On Saturday night, the Rossland Arena was hopping as a West Kootenay Roller Derby double header descended upon the mountain town, including the home-opener bout for the Rossland Trail Roller Girls (RTRG).
The RTRG were up against Castlegar’s Dam City Rollers, who turned up moustachioed and ready for battle. From early on it was apparent that the Rollers were bigger, faster and had more strategies in their playbook, leading by nearly two hundred points at the half. As the game wore on and fatigue set in, the Dam City lead continued to grow, and a few costly Jammer penalties sealed the fate of our local warriors. Despite battling until the final whistle, the RTRG were defeated by a score of 415 to 59.
For those that have never witnessed the spectacle that is roller derby, it is so much more than a sporting event. Fans are clad in vibrant costumes, up-tempo music fills the arena throughout, punctuated by colour commentary that is… colourful. The players themselves sport fierce war paint, and take on fear-inspiring stage names like Slaughter Mouse and Lady MacDeath. As the raging battle ensues, otherwise benevolent women – doctors, mothers, neighbours – unleash an animalistic ferocity and try to knock each other out of their skates.
Roller derby’s origins go back all the way to the 1930s, but it was in the 70s that the sport took on its dazzling rock n’ roll persona. During that era, bouts were mainly scripted, much like televised wrestling, but during recent revivals derby has become a bona fide competition, celebrating speed, agility, cooperation and physicality.
There are five players from each team on the track at the beginning of each two-minute round (“jam”); four blockers and one jammer. The jammer is the player responsible for scoring points, and is marked by a large star on the helmet. The jammers begin behind the “pack” (eight weave their way through; the first jammer through is granted the privilege of being able to end the jam whenever she sees fit. From that point on, players circle the track and jammers try to skate past members of the opposing team, scoring one point for each successful pass, up to five points per circuit. The opposing team tries to block jammers using hips, buttocks and shoulders, which can result in spectacular collisions. There are a number of penalties in the game, including using elbows, pushing from behind, grabbing limbs, tripping and cutting outside of track boundaries.
Despite the unfortunate loss of punching, clothes-lining and hair-pulling from 1970s derby, the sport remains wildly entertaining and is a great way to spend a night out with family and friends. The next bout is May 31 at Trail’s Cominco Arena.