'It's not chicks going crazy, there's rules, regulations'
By John A. Richardson, GLOB Guest Correspondent
EDITOR'S NOTE: John is graduating from the college of journalism at the University of Florida with a digital communications degree this summer. As John forges a path toward becoming the best writer he can be he loves writing because he fuels a passion in helping people succeed by giving them a voice in the conversation.
Walking into the Alachua County Fairgrounds Auditorium, all I could do is be curious and open-minded. Saturday, March 21st, the Gainesville Roller Rebels, AKA Swamp City Sirens, had their season opening bout against the North River (Sarasota) Rolling Renegades. This was my first roller derby bout.
As I had walked to the entrance of the auditorium, my imagination pondered all the different possibilities I was about to witness before I settled on the most obvious conclusion: I was opening the doors to a no-holds barred, woman's "fight club" on skates.
This was not the case at all, however; there are sanctioned rules created by the Woman's Flat Track Derby Association. There are three distinct teams comprising the Gainesville Roller Rebels. The all star skaters are called the Roller Rebels, and then there is the Swamp City Sirens which is one of the two b teams competing under the Gainesville Roller Rebels umbrella.
Jill Rubin, image right, the head non-skating official and bout coordinator, whose roller derby name is Iirr Ballistic, told me, "It is not chicks going crazy. There are rules and regulations."
One example of roller derby discipline is that the skaters can only use their shoulders and hips to check their opponent. Nevertheless, roller derby is a fast paced event with big hits and lots of points scored.
The match revolves around the two "jammers," who can become lead skaters and can score. Each team has one jammer along with 4 blockers on the flat track during the two 30-minute halves. After the referee blows the whistle and starts a "jam": The jammer on each team attempts to escape from the other 9 skaters to score.
When a jam ends, the skaters line up and wait for the referee's signal. After a lead jammer is identified, the "jam" starts and does not end until 2 minutes are up: The blockers stop skating and begin to jockey for position. The team with the lead jammer (Team A) attempts to stop Team B from knocking over Team A's jammer while making it as easy as possible for her to get through the sea of shoulders and hips. The "jam" ends if the lead jammer stops it or the jammer gets knocked down or out of bounds. During the jam, each opponent the jammer passes is worth one point, and the only constraints on how many points she can score is the jammer, her blockers, and the clock.
It felt like a different world inside the Alachua County Fairgrounds Auditorium. I wanted to get to the bottom of Gainesville roller derby. My intention was to learn their intentions, and there is one question the answer to which can remove all the sediment from the murky water of my ignorance: Why? Why do they skate? And practice? Why do they risk the potential of getting injured?
"Because it's fun." Rachel Roman said, who was an injured skater I happened to be sitting next too. "We do it just because we want to do it."
Every skater, whether on the track or the bench, looked like they were locked in and focused. The skaters' faces were stoic, and their senses dulled to everything but the flat track and the respective task at hand - like a lioness stalking her prey.
Before talking to Rachel, I assumed the skaters were going to be angry and looking to rip the opponents' heads off. But no one was even tapping their foot on the bench.
No fear, no anger. The Roller Rebels were focused on the match they were each passionate about.
I tapped Rachel on the shoulder again: "Are you guys angry when you play?" I asked.
"No one is angry. We just love the thrill of hitting. The skaters love to get out there and release their aggression," Rachel said.
This common thread is the glue that forms the sisterhood of the Gainesville Roller Rebels.
As Rachel was responding to my questions, we interrupted each other with celebratory yells.
A Gainesville jammer scored 4 points. The second time around, we all roared even louder and I almost spilled my beer.
Swamp City jammer "Angrilla," image right, escaped the Rolling Renegade blockers and whipped around the track again. That is 8 points in a quick 25 seconds. She thrust her skates backwards and regained speed on the back end of the track.
Both benches were yelling at their skaters and the crowd's collective spine tensed as she leaned her left shoulder down to take on the third corner of the oval.
Angrilla's hand brushes the floor as the right foot crosses over her left until the flat track straightens. The blockers now come into her version. Gaining speed on the straight away, Angrilla must find a lane and commit. Decisiveness is key. Any ounce of hesitation will get her knocked onto her back.
Angrilla does not know what hesitation is as she slides through skaters on the most inside part of the track even though her window of opportunity was barely seconds long.
It did not matter to her. She took advantage of her opportunity and the crowd went wild with her reckless maneuver.
Rachel has a slender and athletically built body, clearly a jammer's physique. I asked her what is her favorite thing about being a jammer.
"Getting around the blockers, because that is how you score." She said. "It's extremely challenging, but rewarding to pick the right hole and utilize the work the blockers put in," Rachel added.
To the disappointment of the highly supportive local fans, The North River Renegades ended up winning the bout. Even though the match was tied with 5 minutes left in the second half. Gainesville's Sirens could not find a way to take the lead to the final buzzer.
Nevertheless, the North River Renegades were evenly matched. Swamp City did a great job showing resilience to tie the bout that late.
Another big Renegade run put them up 20 with a couple minutes left. This metaphorical hole proved to be too big for the amount of time the Sirens had left to dig out.
Lacie Glick, who is known as Dissarry Daisy at the flat track, said tonight's season opening bout was her first. She had a tremendous amount of fun and was ready to compete after completing the arduous Swamp City Siren "fresh meat" training program that introduces the skater to roller derby.
The training prevents injury and builds confidence if the "fresh meat" graduate is to play for the Swamp City Sirens. Lacie said she got into roller derby because she loved skating when she was younger. Now she can rekindle that youthful love of skating and hit a couple people also.
Dissarry said derby matches are exciting and challenging. She also races for the sisterhood. A team association that is shared between the Sirens and the roller derby community as a whole.
The only constraint to joining the Gainesville Roller Rebels, besides being female, is having a passion for roller derby.
The skaters all have a pure interest in roller derby. That is what connects them to the roller Derby sisterhood. Similar to weed out class in college, you're only going to be on the team if you love hitting and being hit. The skaters are not out there trying to prove themselves to anyone or make any kind of statement.
"It is a nationwide family," Jill Rubin said. "All the teams train with each other, and help each other out. In the end, roller derby is fun. It is not a feminist movement, it is a 'why not' movement," Jill added.
Roller derby is certainly an outlet to release aggression and forget about everything else. It gives the skaters a connection and passion as well as giving the fans a jamming, memorable experience.
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Clea Saturday, 04 April 2015 12:58 Comment Link
I skate with GRR and I just wanted to thank you for writing such an awesome article! We had a blast at our first bout and I feel like you really captured the spirit of our team. I just wanted to take some time to correct some factual errors in your article, mostly related to the rules and mechanics of roller derby. All of this information can be found at wftda.com/rules, or you can buy a handy rules comic book at our merch table!
Skaters line up on the track before the jam begins. A ref will blow a single whistle, marking the beginning of the jam and the 2 minutes each team has to try and score points. At this point the goal of the jammers is to get through the pack first- this first pass does not get the jammer any points, but instead establishes the lead jammer. The first jammer to legally get past all of the blockers becomes lead jammer, which gives her the power to call off the jam by tapping her hips. Jammers start scoring points after they complete their initial pass- one for each opposing skater they legally pass. A jam only ends either when 2 minutes passes or the lead jammer calls it off. It is not affected by the jammer falling or getting knocked out of bounds, and the two minutes starts at the very first whistle, not once lead jammer is declared. After the jam ends new skaters get on the track and it all starts over again!
Finally, roller derby is not just a sport for females! There are men's and co-ed leagues as well. Also, while GRR is called a women's league and is part of WFTDA, we welcome skaters who identify as women or non-binary trans, regardless of their sex assigned at birth.
Thanks again for the awesome article, we hope you come back again!