Monday, July 9, 2018
When watching roller derby, it looks simple enough. One player from each team is called a jammer, she’s trying to do laps of the circuit. The other eight players, four from each team, are trying to stop her.
In actuality it's quite complex; one person described it as chess on roller skates. It's a contact sport played by two teams of five members skating counter-clockwise around a track.
Play consists of a series of short match-ups (jams) in which both teams designate a jammer (who wears a star on the helmet). The jammer scores points by lapping members of the opposing team. The teams attempt to hinder the opposing jammer while assisting their own jammer.
The sport had its origins in the banked-track roller-skating marathons of the 1930s and professional roller derby quickly became popular; in 1940, more than 5 million spectators watched in about 50 American cities. As of 2018, the Women's Flat Track Derby Association had 423 full member leagues and 46 apprentice leagues.
Roller derby mostly comprises all-female amateur teams and the sport was under consideration as a roller sport for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Nowadays it's a form of sports entertainment, where player pseudonyms and colorful uniforms and showmanship predominate and scripted games with predetermined winners have been abandoned. For the most part, we can thank the fact that they are amateurs for that. Players have names like Kendra Blood, Angela Death, Charli Horse and Murderface Maully. What's not to like?!
# Roller derby is played in two periods of 30 minutes.
# Two teams of up to 15 players each field up to five members for episodes called "jams."
# Jams last two minutes unless called off prematurely.
# Each team designates a scoring player (the "jammer"); the other four members are "blockers."
# One blocker can be designated as a "pivot"—a blocker who is allowed to become a jammer
# The next jam may involve different players of the 15 roster players, and different selections for jammer and pivot.
Points are scored only by a team's jammer. After breaking through the pack and skating one lap to begin another "trip" through the pack, the jammer scores one point for passing any member of the opposing team. The jammer must be in-bounds and upright.
The jammer's first earned pass scores a point for passing that opponent and a point for each opponent not on the track (for instance, serving a penalty, or when the opposition did not field five players for the jam). If the jammer passes the entire pack and the opposing jammer too, it is a five-point scoring trip, commonly called a "grand slam."
Each team's blockers use body contact (the fun-to-watch part), changing positions, and other tactics to help their jammer score while hindering the opposing team's jammer.
Play begins by blockers lining up on the track anywhere between the "jammer line" and the "pivot line" 30 feet in front. The jammers start behind the jammer line. Jams begin on a single short whistle blast, upon which both jammers and blockers may begin engaging immediately.
The pack is the largest single group of blockers containing members of both teams skating in proximity, arranged such that each player is within 10 feet of the next. Blockers must maintain the pack, but can skate freely within 20 feet behind and ahead of it, an area known as the "engagement zone."
The first jammer to break through the pack earns the status of "lead jammer." A designated referee blows the whistle twice, and skates near, and points at, the lead jammer. Once earned, lead jammer status cannot be transferred to other skaters, but certain actions (notably, being sent to the penalty box) can cause it to be lost.
The lead jammer can stop the jam at any time by repeatedly placing both hands on her hips. If the jam is not stopped early, it ends after two minutes. If time remains in the period, teams then have 30 seconds to get on the track and line up for the next jam. If the period expires, it does not halt a jam that is underway.
Any skater may block an opponent or force them out of bounds. Blocking with hands, elbows, head, and feet is prohibited, as is contact above the shoulders or below mid-thigh, and blocking from behind.
Referees penalize rules violations. A player receiving a penalty is removed from play to sit in a penalty box for 30 seconds of jam time. If the jam ends during this interval, the player remains in the penalty box during the subsequent jam until the interval ends. The penalized player's team plays short-handed, as in ice hockey.
Bouts, as games are called, are officiated by three to seven skating officials and a bunch of non-skating officials (NSOs). Referees skate on the inside and outside the track and are in charge of calling penalties, awarding points, and ensuring safe play. NSOs take up positions inside and outside the track and are responsible for starting and timing the jams, recording and displaying scores and penalties, recording the number of each skater on track for a given jam and timing and recording skaters in the penalty box.
Even if you don't know the rules watching the women beat each other up is fun.