As a part of my ongoing job to become first, an adequate, and then a good roller-derby announcer, I drove down to the Christiana Skating Center last night to watch our own Brandywine Roller Girls scrimmage Delaware’s Diamond State. The more derby I watch, the more I understand that this is not schtick-with-some-sports, this is sports-with-some-schtick. Don’t get me wrong, I love schtick. But in addition to the hot shorts and eyeblack, there’s the speed of tennis, the teamwork of hockey, and (I am not kidding here) a healthy dose of sumo. More about that in a second.
Here’s Koach Hot Wheels briefing the BRG skaters before the scrimmage. They’re looking pretty tough: a friend at work said “They look like they’re getting ready to go to Bin Laden’s house. A couple of them told me “What I was actually thinking ‘OMG we’re gonna be hitting strangers for the first time!’”).
The Diamond State skaters were tall, fast, and tough, in pink T-shirts with Chaplin moustaches painted on their faces. During their warmups, I saw skaters with their skates wi-i-i-ide apart, carving back and forth like they were trying to screw their boots into the hardwood floor. I met their coach, Axl Rolls, and a few of their NSOs (“Non-Skating Officials”), who were kind enough to come and help with BRG’s first bout in April.
BRG’s photographer, Randy “Papa Razzi” Litwin, was there, on skates, and as the warmups began, he was out there rolling around the outside of the track, often skating backwards and looking sideways (looking sideways through a zoom lens with one eye, even.) He told me that he really enjoys taking photos at the Christiana Skating Center because there’s a lot of light (lots more than at Caln), and that the reflective floor helps, too.
Here’s number 9, Skinny Guinea, warming up around the fourth corner. The way you score points in derby is that one skater — the “Jammer”, with a star on her helmet — laps the pack of skaters, and earns a point for every skater on the opposing team she passes. In the pack, it’s a team sport. Blockers try to get their own jammer through the pack, and stop the opposing team’s jammer. Conversely, blockers also try to foil the other team’s plans.
So the whole game is a combination of long, sweeping strides while the jammers lap the pack, straight-up speed skating, and then scrums while each team works together and with their jammer.
In this picture, Number A55, KickAsh, is in the green helmet. She’s managed to pull number 1/2 pt, Small WoundHer, out of the pack, and is trying to bring her around safely to the outside so she can finish her scoring pass.
Meanwhile, the Diamond State skater closest to the camera is gathering herself up for a hit. I think what’s about to happen is that KickAsh is about to pull WoundHer to the inside while she freaking blasts the opposing blocker off the track.
And that’s where the sumo comes in. I’m not making a stupid crack about body types — sumo is all about power: staying grounded, then exploding out and upwards. Modern derby skaters aren’t allowed to use their arms to hit. There’s no tripping, no elbows, no pushing. The hits are all straightforward body checks using momentum. No matter who hits whom, it seems like the lower, steadier skater always keeps rolling while the other skater goes flying. I saw a lot of clean, hard hits last night, and I understood what the DSRG skaters were doing with that wi-i-ide sumo stance: once Diamond State’s “tank” got planted in position, it seemed like she was rooted to the floor, not rolling along on ball bearings.
The Brandywine Roller Girls skaters worked together really, really well together as a team. They listen to each other, they listen to their coach, and they try really hard. I’m learning a lot about the sport, and I’m having a great time. The next bout is Saturday night, May 21st, and I’ll be announcing. See you there!