Roller Derby

Roller derby is alive and well and flourishing in Austin, Texas.

We have not one but TWO roller derby leagues here. The flat-track league, Texas Rollergirls, has four teams which compete at the Austin Convention Center. The other league, Texas Roller Derby, has five teams playing on a banked-track at the Palmer Events Center. TXRD had their “season of fame” in 2006 when their all-star team, the Lonestar Rollergirls, was featured in the A&E reality TV series, Rollergirls.

Last weekend Bill and I watched a TXRD bout between the Rhinestone Cowgirls and the Cherry Bombs. The announcer explained the basic rules before the match began. Bouts are played in four eight-minute periods. Each team has five players on the track for a jam: four blockers and one jammer. After breaking past the initial pack of blockers, jammers earn points by passing opposing team players. Jams can last up to two minutes, although the lead jammer can end the jam earlier.

Neither of us had seen roller derby since watching it on TV many years ago. The action was less violent than we remembered, but perhaps we were naive back then or maybe the sport is purposely more family-friendly now. We saw pushing and shoving and elbowing of course, but nothing too wild, except for one wrestling match during a penalty and and one pile-up jam where three players were injured. Pushing skaters over the rails is no longer allowed.

Referees were stationed around the track to keep the action under control and assess penalties. When players were cited, the Penalty Mistress spun a wheel to determine the penalty game: Long Jump, Pillow Fight (the aforementioned wrestling match), Arm Wrestling, No Holds Barred, Two Lap Duel, Tug of War, Push Cart, or Relay Race. These games were fun to watch, but Bill noted that this was a big change from the old roller derby rules.

The skaters all have derby names. These two teams had such notables as Dusty Doublewide, Nicki Ticki Timebomb, Loretta Synn, Dawna Destruction and Kategory 5. Most skaters had little fan clubs seated near the track. I found myself rooting for a Cherry Bomb jammer, Rocky Casbah. She was tough, athletic and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself.

I met a couple who described themselves as the league’s Psychedelic Mascots. The guy called himself Masterblader and I’ve since read that he is a former referee. These two also acted as human zambonis during halftime and swept off the track.

After halftime, we wondered why a bunch of people immediately jumped up onto the track. Well, it was time for the Birthday Spank! I was slightly appalled as the skaters went down the line and spanked everyone who (supposedly) had a July birthday, but you had the option to turn around and get high-fives instead.

With all the distractions, it wasn’t easy to keep track of the score, especially since the scoreboard was dimly projected on a corner screen. I didn’t even notice it until halftime. Last week the Rhinestone Cowgirls beat the Cherry Bombs. There are several more regular season bouts before the playoffs and then the Cavello Cup final (named for derby queen Ann Cavello) in early October.

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