I apologize for the delay in concluding my coverage from Colorado. The minute we got on the plane to head back east, “real life” intruded something fierce, and today, over two weeks later, is actually the first moment I’ve been able to dedicate time to write. I plan to conclude my series on Colorado in two parts-this one, which will be dedicated to my visit to the training facility of the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls. I will then write a concluding column regarding my overall impressions of the areas I visited and of course, crown the Beer of the Week.
But, first things first: Roller Derby, where have you been all my life?
My friend from college, now known to her Derby pals as “Sonic Death Monkey” picked us up in Aurora and drove us to an area of the Denver suburbs I don’t imagine I would have found in the guidebooks. Very industrial from the outside, but upon entering the “War House” as it’s called, it was clear that the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls (RMRG) (www.rockymountainrollergirls.com) are an organization to take seriously. What might once have been a warehouse had been transformed into a really unique space. It was bright and open, very high ceilings. It reminded me of the Annex Gymnasium back at HHS a bit, but without the weird smell by the leg press machine. The surface was a bright blue rink and was populated by about twenty or so “Noobs,” or beginners to the delicate art of Roller Derby.
As I learned from Monkey, there is a steady stream of women that come out to try Roller Derby, which is popular enough in the Denver Area to support two separate leagues; the RMRG, who boast four home teams: Dooms Daisies, Red Riding Hoods, Sugar Kill Gang, and the United States Pummeling Service; and three travel teams, The Fight Club, the Contenders, and Project Mayhem. Fight Club is the league “A team,” and were National Champions in 2010. The Contenders are the B squad and the Project Mayhem group is their C team, which any skater who is skill tested can work with. There’s also the Denver Roller Dolls who boast four home teams and two travel squads (http://www.denverrollerdolls.org/). There are other smaller factions in neighboring areas, including some pockets of “Merby” where men play the sport. There have been events during the last year that have drawn 1,000 fans, so this doesn’t appear to be a fad, and if anything, according to both Sonic Death Monkey, Reuters, and the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) the sport is growing to the point that it is being considered for the 2020 Olympics. I’m interested, for sure.
So, for the noobs out there, what is Roller Derby? It’s tempting here to just link you to a Wiki article, but I’m going to give it a shot. First thing to know is that it’s called a “Bout.” Not a game, a match, a session. A Bout. I was corrected on that repeatedly by both Monkey and her friend “Robo Flow.” Each bout runs for two thirty-minute halves. The periods are broken up into “Jams” which can go as long as two minutes. Each team fields five players at a time. There are three blockers, one jammer, and a pivot player, who is a blocker, but if needed can become the jammer. The jammer scores points by lapping the pack of blockers, earning a point for each opponent she passes. Blockers try to keep their jammer running clear while trying to stop the opposing teams’ jammer.
With me so far? That’s only the basics-there’s far more nuance and strategy than I can convey here, but It’s kind of like a race, but with chaos, mayhem, colorful names, personalities and legal hitting and whipping of teammates to increase speed. There are penalties and referees as well, and the rules are clear about what you can and cannot do. Even in practice, the skill and training involved to be good at this sport were very clear. It’s hard enough to be athletic in shoes—I imagine much more difficult on quad roller skates, which I’ve not worn since 1987 at the last SPS roller skating event. (Where, I’ll have you know, I finally got that girl to hold hands with me on a couple skate…even if it was just to bring her out to have us switch so she could skate with the blonde kid. Still epic.)
Anyway, I digress. My first question was: how does one go about becoming a Rocky Mountain Rollergirl? In essence, in seems to come down to commitment. Most of the interested ladies start by coming to “Derby Days” which are basic skating sessions held every Sunday. There, prospective members of the “Kill Scouts” or “Dooms Daisy’s” can build a foundation for their skills, get to know the programs and people involved and basically find out if Roller Derby and it’s unique culture are something you wish to be a part of. After 2-3 months of Derby Days, a prospective “Red Ridin’ Hood” might be invited to begin training on Tuesday and Thursday evening. These sessions work on enhancing the basics, working on specific skills, strategy, scrimmage play, and the like. Each “Noob” is evaluated every other month, and as they progress, they might then be invited to add Monday evenings and Saturday Scrimmages. Much depends at that point on the skill level demonstrated and their level of commitment. Before one even begins talking about earning their “Derby Name” one must invest six months of training, dues, and community relations work-street team, work or attendance at monthly events designed to promote awareness of the league in a positive way.
The group is a non-profit and exists entirely on the backs of dues from members and sponsors, who include Pabst Blue Ribbon, Wahoo’s Fish Tacos, and the team Chiropractor, Dr. Borman. He’s a fan.
If all goes well and you earn the right to a Derby name, you become eligible to be placed with a team. You will likely be a member of the “KillScouts” for some time, who are skaters who have put in 90 days and are in good standing with the league. They will remain with the Scouts until drafted. When you’re drafter onto a home team, you’re likely with that team until you retire, as, according to my friend Sonic Death Monkey, no one has ever switched teams. If there’s an issue between players, they have a forum for working it out: the track.
So, outside of the particulars, who are these women? In short, it seems as though they are pretty much a bit of everyone. Generally, they appear to not have been athletes prior to Derby. Some swimmers and dancers, but it seems that for many, Derby is among the first team sports they have enjoyed. Monkey says that Derby celebrates and embraces, “All female body types. If you’ve got an ass, yay!” These women are lawyers, students, Police officers, teachers, Stay-at-home moms, you name it. It’s a place that welcomes all women who are looking for something to challenge themselves and a place and a culture even that will embrace them for whoever they happen to be walking in the door. Monkey says that most of her teammates call one another by their Derby names, and that many of them don’t even know one another’s real names. In fact, while talking to one of her teammates, I used Monkey’s real name, and she looked at me as though I had just farted. I hadn’t though.
In the end, the wife and I really enjoyed watching the practice. I decided that I’m going to introduce the sport to The Bear, as she is pretty much a walking Roller Derby on most days. I think there’s something very cool about a sport that provides these women with a great team activity that allows one to still display individual skills in the process. Not to mention being a safe place to be an aggressive woman, which as Monkey attests, such a place is “not always easy to find.” The track is the great equalizer, and in a world where we many of us face the challenges of identity and disconnection, it was refreshing to see a group of women dedicated to being part of something really unique and positive. Plus there’s some hitting. So, let’s hope they add it to the Olympics, as it strikes me as something that would be a lot of fun to cheer on in 2020. It’s uniquely American sport that promotes a powerful and independent spirit in women of all ages. As a father to two daughters, that resonates very much for me.
So, who’s coming with me? If you’re down in NoVA with me, let’s go here: http://dcrollergirls.com/ ---I’m serious. The DC squad has a big match next month…I’ll drive.
Stay tuned for my final thoughts on Colorado…Aloha for now.