Summer Shovin’ – River Region Roller Derby

By on 18 June, 2012 in Fun, Kate and Stephen with 3 Comments

It was our first roller derby.

It was a Saturday evening, and for $10 each, we found ourselves watching two teams of women skating around a small track on a concrete floor, cheering wildly for our hometown team, even though we barely understood the rules of the competition. It was anarchic, edgy and, above all, a tremendous amount of fun.

Let’s start at the beginning. Garrett Coliseum has seen better days. Despite the best efforts of Rep. Joe Hubbard to save the beautiful and historic building, all he has gotten for his efforts is redrawn district lines that are likely to result in his departure from the state legislature. The case for renovations can be made in a separate blog post, but the Coliseum both needs love and is also still a great place to have an event. We got outstanding seats on the front row (not to be confused with floor seating next to the track, known as “suicide seating”) and got pulled into the action so quickly that we didn’t take advantage of the concession stand selling popcorn and adult beverages.

There were maybe 100 people present, ranging from grandparents to tiny children. Most seemed to be friends of relatives of participants, but a few may have been total outside observers like us. That status enabled us to view the event with fresh eyes, cheering for our hometown River Region Rollergirls, while making objective evaluations about skill and strategy.

A helpful program explained the basic rules to us. What looks like chaos to the untrained eye can quickly become an intricate ballet of skill and power, something that honestly favorably compares to basketball and some parts of football. Each team has one skater designated to be the “jammer,” easily noticed because she has a star on her helmet.

The goal is to have your jammer break through the pack of the other skaters and start lapping everyone. This requires both tremendous speed, but also the sort of “juke and fake” agility and dexterity that can be seen in high-level athletes in other sports. The jammer has to slide through miniscule openings, while her teammates create spaces for her, essentially setting what basketball fans would call “picks,” and what football fans would merely call “blocking.”

This is crucial because teams try to stop jammers by positioning themselves in front of them, body checking without pushing, holding, or grabbing. Elbows and intentional tripping aren’t allowed, but when the pack is clumped together and moving at high speeds, collisions can be unpredictable. One fall can take down the whole pack, sending skates, helmets and mouthpieces flying. And if you go down, the other team is flying around the track racking up points.

The derby in action

There may be other subtle nuances that we missed (being novices and all), but it was clear that the best jammers were those that could sidestep and hop through the pack, avoiding the veering bodies trying to destabilize everything, and sprint out and create some distance. When this happens properly, it’s something like a running back making a sideways hop in a backfield and accelerate towards open space. It’s beautiful.

Unfortunately, on Saturday, the women from Birmingham (the “Tragic City Rollers“) were better at this than our River Region Rollergirls. The bout was relatively close in the first half, with the home team closing the gap to trail by merely 3 points at halftime. But after the extremely cute halftime exhibition of small children hula hooping, the ladies from the “Magic City” were able to extend their lead.

Our hometown girls skated valiantly, especially when led by the top two jammers on the team, Fiend Club and Dame Grohl. Oh, those aren’t their real names. Nobody in roller derby skates under their real names. That’s why you find yourself cheering for people called “Lady Cyanide” and “Slapout Slammer,” and cringing when the Birmingham team deploys someone called “The Incredible Hoag,” who is a devastating force that can send a jammer careening across the track.

Fiend Club, seen here in a preview of the bout sporting a Misfits t-shirt, is a slasher with great vision, who can make diagonal cuts through a pack and knife into the lead. Dame Grohl (whose name is a tribute to former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl), wears Nirvana-themed shorts and a Nirvana helmet. She was by far the fastest skater on the track, but picked up a couple of (frankly questionable) penalties, and also had to take some time out for an injury after she was absolutely drilled by one of the Birmingham enforcers. By the time she bravely returned to the bout, too much damage had been done, much of it at the hand of Tragic City’s phenomenal jammer, Vanilla Rice, who was something of a ninja at escaping contact and piling up lap after lap of points.

As a result, the visiting team picked up a 122-87 victory, but we left Garrett Coliseum totally enthused for the sport of roller derby. The entire event was set to a soundtrack assembled by a DJ, who played surprisingly great music over the PA system — Sonic Youth, The Hold Steady, The Stooges. It felt like a two-hour-long party with a competitive “cheer for your city” centerpiece, an unscripted athletic drama at a reasonable price, enacted by attractive women having a great time. Who wouldn’t be into that?

The next match is July 28, when the River Region Rollergirls host the team from Rome (Georgia) at Garrett. You should definitely try to catch that one, because the next home bout after that isn’t until November 10, when the team from Chattanooga comes to town.

More information on the River City Rollergirls can be found at their website, or their Facebook page.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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There Are 3 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Cherry says:

    Glad y’all had a good time! Thanks for the sweet post!

    Cherry Rolla

  2. Stephen says:

    Update: This video has a slightly NSFW soundtrack but has some fantastic footage from the bout:

  3. Charis Lewis says:

    Great article! Thank y’all for coming out to root for your hometown! I hope we will see you again on the 28th. Tell your friends! We have been practicing hard & hope to have a crowd cheering us on!

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