The fans crowded closer to the action, whooping and applauding as the seconds ticked off. Three guys wearing backwards hats pumped their fists with their non-beer-holding hands. These two teams were competing for a shot at the championship and the crowd–raucous as almost any sports-loving group–was jacked up for the occasion. It wasn’t a Wizards game, nor was I among DC United Screaming Eagles. No, it was a bout of the much less widely followed but incredibly fun DC Roller Girls Roller Derby league.
The afternoon opened with an exhibition match between the DC DemonCats and visiting Breaker Babes of the Coal City Rollers league in Wilkes-Barre, P.A. It wasn’t much of a match-up — the DemonCats easily rolled over the Breaker Babes. The initial bout provided an excellent opportunity, however, for me and other newcomers to the sport to get a better sense of what we were witnessing.
Roller derby is a essentially a badass, all-female mash-up of several sports. Its Nascar racing where the vehicles are wheeled shoes rather than automobiles; Downhill skiing where opposing players are the slaloms skaters must weave through; Ice speed racing with a rugby scrum thrown in. While there is strong team branding and cohesion–each team has its own colors and style of dress–players have their own personas in a way. Each player goes by a derby name, which she has approved by a national registry–no derby names and numbers may overlap. When it comes to names tongue-in-cheek is preferable, double-entendres are popular and wit is compulsory.
A ring is taped on the floor, with a border inside and out, making the roller derby track look like an oblong target. In the middle of the ring, the lead referee (name: Deutsch Bag), other referees and scorekeepers watch the bout at close proximity. At the start of each 2 minute play, or “jam,” 5 players from each team line up in a group called the “pack.” Behind the “pack,” are players from each team — the team’s “jammers.”
Teams score points when their jammers bust through the pack to the front and break free, and then additional points for each lap. While the jammers are attempting to do this, of course, the “blockers” in the pack are pushing their opponents and the opposing jammer out of the ring or hindering their progress. After two minutes, subs come in and the process starts over again. These are a little of the basic rules — the complete rules of the sport fill a pages-long document. You get a sense that while the concept is pretty basic, the competition is fierce and the rules are serious.
The main event on Saturday was a tight match-up between the Cherry Blossom Bombshells and Scare Force One, the winner of which would move on to play the Demoncats in the league Championship. Halfway through the bout, the Cherry Blossom Bombshells looked dominant with a28-15 lead. By the half, they led 45-28 over Scare Force One, despite SF1 crowd support.
Not long into the second 30 minute half, Scare Force One woke up and got some serious points back, closing in on the Bombshells. In the second to last jam, with SF1 down 72-57, jammer Lenore Gore put in an incredible 14 points to bring the score to 72-71. Sensing the outcome of the match was about to be decided, the crowd became frenetic.
We all crowded the ring, risking being injured by speeding rollergirls to watch as the bout went into the first-ever overtime recorded in DC Rollergirls history. Despite some deft movements by Lenore Gore in the first overtime jam, the Cherry Blossom Bombshells prevailed to clinch a spot in the championship, 95-91.
The championship match will be held at the Armory on May 9th — the bout begins at 5 p.m. and tickets are $12 for adults, $6 for kids. Believe me, its totally worth $12 to see badass ladies throwing each other around at a high speed. Hawt and awesome.