This one was hella fun, you guys!
Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that I hate sports. All sports. Any sport. Doesn’t matter, I hate them all. I dread the Olympics every few years when sports takes over and intrudes on everything for endless weeks. There is no faster way to bore me than to start talking about sports. As I write this the Super Bowl is happening. (Or it’s already happened? Maybe it’s over by now? I don’t know. And I don’t care enough to check.) So no one was more surprised than I was to find out that I fucking love roller derby!
I knew that Baltimore had a roller derby league called the Charm City Roller Girls but I didn’t really have a clue what that entailed. My total knowledge of roller derby consisted of: there are roller skates and Drew Barrymore did a movie about it once. For this adventure I tagged my friend Grace to accompany me. Her knowledge about roller derby matched mine but the minute I mentioned roller derby, she was 100% in. I believe her exact text message response to my suggestion to go watch some roller derby was, “!!! I WANNA DO THAT!” (Enthusiastic friends…can’t recommend them highly enough!) So I bought a couple VIP tickets for a Saturday night (VIP in this case meant we didn’t have to bring our own chairs) and off we went.
I probably should have done some advance research, but as you know by now, that’s not really my thing. Grace and I did our research while waiting in line to get in, which was delayed due to their ticketing system going down. While we waited in the cold, we reviewed a quick video of how the game works and some of the lingo. The nice people in charge came out to appease the restless fans with free snacks while they fixed the ticketing system. We chatted a bit with the people in line behind us who were also new to derby and were jealous of our VIP tickets. They had to bring their own chairs and didn’t get a fancy VIP bracelet.
We finally got in and found some awesome seats in the VIP section. (Note: the VIP section is literally just folding chairs on one side of the room. It is the least VIP thing you’ve ever seen and also the closest I will probably ever get to actually being a VIP.) Our seats were just a couple of yards away from the action. Looking around, I was impressed by the audience makeup. I don’t know what I expected. A lot of rockabilly women, maybe? But the crowd was made up of all kinds of people. There were elderly people, families with young children, couples out on a date, groups of friends, all ages and ethnicities. The overall vibe was very friendly and laid back.
The teams were warming up as the fans were settling into their seats. I decided it would make everything more interesting and maybe help us be more invested if we picked a team to root for. I chose to root for the Hampden Hons based on nothing but the fact that I like the Hampden neighborhood and my sister lives near it. Grace chose to cheer for the Pigtown Butchers, because she liked that they had a mascot. A man with a papier-mâché pig mask with a bloody apron who occasionally held up a sign that said, “Swine Time!” Even though in reality we ended up cheering for everyone, it was fun to have a team of “my own” and it did make it more exciting when the Hampden Hons won the first bout.
One of the fun things about roller derby are the funny/fierce nicknames the team members choose to be known by. They’re often names that are puns or clever word play based on famous people or pop culture references. For instance the Hampden Hons had Queen Kamayhemmayhem, LeBrawn Maims, Aidee Dee and Liquor Muffin playing for them. The Pigtown Butchers had Slampagne Super Nova, Beelzebruise and Traitor Jo while the Dundalk Deviants had Socially Blockward, Buns ‘N Burn Her and Dottie Deathwish on their teams. Even the coaches get cool names like Leslie Nope and Mr. Pistol. I tried to come up with my own roller derby name but couldn’t think of anything really good. Beatrix Blocker? Eh. I’ll keep working on it.
While the rules of flat track roller derby are complex and I know I missed a lot of the intricacies (like the different kinds of penalties and recycling and such), the basic game is surprisingly easy to follow! Especially considering that so much of the action happens in chaotic clusters of people where it can be hard to tell what’s happening. Fortunately, the announcer for the game (or bout, as derby matches are officially called) understood that not everyone in the crowd was an expert and took some time to explain some things as we went along. We were able to catch on fairly rapidly and before we knew it we were cheering and yelling at various plays like old pros.
One of the things I loved the most was how quickly we were able to identify players we really liked. There were some really exceptional players out there that were awesome to watch. Shout out to Slampagne Super Nova, Raven Darkhold and Alaska Massacre who were amazing and my personal favorite of the night, LeBrawn Maims who is now my hero and patronus. That woman took no shit on that track, had amazing footwork and was basically an escape artist in those jams to get out ahead all the time. Anytime she was in the pack, I knew it was going to be a great jam. It was also really fascinating to see the different strategies each team had. Grace and I agreed that the Hampden Hons had the overall best game as a team. Equally strong offense and defense, they really worked well together. Meanwhile the Dundalk Deviants were really good at getting out in the lead, but didn’t have the blocking capability they needed to keep the advantage, which lead to a strategy of calling off the jams before the other team could score, which kept the overall score much lower than it had been in the other bout. And can we all just take a moment and consider the fact that I am talking about sports like I know something? Miracles do happen.
We have to talk about the announcer, because he was (unintentionally) hilarious. Let’s just say you won’t see this guy announcing on ESPN anytime soon. While he did occasionally give helpful information, a lot of time he did not seem to know what was going on and he didn’t seem bothered by it at all. This was a common thing to hear, “So-and-so is new to the league this year, she transferred from….I can’t read my notes. I’ll look it up later.” At one point he had stopped calling the game and then he suddenly came back and said, “Sorry about that, I was chatting.” Grace and I could not stop laughing at this guy.
But what I loved the very most about roller derby was just how empowering it was. It really seems like a place where everyone is welcome. Women of all ages, all body types, all ethnicities just being fearless and fierce, working together, not letting anything get in their way and having a blast doing it. I didn’t realize how much I really needed to see that right now. I can’t wait to take my niece. I want her to see strong women, using their bodies to have fun and get shit done. I want her to know she can grow up to be the next LeBrawn Maims or Boom Shaka Latke. She can name herself and she can go out into the world and be tough and smart and as unladylike as she wants to be. We all can.