Archive for December, 2009


Derby 201 – Introduction

   Posted by: Bitches Bruze    in Promise

I was sitting in the stands of my very first University of Florida football game when someone explained to me for the first time how football was played.”A team has 4 tries to move the ball 10 yards. If they succeed, they get another 4 tries to move the ball 10 yards, if they fail, the other team gets the ball.”

While true, it is far from explaining how the sport is played in any kind of way that would keep a spectator’s interest. The interesting stuff comes in how a team of 11 players may attempt to advance the ball, how the opposing team may stop them, intercept them, and all the scoring possibilities. Then there are the penalties and their various complexities.

Sure, for many people, going to a live sports game may mostly be about drinking beer, eating junk food, and socializing with friends and fans. Most live sporting events offer this from Little League to professional.

For many sports fans, the appeal comes in unfolding strategies and developments in the game. Flat track roller derby is no different. Recently I had a lovely e-mail exchange with a newspaper writer who went to one bout but no more. When I asked her what it was which didn’t appeal to her, as she seemed to have a fantastic sense of sport, she told me the announcers seemed more into cracking lame, suggestive jokes, and the players seemed more into exhibitionism than athleticism. Knowing the bout she went to, I’m not surprised, but it makes me no less disappointed.

Personally, while important to this developing sport, I find the basic derby slo-mo demo lame. Its enough to appeal to the beer drinking, junk food eating, socialize with your friends and fans crowd. But for a sports fan, someone who loves sports and comes to derby because its a sport, that alone will have them leaving quite unsatisfied. Maybe they don’t mean it, but leagues who only have color commentary, tend to keep the joy and complexity of derby a secret by never explaining what’s really going on on the track. This environment leaves the sports fan – the person who will come watch and cheer when the fad has long faded and the beer stops pouring – walking out the door in disgust.

Providing solid play-by-play announcing, with a sound system people can actually hear and understand and not buried under a cranked sound track (I’m not a fan of music playing during bouts, but if its at a volume you can hear the commentary, its okay) translates into sustaining production dollars as well. I used to think there was no rhyme or reason to the success of bout attendance but in addition to beer, it seems to follow that solid, sports-minded announcing makes the next huge difference.

Before I can enter into the intricacies of play, I should probably start with the basics. Here’s my basic intro to derby, or “How to Attend a Derby Bout 101”:

Know your league’s venue

As a relatively new sport, many leagues are not bout by conventional sporting venue practices (or are able to afford to play in them). Ask your local league what the venue is like, if they have track-side seating, if that’s extra, if you should bring chairs, etc.

What to bring:

  • A chair if you want to sit on the same level as the track (but most crash zones don’t allow chairs within the first 10′ or so). Some leagues provide this seating and may or may not charge extra. It can be worth the extra bucks, especially if they have a gift bag with your VIP seating.
  • Your friends, family, and children – derby is way more fun with people you like doing fun things with
  • Money for food, beverage, and other stuff at the bout
  • A derby team shirt – it doesn’t have to be one of the teams that is playing
  • Cameras (check with your league about fan photo restrictions, some leagues do not allow videography)
  • Noise makers – cow bells are a derby favorite
  • Signs – a staple of derby is homemade signs cheering on your favorite team or skater(s)

Bitches’ Derby 101

The teams line up before the jam start whistle - 209 Connecticut Roller Girls

The teams line up before the jam start whistle - 209 Connecticut Roller Girls

Each team consists of up to 14 skaters and can have up to five skaters on the track at a time:  a scoring skater called the Jammer, three Blockers, and a special blocker called the Pivot.

The blockers form a skating pack. The pack starts skating at the first whistle then the jammers (who start behind the pack) start sprinting at the second whistle. The jammers then skate through the pack to get in scoring position. The first one through the pack legally* is called the lead jammer.

* This is the first short hand in the slo-mo demo rules. I’ll get back to that later.

Both jammers continue to sprint around the pack a second time and get through the pack again. On their second and future trips, a point is scored for every opponent passed. The blockers work to stop the other team’s jammer from passing and help their team’s jammer get through. The Jam goes on for 2 minutes or until the Lead Jammer calls it off.

Blockers help their own jammer with assists known as whips and pushes. Teammates have no restriction in assisting each other and may touch, push, pull, and grab. Blocking opponents, however, comes with some restrictions – no tripping (technically called ‘low block’), blocking the back, hitting with elbows (in certain ways), forearms or hands, or hitting above the shoulders (high block) or below mid-thigh (low block).

Skaters serve a minute of game time for 4 minors or 1 major penalty in the penalty box - 2009 Connecticut Roller Girls

Skaters serve a minute of game time for 4 minors or 1 major penalty in the penalty box - 2009 Connecticut Roller Girls

Skaters may not skate in a clockwise direction to hit and skating out of bounds or too far in front or behind the pack can also earn a penalty. Penalties send skaters to the penalty box for a minute and the team skates short those skaters until penalties are served.

A bout is made up of two 30-minute periods. Some times newer teams may agree to split the hour into three 20-minute periods. Period breaks always include live entertainment – usually local talent, business, or organizations.

After the bout, skaters love to meet with fans, sign t-shirts, programs, and fliers.

Don’t be afraid to step up after the bout and visit with your favorite skaters or to bring your children up to meet the skaters. Both teams would love to talk with you, have their pictures taken with you, dance,  and have fun.

Okay – that’s the most basic of basics. That’s good enough to keep you happy if the game isn’t the only thing you’re there for. But there is more. For the basics of derby strategy (familiarly called strategery), keep reading. I’ll cover basic derby math, speed, and team work.