Bumps, Lumps, and Roller Derby
I’ve been discovering my inner sports fan. After a lifetime of my father dragging me to football games, and the utter shame of me attending not even one Seminole’s football game during my years at Florida State University, it’s amusing to have this hit now as a 41-year-old.
It’s roller derby. Which if you’re not familiar with the sport, is a bit like football on skates, with no ball. The rules are arcane, as with any sport, but the gist of it is each team has a jammer, which is the scoring player, who has to skate through a pack composed of blocking players, racking up a point for each player of the opposing team she passes.
(The fact that I just had to cut out a sentence or two that went into further details and elaborations about the game’s rules shows just how far gone I am.)
Roller derby was popular in the 1970s until TV promoters took it in a ludicrous WWF direction. Modern roller derby is the re-imagining of the sport by women who watched roller derby as children and took the best parts of those days (women being strong, fierce, and playful) and made it a serious sport.
The feminist in me loves that when these women reinvented roller derby in their own image, they made it real. There’s amazing athleticism on the field: jammers who whip around the rink at top speed, blocks, whips, jumping over downed skaters.
Despite all that, derby is still playful. The women who skate take on humorous assumed names. One of the Rat City Rollergirls is “Yoko O’no You Didn’t,” a call out to her Asian heritage and a sassy comment about how things sometimes go during the game. (There’s a complete list of all the registered names online.) And there’s fashion. Because modern roller derby is run “by the players, for the players” the gals often sew their own costumes and get creative with them.
I’ve been skating in derby practices, Bellevue Roller Derby and PFM, but I didn’t expect to actually enjoy watching the game. When I was a competitive fencer, after all, I never got into watching fencing bouts.
All I can say is that somewhere been the opening and the closing ceremonies, a latent “sports fan” gene got switched on. I hooted and hollered when players on the field pulled amazing stunts. I rooted for the home team and groaned when they didn’t win. I did the wave, I shouted “City” in response to the other side of the arena’s “Rat” and heard an audience of 5000+ people speak as one.
With me at this event were my friend Selah and my son Kai. Selah brought a half-time show in her bag, samples of differential shrinkage cloth she’d woven in a recent class by Ruby Leslie. They were amazing and soft, and full of textural interest. I’d love to take a workshop or class with Ruby some day if I can get the timing to work out.
Selah also found a bit of time to crochet during the bout. Me, I brought a sock-in-progress to knit on, but never took it out of the bag. (The knitting bag later filled up with T-shirts, patches, and a cow bell, so it was useful, non-the-less.)
Kai was a whole nother matter. This was his first-ever sporting event and it’s a long six hours. I worried that he’d get bored at some point and that I’d have to walk him around and keep him entertained. When the game started, and he watched with a slack expression and I was sure I was in trouble.
Quite the opposite. Apparently the “sports fan” gene is strong with this one. He was the one rushing us back from bathroom breaks and shopping trips at halftime so we wouldn’t miss any of the game.
He bought a “derby brats” (the junior derby league) button and a Rat City Rollergirl T-Shirt. When I looked at the T-shirt, with its saucy logo of a pretty gal with a fierce look and a black eye, and said “I’m not sure that’s appropriate for school.” He replied, “Of course it is. It’ll be perfect for show-and-tell!” I belly-laughed so hard the other people in line stared. If you take your kid to roller derby, he gets to talk about it. Fair enough.
Kai got the autograph of a Denver Roller Doll. The visiting team was amazing, with great speed and power. I complemented her team and gently teased her that it’s because they had so much extra oxygen playing down in Seattle at sea level. She, like all the roller derby folk I’ve met, was big-hearted and gracious.
As we walked out of the Key Arena, Kai said quietly, “That was amazing.” I said, “Do you want to go to the next game?” He looked at me as if I was a bit stupid and said, “Yeah. So I can track the scores. That last bout was 96 to 108.”
It was like watching genetic destiny in action. His granddad will be so proud.