The truth about roller derby

PICTURED ARE STUDENTS

 

John Semley and Glenice Neal

Special to the Record

Sports coverage tends to focus on major league teams, but every day in the Comox Valley people make fun and sometimes wacky activities an important part of their lives. Here is an insight to the world of  women’s flat track roller derby.

Like anything you know next-to-nothing about, it’s hard to shake preconceptions. And there are plenty of those about women’s roller derby. Like the idea that it’s just some trendy mutation of girl power ‘tude practiced by ill-behaved women with chest piece tattoos. Or that it’s somehow fixed. Or, worst of all, that it’s a “girl’s sport.”

Okay, so let’s can some of those ideas right away. The Rink Minx Rollergirls, in their first season, is more than just hazy feminist ideals and broad punk aesthetics on wheels. It may well be—in a matter-of-fact way—a “girl’s sport,” being as the players are exclusively women, but, in the pejorative sense, that’s the only “girly” thing about it. The idea that the sport is fixed is probably attributable to two of its foundational principles. First of all, there’s the high concept stuff, like the nicknames. All players skate under a pseudonym, which can be punny, nasty, or just plain badass. The whole alter-ego thing tenuously connects roller derby to other, decidedly less-legit sports, like pro wrestling or monster trucking, which leads to suggestions that the sport is pure spectacle.

The other factor is that roller derby is indisputably sexy, to do with the palpable sense of confidence its players exude and the level of sheer athleticism on display. The dress code, which calls for hot pants, fish nets, and other skimpy attire, doesn’t hurt either. “Come for the fun and stay for the plot,” Says Mo Pleasure, Team Manager of the Rink Minx Rollergirls.  The league attracts skaters from all walks of life. Tainted Shove, Team Coach, told us that the age range of players runs from nineteen to forty five. The passion the skaters have for the sport is infectious, spilling over into the fans near and far.

Considering that the roller derby revival in North America only dates back about a decade, when grassroots teams started remodelling the sexy “sports-entertainment” of the ’60s and ’70s into a real sport, the Rink Minx Rollergirls’ paths reflect that of many in the sport. “We’re athletic misfits,” says Mo, and the designation is more than just another marker of roller derby’s self-conscious punk influence. The attitude is further reflected in an evening’s soundtrack, stacked with heavy rock to disco! However the Rink Minx misfit ethos is evident in more than just a well-curated soundtrack.

It’ll probably take the newcomer about one full period, each bout is split into two 30-minute periods, to figure out how the game is played. And at least another to understand how scoring works. Like anything that moves ’round and ’round in a circle, the action is undeniably hypnotic. Unlike most sports, roller derby sees both teams attempting to score at the same time.

Points are scored when a team’s “jammer” laps the opposing team’s blockers, players whose job is to impede the opposing team’s jammer while assisting their own, and pivots, versatile players who work to call plays. A good jammer needs to be nimble, able to deftly bob and weave through the pack of blockers. A worthwhile blocker needs to be stout, fearless, and capable of handling offensive and defensive roles at the same time. And a pivot needs to be swift not just on her feet, but also in her ability to hew some order out of the combustive fray, mobilizing her teammates as if by telepathy. There’s a lot going on. And all of it unfolds through a series of two-minute “jams,” which kind of work like plays in football.

It can be a bit tricky to follow at first, but all the bumping, shoving, and the quick getaways make roller derby instantly compelling. What’s most apparent about the sport, besides how cool it is, is the emphasis on fun. Athleticism, strategy, and all that stuff are on display, sure, but above all that, everyone seems to be having a generally awesome time. The skaters jibe each other playfully between matches. A play-by-play announcer calls the action with gusto. The fans on the sidelines bristle with excitement!

Given the fan base, the number of teams, and the attention women’s roller derby has been attracting since its revival, it may be a bit disingenuous to categorize it as an “obscure” local sports team. But it is a handy model for how sports… real-deal officiated sports with teams and leagues and sanctioning bodies and big fat binders of rules… can spring from the ground up, nudged along by the eagerness and interest of those determined to see it grow.

The Rink Minx Rollergirls thank the public for their continued support, and look forward to showing everyone what the excitement is all about.

For more information contact themat rinkminxrollergirls@hotmail.com.

 

– Rink Minx Rollergirls

 

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