the pack.  At the end of the play the players would switch helmets (and positions), and the referees would organize the pack as soon as possible.  Stopping was not allowed and penalized, as was skating backwards and blocking.

If a player was penalized, the helmet was not.  So no jam started without at least one jammer from each team.  A maximum of three players on a team could be penalized at one time; others would go in as the initial penalty time (1 minute; major 2 minutes) expired for any penalized skater.

Obviously there were no power jams, and scoring (because of the jammers chasing each other) was low; from the teens up to the low 30’s.

So you can see the differences.  Now modern Derby is just 10 years old and unlike ending up with a unified rule set, there are many different ones.  And what I really think is great, is that every league can find one that they are most happy with.  I have seen a number of the different games, and while you may think others are not as good as yours, they are all derivatives of the original sport.

And there are definite differences of what various skaters are looking for (and for god’s skate, I am not being judgmental but hopefully factual!).  Some want to skate for the fun of it, maybe for the fitness, and in some cases, the after parties are what it is all about.

Others are seeking a more difficult and condition requiring contests:  some are panicking at WFTDA’s new minimum skills (which are better for you all), others welcome the changes, and look at USARS, MADE, Old School, etc as possibilities.

Then of course the wildness of Renegades, and those two very wonderful self-contained pods, TXRD and LA Derby Dolls, both banked track.  They are different in game styles, but similar in what I consider a great approach to Derby:  tolerant and friends with all rule sets and styles of play; allowing other skaters in, and being tremendously supportive of the community participation and good works that are somehow instinctive in all of Derby.

TXRD skates a competitive game, but has added many elements of sports entertainment that make it fun for skaters and fans.  I love April and what she and the others have accomplished.  It is Roller Derby (as are you all) but I don’t like all the elements, but it sure works in Austin.

The Derby Dolls I pretty well covered a few posts ago.  That and elements of  USARS are to my liking.  Do not misinterpret that I am disdaining flat track.  Again, it is Roller Derby, enthralling when skated by conditioned athletes who understand the game, and it has many fans who will continue to support it.  Because of the minimum conditions required to play it (think of the CaiRollers struggling in Egypt), it can be played on any flat surface.  And I will see my Sonoma County Roller Derby this Saturday in Santa Rosa as they skate for the first time in their new venue.

The Derby Dolls and their companion leagues now have a game more suited to what the banked track allows:  60 second jams, great understanding of what the pack does, no lengthy time outs, constant pack movement, almost no time between jams, power jams not really that apparent.

And even though the game was very one-sided, virtually all the fans stayed till the end;  the jammers were outstanding and remarkably agile, but the skaters in the pack never stood up, kept in blocking positions,  and didn’t allow jammers pass them without setting up pack plays and being very effective.  The score was one-sided, the jams were amazing, and kept the fans in the stands.

And I felt was a far more effective presentation than a jammer who has no opposing jammer and a two minute jam endlessly passing seemingly ineffective blockers.  Maybe points should be more meaningful.  And remember, the game is supposed to have offense and defense at the same time.

We know how great Gotham and Oly are on any track….and other leagues are showing exponential growth and, yes, professional competitive Roller Derby will come.  Many will want to play, others are very satisfied with what is out there for them right now.

The one thing I ask of  you all now – as media coverage and finally the public understanding of what is going on expands – is that you all acknowledge  that fact that there are 1450 leagues in 41 countries all  part of one family.  Start showing tolerance for all other leagues and skaters, take down the barriers and just become world-wide ambassadors for Roller Derby.

Get angry at the Commissioner if you want, but never at the Game.

And I will see you all at Rollercon…..they have credentialed me!

2 comments on “Roller Derby today

  1. I acknowledge that there are 1450 leagues in 41 countries and the majority of them skate a game that I do not like or enjoy. I do not begrudge anyone, I admire their talent and I respect them for all the hard work and dedication. It is my hope that one day, they will skate a legit game that resembles what I grew up loving and still love to this day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s