Thursday, September 30, 2010

Roller Derby Grand Final

Last weekend I went to the Adelaide Roller Derby grand final double header in the Jubilee Pavilion at the Wayville showgrounds.

Some background

As I noted in my blog post on rollerskating a couple of weeks back, I was aware of the existence of the local roller derby competition, but not much more than that. So, I was going in there not knowing what to expect. It'd sold out a couple of days beforehand, but my friend Jen (also mentioned in the rollerskating post) had tracked down a ticket for me; she was going to be there since it was her team, the Road Train Rollers, who were playing in the grand final.

Gates opened at 2pm. I'd had rehearsal for my play that morning so I had to go straight from the theatre up in Tea Tree Gully down to Wayville – about a forty minute drive – and we didn't finish until 1 o'clock so it was getting fairly close to opening by the time I got there. I hadn't thought this'd be a problem, but when I got there I realised it was: the line was huge, snaking around outside the pavilion for hundreds of meters.

Turns out they'd sold something like 3000 tickets - which is brilliant for the sport, but less wonderful for the fans waiting to go inside. And, since I hadn't foreseen this, I'd neglected to bring my otherwise omnipresent mp3 player with me, so I had to stand around in the unenviable state of musical deprivation – something I really don't experience very often1.

Anyway, after about half an hour or so of trudging at a glacial pace toward the doors, I got inside. Jen was on the gate so I had a quick word to her and wandered off to find a spot. While I was doing that, though, I ran into my friends Paul and Kelly, who were there because Paul is an exec for RipItUp2, who are one of the sponsors. They had a spare pass to the sponsor's section, which meant I got a spot up in the bleachers, rather than sit in the crowd.

So I sat chatting with them for a while before Jen found me and told me I could sit with her and the team – right in front of the track section. And then it all started.

1And will do my darndest not to experience again.
2Adelaide's best street magazine; check out the website.

The game itself

So, I got a crash course in roller derby; I'd better pass this information on if the rest of what I write is going to make sense.

On an oval-shaped space (it probably has a technical name, but I don't recall anyone mentioning it) you have two teams competing for points in two thirty-minute halves, played in segments called 'jams', each lasting a maximum of ninety seconds. The teams – five on each (at least to begin with; there can be fewer if players have been sent off for incurring penalties) – have two positions, the jammer (one only) and the blockers (as many as four).

The blockers of both teams combined constitute 'the pack', and it's the job of the jammers to get from behind the pack – they start twenty yards behind - through the pack and out in front. Points are scored when the jammer laps the pack; one point is given for each member of the opposing team the jammer passes. And, as noted, they've got the length of the jam (ninety seconds) to get around the opposing team as many times as possible to score points.

But it's not quite as simple as that. Strategy is important; the jammers needs to get points, but it's also important to do what they can do to keep the other team's jammer from scoring. The jammer who's the furthest ahead of the pack is called the 'lead jammer', and they have the power to call off the jam whenever they choose to.

This sometimes happens quite early on; if the speed of the pack is such that the jammer decides they won't have the opportunity to score very many points – or that the opposition jammer would score too many – they can call it off.

Then there are the penalties – and I can't really explain those, 'cause I never quite worked it out. But there are fairly strict rules on what you can and can't do, and where you can do it (one I did pick up on is that you aren't allowed to do too much pushing and shoving if you aren't in the pack; then there's going out of bounds, which if it's done by the jammer means - I think - they're ineligible to score any points in that jam) and the squad of umpires are keeping constant watch for infractions.

The penalty aspect can make a huge difference – especially if it's your jammer who's been sent off; if that happens then the opposition jammer can go on scoring points all the way through to the end of the jam.

For more – and probably better – information, check out the Adelaide Roller Derby webpage that explains it all.

One more thing: one of the great aspects of Roller Derby is that all the players (and, apparently, the umpires - at least I hope so, otherwise there really is someone in Adelaide who's actually named 'Rowan de Boate') use humorous pseudonyms as their 'player names' - at least, it's great if you're a pun-loving word-nerd like me...

The matches

First up was the playoff for third, which was between the Salty Dolls and the Mile Die Club3. Of course, what I would have done had I realised I'd want to write about the match in detail is take notes. But I didn't, so I can't really give too much insight into what happened. But it was a good game, with the lead changing throughout, and it came down to the last couple of jams. However, the Mile Die Club held on and managed to get their first win of the season - when it mattered most.

Stars for the Salty Dolls included Radical Edward, Kissy Suzuki and captain Melvin Star; for the Mile Die Club it was Pistola Balboa, Push My Toosh and their captain, Raw Dog.

I'd watched the first half with Jen and the Road Train Rollers – which was handy, 'cause I could get my many questions answered – but at half time they went off to get ready for their game. So I went back to the stands and sat with Paul and Kelly, and from there watched the second half of the first game and all the second.

That match – the grand final between Jen's team, the Road Train Rollers and the Wild Hearses – was even better than the first. There was a noticeable increase in skill level, and the fact that it was the grand final meant (presumably) there was a lot more motivation.

It was also a lot more physical. I was actually expecting it to be more violent in general, but it wasn't; that's probably practical, since if it'd been like I'd thought it was going to be they'd have to be stretchering players off left right and centre. And that's also the reason for the harsh penalties and constant vigilance from the umpires. In fact, there was - as far as I can recall - only one bad fall during the whole afternoon. Despite the lack of serious injury, though, there was a lot more pushing and shoving in the second match.

The crowd also got into it more - though there was no shortage of shouting in the Salty Dolls vs. Mile Die Club match, it really ramped up for the playoff for first. Since they have a scoreboard with the current jammers' names on it - in case you're too far from the action to read the names on the players' backs - so there's a plenty of opportunity to cheer for your favourites (or jeer those you dislike) when it's their turn to jam.

At no point was this more obvious than when the Wild Hearses' star jammer Barrelhouse Bessy was on the floor; the combined cheers from the Wild Hearses fans and jeers from the Road Train Rollers were deafening. But the Rollers had their own stars - Violent Krumble, Kit Kat Crunch and Tricksey Belt'em, as well as their almost unpassable blocker, Vaderella.

Despite the power of the internet I couldn't find a blog or a webpage that gave a more thorough description of how it all went - I suppose one will show up before too long; when that happens I'll come back and link to it, and/or edit my post accordingly. But for the moment I'm depending on my memory here, and that's just a little sketchy given that I didn't take notes. But I'll do my best - bearing in mind I'm really not a sports writer...

The Rollers were behind at the break, and the Hearses were looking close to unstoppable; the aforementioned Barrelhouse Bessy was tearing up the floor every time she pulled on the jammer's star4. But then the Rollers turned it around with some solid blocking, bold jamming, clever strategy and keeping the pressure on the Hearses, who ended up making too many mistakes and getting players - including a few jammers - sent to the penalty box.

With a few minutes to go it was looking like the Rollers were there, but Barrelhouse Bessy wasn't going to let them have it without a fight; she got the Hearses some more points on the board but even she couldn't beat the clock, and the truck-stop ladies in blue5 held on for a 91-73 win. And the crowd went wild!

Overall, it was a pretty damn good afternoon's entertainment. The only sad part is that this was - obviously - the end of the season, and it won't be until next year that it starts up again. But I'm almost certain I'll be going again when it does. Paul and Kelly indicated they'd be keen, and I know a few others who've expressed interest as well, so chances are pretty good I'll be seeing a few matches in 2011.

Again, check out the website; no doubt as soon as there's information about next year's season it'll be up there.

3Their outfits/uniforms tend to reflect the team names, e.g. the Salty Dolls are very nautically themed.
4Oh, I forgot to mention - the jammers wear helmet covers with a star on them in the team colours. This helps the umpires - and the audience - keep track of them.
5Wow, I'm really getting into this, aren't I?


  1. Mile Die actually won! and if you want to read the rules for next season you can find them here:

    Glad to hear you had fun!

  2. The oval is a track. In the US there are separate leagues for flat track and banked track. I went to my first roller derby bout a couple of weeks ago (sadly the final of the season), and it was a lot of fun. There were only about a hundred or so people there, though - not nearly as exciting as the one you went to sounds!

  3. Great wrap up mate! Enjoyed catching up with you at our virgin Roller Derby experience... just wish 2011 season could be fast-tracked! Bring it on!

  4. Great write up for a derby virgin!!!! Glad you enjoyed it.

    Yes we all have "alter ego" names, and for the record the umpires are called Referees
    (Team Zebra)