A couple of months ago, a friend excitedly told me about a new all-female roller derby league in town. She had attended an exhibition game and was toying with the idea of going out for one of the teams herself.
Last Saturday was the first game of the season and I lined up with a group of friends outside the rink to see if this was going to be as interesting as it sounded. I was dimly aware of the sport's past, particularly in the 1940s and '50s, but this sounded like it might be considerably different. Apparently roller derby still thrives throughout the country. There's even a blog about it: Wayne's Derby World.
I doubt there are many banked rinks left since the last time roller derby was popular, so these teams competed on a flat rink with the boundaries marked by rope lights. Some of the skaters were quite good; others fell down only slighly less than I would in the same situation.
I don't know about other cities' leagues, but ours could be described as "professional wrestling for people with liberal arts degrees." The bouts are punctuated by a good deal of staged brawling, punished by a devil-suited character called the Die Master, who rolls a giant foam die to determine the penalties. The scorekeeper is a man in a bunny suit called, naturally, the Score Bunny. For this match, there were breakdancers and a live band to entertain the large and varied crowd in the breaks between the three 15-minute periods of the game.
I was pleased to note that a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales went to the YWCA to support their new initiatives to combat racism and empower women.
After Saturday's game, my friend decided that she's probably not up for being repeatedly knocked down by younger and more aggressive women. Still, I imagine we'll all keep attending the games because they're so much fun. The somewhat amateurish, art school feel of the latest incarnation of roller derby isn't a detriment at all. It's made the sport into "underground" entertainment that anyone can enjoy. How often do you find something like that to keep you busy on a Saturday night?