Women Bring Back the Roller Derby

Tough and Gritty, the Sport Roars Back With All-Female Leagues

by Hailey Alfred, age 17

In the era when dance marathons and bicycle races were all the rage, there came another historic first: the roller derby. Leo A. Seltzer, a sports promoter, started the sport in the fall of 1935 by combining elements of dance marathons and bike races.

The sport drew plenty of attention over the next few years as co-ed teams from the first transcontinental roller derby toured across America.

Then in 1937, sports writer Damon Runyon suggested a few changes to the sport, including an increase in the level of competition. It didn’t take long for physical contact and violence to become hallmarks of roller derby.

Just as the sport’s popularity started to grow, however, World War II came along. More than half the skaters eventually enlisted in the armed forces, making it hard to scrape together teams. Rising fuel costs and a slow economy forced the sport into early retirement.

In the 1960s and early 1970s roller derby enjoyed a brief comeback. It was even shown on television for a time. Then it faded again.

Suddenly, in 2001, roller derby shot back into existence thanks to one major change - women-only leagues. The first of these new leagues was formed in Austin, Texas. It didn’t take long before other leagues began to spring up across the country, including Madison’s own Mad Rollin’ Dolls league.

When joining a team, players come up with nicknames and personas that they adopt for competitions. The names they choose are often related to their lives.

For example, on the Quad Squad team one player calls herself “The HEAT” because she is a police officer. Other names include “Joan of Anarchy,” “Mouse,” “Paine Mansfield,” and “Dutch Oven.” Often players also personalize their uniforms.

When watching roller derby, it helps to know a few specifics. Each team has five players: one pivot, one jammer, and three blockers. Each jam begins with all players, except the jammers, skating as a pack. The jammers’ goal is to catch up to the pack and make their way through to the front. Both teams receive one point for each opposing player their jammer passes during each lap.

Roller derby is a unique sporting experience that requires skill and dedication.

“Women really have not had enough of a presence or place in physical sports, save for boxing. I think derby is appealing to women because we get to showcase [our] strength, agility, and speed like men,” says Lola Lixxx of the Atlanta Roller Girls.

Modern roller derby is definitely making a place for women within the realm of sports. Many fans including me, hope it will not be forced back into retirement.

If roller derby has struck your fancy, and you want to attend a match in Madison, visit www.madrollindolls.com.

[Source: www.rollerskatingmuseum.com, http.entertainment.howstuffworks.com]