The gang and I went to the roller derby playoffs on Saturday over at the National Guard Armory. As soon as I got off the metro, I thought there was a labor strike a couple of blocks up. There was a lot of synchronized chanting and drum beating. But it was Manchester-esque. A color-coordinated line of soccer fans there for the DC United game, which trumped the pool of fans diverting to the Armory for the roller derby game in the National Guard’s sweltering gym. As you know… statistics show that women’s sports are more popular when they have license to beat the crap out of each other.
Actually, that’s more the expectation than the reality – that aggression. An expectation built and supported by many a 1970s B movie about shady roller derby managers (actually, I’ve only seen two) and one recent episode of Kath and Kim. Also the promotional materials, the team names, and the player’s and ref’s pseudonyms. But the girl’s didn’t look too tough. The group photos, save two or three girls, looked like former drama club members than burly girls who skipped drama to go behind the school to smoke.
Their fan base didn’t appear to much more intimidating: a mix of the skater’s families and acquaintances; pale, skinny hipsters who appreciate the novelty; a few guys in the military and their g-thang friend who limped around with a cane; a couple of rednecks and stiffly postured metal heads and lots of man boobs; some GAP patrons; a baby that looked like Brian Dennehey; and one retarded guy who was demonstrating his double joints and at other times, furiously shoving his hands down his pants even as his father emphatically waved his hands to stop (and they were the raffle winners). It was a perfect menagerie for a John Wood’s movie.
In action, the game even looks a little slow. (Or at least the first two-team bout did, the speed and aggression picked up a little with the second game). When the MC in the dollar bill sequined jacket reviewed the rules for the first-time observers, the girls skated around the circle demonstrating like flight attendants do with safety devices. No elbows to the face. No roughing the other teammates. (One girl did get knocked down and stayed down for a minute. The crowd went dead silent). It turns into a Jam when the skater of opposing teams break through the lingering pack of girls that move around the track. And they earn points by making one revolution and breaking through again. The other team can put up a defense, but it looked like their only options were to give them the pelvic thrust and knock them out into the sidelines or they could pair up and slow down and just keep the team leader from getting ahead. Although, this defensive setup usually didn’t account for the hat trick at least the first two or three times it was pulled.
What position the players play depend on the cover over their helmets. Somehow a lot of Jams went leaderless because there were so many people winding up in their version of the penalty box. (I still haven’t figured out the scoring. The game between the DC teams — the Demon Cats and the Cherry Blossom Bombshells — went into overtime at 75 to 75. And there were two different clocks running for each team).
The game started at 5. Two bouts is a lot to watch. There were even two different half-time shows. The game started with the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. The choir, from a Unitarian church in Virginia, sang it about two feet from a mustached guy dressed like a Devil. The first teams up were Scareforce One and some other team, one was from Baltimore and the other from Richmond. We were still scrambling to get some overpriced tall boys of Yuengling and missed some of the introductions. To rile up the crowd, at least when they weren’t howling Ooohs and Woahs every time one of the skaters tripped and fell over the others when they skated too closely and too quickly in the pack, was to send around their mascots.
The DC teams were better about this. A girl dressed as a giant bomb with a red streamer strand hanging from her hair representing the DC Cherry Blossom Bombshells stayed in that costume all day and skated up and down the path with a sign to Watch Out for Exploding Bombshells. I don’t know how she managed to stay so perky when it was egregiously hot in the gym, even with wall fans going and the back hanger open. But, we jumped up shouting “free shit” when the Demon Cats girls in red came around. They’d toss out candy. So did two little chubby boys dressed as devils (one in commando sunglasses), but they just through out one piece of candy at a time. Sketchy shit, but at least they were having fun. But when what looked to be two kids straight out of Jesus Camp joined the Demon Cats girl in red and started tossing plastic bottles with beads in them to be used as noisemakers, we put our hands down. Jesus Camp boy was much too enthusiastic about launching out the bottles, and the last thing anyone needed was a bottle to the head and a good reason to fight.
By about an hour and a half into the matches, the crowd’s enthusiasm starts to wane. People start to get saturated. The vendors start shutting things down. By the time the match between Demon Cats and the Cherry Blossom Bombshells got to half time, a couple of young kids, maybe middle school age, from Greenbelt (represent!) were up to do some jump rope. They were the best performance all night, even though they were performing to a weary, sweaty crowd. “You ever do that before… double dutch?” Kim asked us. A little bit in gym class, but not much, I remember. But Kim and her friends did. But this was a generation beyond double dutch. These kids – maybe 5 girls and one boy – were mixing breakdancing and jump roping. They would even lay down flat on the floor and thrust their body up to get over that rope in repetition. That must’ve left them a little sore later because they had to thrust muscle against hardwood floors. They got a standing ovation in the end, and it was well deserved.
Greenbelt Jump Roping Team, huh? Do they need a road manager? …
The second match ended with DC (Demon Cats) beating DC (Cherry Blossom Bombshells). They’ll go on to Philly for the Eastern playoffs. If Dorothy ever learns to skate, we have to start a rogue team with a real reputation for fighting and taking hits. Our mascot and setup will look like something out Mad Max or Porky’s! Our team prerequisite would of course have to be health insurance.