A Brief History Lesson

Roller derbies in the United States date as far back as the very late 1800's. Originally, roller derbies were simply nothing more than roller skating endurance races. It was not until the 1920's that these endurance races were termed "roller derby." In the 1930's the sport saw a modification to its sports model, with the inclusion of physical contact, teamwork, and much more. It was these modifications that helped roller derby take root in the nation and spread throughout cities all over the country. Eventually, roller derby took such hold that it was broadcast on radio and then television. Throughout the 20th century roller derby saw many incantations, and was probably best known for the flamboyant 1970's sports entertainment version of derby which eventually collapsed. While there were several attempts during the 1980's to revive the sport, it wasn't until the 2000's that modern derby revival took hold. This new wave of the sport focused more on athleticism than the camp (although there is still much showmanship involved in the sport), and was started by grassroots organizations of women with do it yourself attitudes who largely had no affiliation to the sport. This modern wave of derby has caused an international explosion of the sport, spreading it across 11 countries to more than 450 leagues.

How is Roller Derby Played?

Flat track roller derby takes place on a flat circuit track. The sport is played by two teams, and games are called "bouts." Each team participating in a bout sends five players onto the track for each round of play, which is called a "jam." Of the five players from a team there is: one jammer, who is the scoring player in the jam; three blockers, who play defense in the jam; and one pivot, who is a blocker but may also switch to the position of jammer later on in the jam. Helmet covers are used to decipher between the players' positions: a cover with two stars is used for jammers, a striped cover is used for pivots, and no cover is used for blockers. The track is set up in an oval with two lines 30 feet apart across the track, then two lines are placed on one side of the track: the pivot/start line and the jammer line. A jam is started by the pivots and the blockers lining up at the pivot/start line, with the pivots from each team at the front and the blockers lined up behind them, this is called the "pack." The jammers line up on the jammer line 20 feet behind the pack on the track.

A jam begins with the referee blowing a whistle and the pack takes off counter clockwise around the track, with the pivots setting the pace for the pack. Once the last player in the pack has crossed the pivot/start line, the referee blows the whistle twice and the jammers take off. On their first time around the track the jammers are just trying to work their way through the pack, while the blockers (including pivots) are attempting to block the other team's jammer while assisting their own jammer through the pack. The first jammer to break through the pack is the "lead jammer" and remains so throughout the jam, and has the ability to call off the jam at any time by placing her hands on her hips. Jammers are the only players who may score points in a bout. After their first pass through the pack, jammers score points by repeatedly passing through the pack and receiving one point for each opposing player which they legally pass. The jam may be called off at any point by the lead jammer, or may go for the full jam time limit of 2 minutes. At the end of a jam a team may field another line up of players. Bouts are 1 hour in length, and separated into 30 minute halves. Jams are 2 minutes long, unless called off earlier by the lead jammer, and each jam is separated by 30 seconds. The team scoring the most points in a bout wins.

There are a variety of penalties in derby, both major and minor. A minor penalty does not harm players or disrupt gameplay, whereas a major penalty does. Four minor penalties are the equivalent to a major penalty. A major penalty will land a player in the penalty box for one minute. Examples of major penalties would be: block above the shoulders or below the hips, unsportsmanlike conduct, fighting, skating the wrong direction on the track, accumulating 4 minor penalties, etc. Examples of minor penalties would be: pushing or blocking to the back of a player, blocking with elbows or forearms, tripping, intentional falling, etc.

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