A tip of the hat to roller derby athletes
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Regular readers of this column know that I am not a sports fan. In the same way that a turtle is not a 16th-century Flemish painter.
I can never figure out the rules. I get the major story arcs: In baseball, the batter tries to hit the ball and run around the bases with the object of scoring points in the form of runs; in football, the players try to advance the ball into the end zone with the object of avoiding jail time.
But I have no patience with details and strategy. The standard big pro sports leave me pretty cold.
So I went to the roller derby.
My boyfriend got us tickets to the Steel City Derby Demons opener Saturday night. At some point, I asked, "What do you want to do this weekend?" and he said, "Roller derby." I assumed he hadn't heard me or was speaking in tongues -- right up until we were sitting at Kelly's with Unsafe Tex of the Blitzburgh Bombers.
She explained that the league has become increasingly serious and athletic since it started. The faint images filed under "roller derby" from my '70s childhood are of scantily clad giantesses. Tex put me straight.
"There's no boobs, no booty -- because we're drawing a family audience. ... This is being written into contracts now ... specifically, you need to keep your booty covered.
"In print. In the contract. That word: booty."
So much for dry legal jargon.
Tex told us roller derby is an athletic contest, not a performance. We went anyway.
The sold-out Romp N Roll in Glenshaw had a line out the door. I was overwhelmed by the size of the crowd, being accustomed to Pirates games.
The bout had already started, and instantly I was confused. Exploded Roller Derby Myth No. 1: The skaters were not 6-foot-tall Amazons. In fact, some were so small I thought they were children.
They were all circling the track counterclockwise, occasionally crashing into each other. Kind of like NASCAR. But I couldn't make out who was winning, or even what winning would look like. I eavesdropped on my fellow spectators for insight. A bearded guy in front of me turned to another guy in a Harley T-shirt.
"Figure it out yet?" he asked. "Figure out what's supposed to happen?"
The explanation in the program said things like, "The pivot is the only blocker who can become a jammer if the jammer passes her star helmet cover to her," so I looked at the photos of the skaters.
"These are the tamest derby photos I've ever seen," my boyfriend commented. I had too many questions already to pursue that, but it leads me to Exploded Roller Derby Myth No. 2: No low-cut tank tops, no bare legs. Skaters wore bike pants or tennis-length skirts, and even the occasional booty shorts were worn over tights. No Hooters girls on wheels. Tex was right.
The best thing about the uniforms was the players' derby names and numbers: Cruisin B. Anthony ($1), Inga Knee'her (U235), Vicious Virus (H1N1), Leannibal Lechter (8U). Even the officials had noms de skate: Eric the Ref, Great Barrier Ref, Colin Shenanigans.
Unsafe Tex was also right about the audience. Exploded Roller Derby Myth No. 3: The audience was not composed of oglers. There were families with kids, and at intermission volunteers wheeled teddy bears around in a "stroller derby."
Just when the action on the track was beginning to make sense to me -- and there wasn't even any alcohol -- it was over. The Blitzburgh Bombers lost to the Little Steel Derby Girls from Youngstown. Apparently. Don't ask me how.
Exploded Roller Derby Myth No. 4: I am not embarrassed to tell my friends I went. It was a little retro, a little goofy, and a lot of fun.
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First Published February 24, 2011 12:00 am