So, I have a new favorite sport.
In January, my friend Frank Blau got me a trackside seat for the season-opening bout of the Rat City Rollergirls roller derby league. I had a great time and have been raving about it ever since, so last Saturday night I went back with Lisa and a bunch of our friends, and now they’re all raving about it too.
For those of you who missed Whip It, roller derby is a contact sport that combines elements of speed skating and rugby with a biker bar/Rocky Horror Picture Show aesthetic. It’s played on an oval track that can be flat or banked. Each team fields five players at a time: a jammer (easy to spot because of the big star on her helmet), who scores points by lapping the other team’s skaters, and a pivot and three blockers, who collectively form a pack that tries to stop the opposing jammer. In blocking, contact is supposed to be limited to the hips, torso, and upper arms, but fouls are common, and it’s not unusual for both teams to have one or more players in the penalty box. Part of the strategy is knowing how to play shorthanded—or press the advantage when you’ve got the other team outnumbered.
And yes, there is strategy. It would certainly be possible to run derby as a staged spectacle like professional wrestling, and the Rat City league does have elements of that, like the costumes and the player names—”Anya Heels,” “Betty Ford Galaxy,” “Foxy Throwdown,” “Tempura Tantrum“—but out on the track they play for real.
Saturday night’s second match-up, between league champs Grave Danger and the Derby Liberation Front, was particularly amazing. With less than fifteen minutes to go, the DLF were down by 35 points. Then Grave Danger’s jammer got sent to the penalty box and the DLF went on a 29-point scoring rampage, after which the two teams were neck-and-neck to the end, with Grave Danger just managing to stay ahead for a 122-117 win. One of my friends who’d initially been a little skeptical about derby pronounced this the most exciting game he’d ever seen.
If you’d like to check it out, Rat City’s next bout is on April 21st at Seattle’s Key Arena. The league championships are on May 19th. General admission for adults is $14 in advance, or if you want to splurge, you can get a trackside seat for $37. If you really want to get close to the action, the league is holding player tryouts this Saturday, March 31st, and a referee clinic on April 1st. And if you’d like to see more game photos, visit Frank Blau’s website (thanks, Frank!).
Update #2: As Josh notes in comments, tickets are cheaper if you buy them from the Key Arena box office or from Fast Girl Skates in Wallingford, and adult general admission tickets from those outlets are buy four, get a fifth one free.