Wednesday, January 25, 2012

bucket list item: roller derby

I never watched a roller derby growing up. In fact, they weren't even on the periphery of my horizon until about 5 years ago and I cannot recall when or where or how I first heard of it. But the idea of a bunch of women getting down with their bad-ass-roller-skating-shoving-racing selves naturally appealed to my gentle Downton Abbey viewing/baroque music listening/Jane Austen reading sensibilities. The thought lingered: I need to go watch a roller derby.

You know how life rolls--dentist appointments, Boy Scout meetings, church night, karate classes, book club meeting--we keep that schedule so full anymore that there's barely a free night for spontaneous TV viewing or attending random civic events. That all changes this year. I'm navigating the time/space continuum more thoughtfully, leaving room in my schedule to DO MORE STUFF. Stuff I've never done before, like going to see a roller derby.

I know the local derby women practice at a sports complex about 10 minutes away from my house. I've seen them there--larger than life in their tattered tights and punked out hair. While skimming the newspaper last week, I read that the Fox Cityz Foxz (roller derby folks seem inordinately fond of invented spelling--part of the whole "rebel" thing they've got going) had their season opener at that location Saturday night. A night wide open on my calendar.

My last-minute query to girlfriends either ignored or denied, I was left with two choices: attend alone or bring my sons. And why hadn't I thought to bring my boys to a women's sporting event? I hung my feminist head in shame. Of course they would come along--Mr. G had perked up when I mentioned slushies and popcorn.

Whenever you're out of your element--as I was at the roller derby--your senses are heightened. I knew one person there--the guy who runs the sports complex--he's a baseball guy who goes way back with Mr. D. He greeted me right away but from that point on, my boys and I were on our own.

The woman ahead of us handed me an extra ticket, so I wound up paying for only one person's admission--a fortuitous beginning. We held out our hands for the skull-and-crossbones stamp and passed through the gates.

It was a mixed crowd. The biker crowd showed up, leather and patches declaring their various alliances. The hipster crowd was out in force. There were families, old people, young people, men, women, granola-crunching types, beer-swilling types. One woman sat on the sidelines in her wheelchair, a sign taped on the back proclaiming "I raised a Socio SMASH"--the proud mother of a skater, no doubt.

We passed a series of booths--a silent auction, a bake sale, even a kid's corner with coloring pages. Take away the skulls & leather, crazy hair, tattoo parlor sponsorships and Planned Parenthood booth and I could have been walking through any church picnic or community festival. (Although those church ladies do rock some crazy hair...)

We perched on the bleachers and took in the scene. Four teams would compete, the skaters rolled around the rink and the sidelines in ripped tights and inked arms. There were cheerleaders, referees and team managers. My learning curve was steep--I had to figure out that each "bout" lasts 40 minutes, a "grand slam" is worth 4 points, the bigger skaters are usually "blockers" and the faster skaters are generally "jammers." It was a lot to take in. I wished I was there with someone experienced, I had so many questions.

The event kicked off with a horrible electric guitar rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. Then the first bout got under way. The gregarious announcer kept talking while the women raced around the track, knocking/shoving/falling/sliding past us. The stand-out skaters became evident: Tootsie Rollher, Derrieress, Killer Doom Kitty, and Socio Smash. Fun fact: roller derby names are registered, so only ONE skater in the entire world of roller derbies has her very own unique name.

The scoring was confusing, for the longest time the score was a patriotic 17-76. In the second half I had a better sense of who to watch and began to ascertain the skill and technique required to score. It seemed crucial that a jammer stay low while moving through the blockers and the blockers definitely have a tough job, blocking out their opponent's jammer while facilitating the path for their own.

At the game's end, people rose from their seats and I watched them line up along the circumference of the track. The tradition appeared to be for both teams to skate around the track and high-five all of the supporters, friends and family from both teams. Hands down the coolest finish to any sporting event I've ever seen.

The boys and I left after one bout, though I'd have liked to stay for the second. A smart mom knows her boys' limit for estrogen-loaded fun.

What did I gain from this experience?
1. I found something truly entertaining and fun--I will go watch another match. In fact, their next home bout is on my birthday...
2. Next time I go, I'm bringing other grown ups.
3. I rediscovered my long-ago-buried rebel self at this event. While I have no plans to get inked anytime soon, I'm inspired to sharpen my edge. I used to be a girl who wore long underwear as leggings beneath a skirt and leather jacket. Where did she go? It's time to find what's left of her.
4. For my karate form I've decided to use a piece by The Donnas. Because chick-power rules.


  1. Excellent! Sounds like something I'd enjoy. I actually know someone who practices the sport. Although she may have moved on to other hobbies by now.

  2. Oh my Gosh Green Girl---could I LOVE you any more?!? Just started watching Downtown Abby...haven't quite figured it out's just!

    Roller Derby Rocks! Next time you need to get your own bad self out on the floor! My husband worked with a girl who was in a derby until she shattered her! hahaha (not funny that she broke her leg, but the shower, not on the rink?!?)

  3. I really really want to go to a Roller Derby! I've always been afraid to go though... although I'm not sure of what, exactly.

    I am surprised to hear that it's family-friendly. I think out here it might not be so much. I hear some pretty obvious sexual innuendoes and see some very revealing costumes (?) outfits (?) uniforms (?) in the advertising. I'll definitely have to check it out with other adults before taking my kids!

    You've inspired me. I'm going to google it right now and plan a ladies' night with some friends!

  4. We have roller derby here but I've never gone. In fact, last year, I was supposed to gear up and go out with them for an article for a local publication, but then my knee had other ideas and the idea got shelved until I healed (and hopefully until my editor forgot about the part where she wanted me to gear up).

  5. I remember watching roller derby on our black and white TV when I was a kid.

  6. I have a friend who is a member of the Mississippi Valley Mayhem. She's a professor in the English dept at UW-La Crosse. She got involved a few years ago, and I think her little son thinks it's pretty cool :-)

    I don't know her really well (she's a good friend of my best friend) but she really loves the exercise and camaraderie.

  7. This post pretty much reflects my own thoughts on the ladies who play hockey at our home rink. They're insanely fast, and it's just fun to watch them.

  8. We have a roller derby here and my hubby & I went last summer, on a lark, at the last minute. SO MUCH FUN!

  9. PS...I got called out by my daughter's bff the other day for wearing long johns under my skirt. I consider it warmer these days than a rebel look. Perhaps I need to change that?

  10. How old is Jenny? So old that she watched Roller Derby on tv as a child. Sigh. It was edgy and tough; kind of like big-time wrestling.

    We have "new" roller derby here (family friendly, community involved) and have been thinking of going to watch--maybe now we will! Thanks for the suggestion!

  11. My brother and SIL love it--they go to it in Lincoln all the time.

  12. Haha. Thanks for sharing! This sounds so wild and wholesome!

    You cracked me up about hanging your feminist head in shame. I often try to be progressive with my neices and nephews and then end up being predictable anyway. :)

  13. I went to watch roller derby a few years ago when they first started. An aquaintance is in it and a group of us girls went to watch her. I don't know if I'd bring my boys they'd probably like their costumes too much.

  14. I actually have a friend who does Roller Derby. And still I haven't gone!

    You did see Whip It!, I trust.

  15. This is a cool post Melissa. I especially like the idea of whatever happened to the girl with the long underwear as leggings. I would love to go to a roller derby but they have none around these parts.

    I think sometimes we grow up, take on immense responsibility and forget our little rebel within that tells us who we are. Jane Austen would have totally loved it! No doubt about it.

  16. Kudos for you getting out there. I know a young mother who wanted to let her wild child out and joined the local derby group. The excercise was great but decided her body couldn't take the push and shove. She didn't make it to a bout but we would have gone to watch her. I, too, remember it from the 60's on tv.

  17. My son's 4th grade teacher is a roller derby gal, and I'm excited to go see her in action. She actually has to pay to participate, but she loves it. Here's a link to the rules, for next time.

  18. We have gone to lots of women's sporting events, basketball, soccer but never roller derby . . . maybe now I'll have a future date at a roller rink

  19. you go girl!! I loved to skate when I was a child, wouldn't that be fun to take out our aggression out on skates at the rink!! LOL!

  20. I've gone to a couple local roller derby bouts and it was terribly exciting. My inner worry-wart was seriously concerned about everyone's teeth and bones and after a girl got a broken arm, I've retired from watching roller derby.

  21. Love this post! Roller Derby sounds like sooo much fun! And yes, find that buried rebel in you. It could be a lot of fun to surprise yourself!

  22. Love this! I stumbled across this post through the magic of google. I was the one skating as Sociosmash. I think it's so cool that you came to one of our bouts, had fun and then took the time to write about it! :)


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