A run in with the Windy City Rollers

When I think of roller derby, I think of a scouting sash-clad Ellen Page from Whip It and bits of stories of wildly named skaters from a former teacher, who I believe may or may not have also been a sometimes emcee for the Rat City Roller Girls. This past weekend, Geoff was in town and we were looking for something fun to do in Chicago. I scanned my latest Gapers Block e-mail digest and saw that the Windy City Rollers, Chicago’s roller derby team, was hosting a bout on Saturday night. Neither of us had seen real roller derby and we decided, why not check it out?! So later that night, after chowing down on an entire duck in Argyle, we headed over to the UIC Pavilion.

This was a double header bout, beginning with a match-up between the Windy City Rollers Second Wind (the B traveling team) and the Paper Valley Roller Girls All-Stars out of Appleton, Wisc. followed by the Windy City Rollers All-Stars (the A traveling team) and the Indianapolis Naptown Roller Girls Tornado Sirens. The enthusiasm — from the players to the emcees to the audience — was infectious. I was immediately hooked. These skaters held back neither speed nor aggression. Everything about these skaters exuded “get the fuck out of my way,” or more politely as my mother would be apt to say, “strong women.” Very awesome.

Roller derby is a fast game. Each match-up between two teams — a bout — consists of two 30-minute periods. Each period is further divided into jams, which can last up to 2 minutes long. Five skaters from each team are on the track at any given time so there is a lot of switching up of players. At the beginning of each jam, three blockers and a pivot (a skater wearing a cap with a single, bright medial line) from each team position themselves to start at the pivot line. These four skaters from each team constitute “the pack” and they’re led by the pivot. Behind the packs are two skaters, one from each team. These two skaters — called jammers — wear caps emblazoned with a star on it and are the only skaters that can accumulate points for their teams.

At the whistled start, the pack starts to move forward. After the pack leaves the pivot line, the jammers are free to skate after them. Then it becomes a real fight: Each jammer tries to push through the pack as quick as she can while the opposing pack pushes works to push her back. This is where the hip-checking, pushes and shoves come into play. Once a jammer passes through the pack, she skates around the track again until she meets the back of the opposing team pack. She must again force her way through the opposing pack — which again is trying their best to push her back, make her fall, force her to skate out of bounds or whatever else it will take for her to just not pass. Resisting the jammer is significant because for every player of the opposing pack a jammer passes, she accrues a point for her team. Needless to say, roller derby is a contact sport.

The home team, Second Wind, beat the Paper Valley All-Stars with a generous margin. And next-up were the Windy City Rollers All-Stars versus the Naptown Tornado Sirens.

The Windy City Rollers trounced Naptown in the first period and kept their sizable lead during the second period. Despite what looked like an early victory, this was not a boring match to watch!

During all of this, I couldn’t help but laugh at all of the names of the skaters and officials involved. When you hear emcees yelling out names like Jackie Daniels, Mya Ssault, Killa Nois or Moby Nipps, you can’t help but be amused! A lot of the skaters’ “bad girl” alter egos had pun names that reflected some level of badassery and aggression. But the skaters weren’t the only ones with entertaining names — the referees and match officials also similarly had aliases. For instance, I’d obey anything a ref named Vince Meat said.

The Windy City Rollers All-Stars left Naptown in the dust, ending the bout with a winning score of 238 against Naptown’s 118. Honestly, I’ve never seen something just so fiercely cool. All I can say is that I hopped back on the El later that night a nascent, extremely impressed and excited fan of the Windy City Rollers!

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