After watching Drew Barrymore’s surprisingly good film Whip It, I had roller derby on my mind. A couple weeks earlier I had been in Toronto for the city’s International Film Festival and watched as they constructed an outdoor rink to be played on as promotion for that film and a couple months later Buffalo Spree did a cover story on Buffalo’s own league, The Queen City Roller Girls. Leave it to our fair city to have a roller derby league able to capitalize on all the new hype—we have it all here. So, with a cursory knowledge in the rules and scoring system thanks to Ellen Page and company, I jumped at the opportunity to see the fun in person. Enter Bout Two in the 2010 season: The Suicidal Saucies vs. The Nickel City Knockouts.
Rainbow Rink in North Tonawanda was electric with a sold out crowd of mostly diehard derby fans. All ages were represented around the rink either sitting on folding chairs, standing in the back, or residing on bleachers set up in the corners. Definitely a fan-friendly event, the announcers get into it from the get-go, adding their own personality as they bring out both teams, stopping just short of saying “Are you ready to rumble!!” Each team has 20+ players with monikers such as Legs Luther, B’kini Whacks, Crazy Legs, and Little Orphan Angry; there’s about five referees skating around the middle making sure the hits are clean and elbows are kept to themselves, (something that didn’t happen); and the scoring is astronomical with this match seeing the Saucies double up their opponents after compiling over 200 points.
Consisting of two 30-minute periods, (Why not call them halves?), the game clock runs continuously and keeps the pace fast and intense. Supposedly there is a penalty box, and I know that the color commentator mentioned players getting caught for infractions, but I had no idea if there were fewer players out because the carnage never lets up. The jammer is center to it all as the point getter, having to travel through all other players—pivots and a pack of blockers—on the rink during their jam, earning a point for each opponent left behind. Just now I learned online that the lead jammer—she who beats the pack first—can stop the jam whenever she wants before the two-minute time is up. This explains a lot since I couldn’t figure out why some jams were longer than others or why the jammers sometimes kept placing their hands on their hips as though it was some sort of taunt.
It’s pretty cool when you attend a niche sport like this and can easily get caught up in it all. Right from the first jam, the fans for their respective teams are cheering on their girls and reacting to what’s going on. This is a huge help in learning the rules too, seeing what’s happening and listening to the collective consciousness, finding out what moves are good and what are not. There are also those fans out for a beer and a good time, keeping their boisterous applause for when an athlete hits the deck or gets checked over the neon blue out-of-bounds line. One Knockout did end up leaving the playing field with a pretty bad limp, although she came out for the second period to sit on the bench and cheer her teammates on. These girls have hockey player mentalities—you aren’t getting them off the rink unless a bone is coming through their skin or if they get thrown out for causing said compound fracture on an opposing player.
Each girl has her own personality, playing to the crowd and talking and smiling before each jam begins. There are tattoos galore, piercings left and right, and more fishnets than you’ve ever seen in your life. But don’t disrespect and assume these players are head-cases and scary by any means. Sure they compete hard and take a loss to heart, but I’ve never seen a more jovial group just having a blast, shaking hands after the match, talking amongst opponents during second period warm-ups, and constantly waving to friends and family in the audience. The whole affair is quite good-natured with candy throwing to the crowd, bread loaf tossing at the half, (That was bread, correct?), a raffle, and even the Alison Pipitone Band playing during the break from a stage erected at the side of the rink.
You really can’t go wrong attending a bout. Tickets are only 12 bucks general admission or 17 bucks for front row seating pre-sale, and the high-paced action lends it to indoor lacrosse comparisons. I’ve been to a Bandits game and that atmosphere is insane, but I won’t be surprised if, during the course of this season and next, the Queen City Roller Girls begins to cultivate that same type of consistent rowdiness. All the pieces are in place and the fact this battle sold out in advance only shows how word-of-mouth has spread this thing around. Tons of people were left out in the cold without admittance, many asking ticket holders for any extras they might have at the front doors. So be safe and order online or through one of the league’s affiliates beforehand … you won’t be disappointed.
Queen City Roller Girls: http://qcrg.net/ for ticket info, schedule, and rosters.