So you see a bunch of hot girls in fishnets and hot pants and knee high socks with fear-striking names printed on the backs of their shirts and quad skates on their feet. At first you think WTF? Is that some sort of crazy roller skating gang? Close. When you finally realize they are the wonderful ladies of roller derby, you either know NOTHING about it or you think its like the roller derby of old with brutal brawls and skates to the face.
Well I’m here to correct you.
So there are two types of roller derby: Flat track and Banked track. The banked tracks are the slanted, bowl like tracks. Their rules are a bit different but the game is essentially played the same way. What I’m going to explain is flat track roller derby, the thing I’ve devoted a good portion of my life to.
First off, there’s the reigning body of flat track roller derby: Women’s Flat Track Derby Association or as its better known by derby girls WFTDA (often pronounced whiff-ti-duh). They are the ones who make up the rules, rankings, requirements, and all official things that most leagues abide by.
So once, seconds before a bout, a guy asked me “So do y’all have a ball or something? How exactly is this played?” For all of you reading this who are in the boat with him here is your basic explanation.
Now to throw you right into the pool of sweat and fishnets, here is some derby terminology you will need to know:
Jam – Roller Derby is played in two 30-minute halves, which are broken down into 2-minute sessions called jams. Between each jam, teams have 30 seconds to get their new line-up onto the track. If they don’t make it, they play without the people missing. They don’t let this slide. My team once didn’t realize they were letting us have another jam so we had our jammer, who just happened to be the wonderful Rock Bottom, and 1 blocker while the other team had all of their members.
Pack – this is a group of 8 ladies – 3 blockers from each team and 1 pivot from each team. They are always fighting for position and control of the pack. This is where you will see the best hits.
Jammer – this is the lady with the star panty (yes the helmet covers are called panties) on her head who scores the points. She is typically the faster of the girls on the team and takes most of the hits as she tries to make her way through the pack. The best jammers I’ve encountered are the smaller girls who can get real low to the ground to dodge those hits. They also are expert jukers. Baby Face Assassin from Houston Roller Derby is 4’10 ½ and a helluva jammer.
Pivot – this is the lady with the stripe panty on her helmet. She calls the plays and helps control the speed of the pack. She can usually be found in the front of the pack. They also serve as the “last line of defense” for jammers who have passed the other blockers. Pivots are often the panty-chasers of the team.
Blocker – These are the pantiless (only in terms of the helmet covers, mostly) ladies. They are responding to the calls of the pivot, stopping the opposing jammer from making it through the pack and helping their jammer get through. Often when fighting for position these ladies throw some mean hits and take down some blockers in the best of ways. I focus in on the pack while the jammers are making their way around.
Lead Jammer – this is an amazing status that all jammers fight for. Lead jammer is awarded to the first jammer that makes it out of the pack successfully and without any penalties. Lead jammers have the ability to call off the jam by tapping their hips. You can identify them by the ref on the inside of the track following them with one hand raised and the other pointed at them. This is something I envy, as a relatively newer derby girl, I tend to stick to blocking and I watch our lead jammers with the greenest of green looks.
Now that you have the terminology, let’s explain how the game works.
First the blockers and the pivots (the pack) line up at what is called the pivot line and the jammers at the jam line. The ref blows one long whistle and the pack takes off. He blows the whistle two short times and the jammers take off. Remember only the jammers can score points. Now the first pass through the pack the jammers are fighting for lead jammer status. After getting through, the jammer loops around the track and goes in for a second pass aka the first point-scoring pass. Each subsequent pass in the jam is a point-scoring pass. The jammer gets a point for each player of the opposite team they pass. Jammers can also score an extra point in what is called a grand slam. This is when one jammer laps the other. It is quite an amazing feat of teamwork to witness.
Penalties are frustrating but awesome at the same time. The most common penalty I’ve seen is elbows. When you “engage” or hit another girl on the team, you can’t use your elbows at all. This is a problem a lot of people struggle with including yours truly. You also can’t use your feet (tripping) or your head or your forearms or hands. The second most common is cutting the track. When any player gets knocked out of bounds they have to come in behind the person that knocked them out without having passed anyone else they were behind. There are more obvious examples like going through the middle and gaining position but most often its getting pushed out of bounds and coming back in at the wrong spot. And the third most common penalty, in my opinion, would have to be back blocking. This is when you are behind someone and pushing them or hitting them from behind. This penalty is probably common because we have a phrase “sit on her” which is where you put your butt on a girl trying to pass you and keep it there. If she does anything other than trying to step around you, she gets called for it. For more on penalties see official rules.
Well there you have it folks. The lowdown on the hoedown. Roller Derby is quite possibly the most amazing thing ever. And if you think you can’t do it, come out to a bout. It’ll change your life. I promise.
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