A Fan's Perspective
If you’re anything like me, you likely stumbled across Roller Derby accidentally, and decided to give it a shot for whatever reason. You didn’t really know what to expect, and when you got there you had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on, but you knew that this sport was incredibly fun.
While a Roller Derby bout (it’s a bout, not a game or match) is very fast-paced and seemingly confusing, the basic scoring system is deceptively simple.
In the beginning of the bout, four players from each team line up on the track, made up of three blockers and one pivot for each team (collectively called the “pack”). One jammer for each team lines up around twenty feet behind the pack. Positions are designated by the designs on their helmets, blockers’ helmets are plain, pivots’ are striped and jammers have a star design. The jammer scores points by making her way through the pack, scoring a point for each opposing skater she passes. The pivots set the pace for the pack, and serve as a “last line of defense” for their teams. Blockers serve to block the opposing jammer and to help their own jammer through the pack.
One whistle blast from the ref starts the pack going, and when the last person in the pack passes where the very front of the pack used to be, the ref gives two whistle blasts, signaling the jammers to start.
The first time through, no points are scored. However, the jammer who makes it through the pack first becomes lead jammer for that jam (two-minute period). The lead jammer can call off the jam at any time until the two minutes are up by placing her hands on her hips.
Bouts are usually broken down into two thirty minute periods or three twenty minute periods, made up of jams, which, as above, last two minutes each unless the lead jammer calls it off early.
Penalties are, of course, part of the game. They are assessed for illegal blocking, fighting and general unsportswomanlike behavior. Usually, they result in a trip to the penalty box for the offending skater for a set period of time, or, in more serious cases, the skater can be ejected from the bout entirely.
In the modern Roller Derby revival, the leagues are mostly skater owned and operated. Unlike in previous versions of the sport, most leagues are completely amateur, the skaters aren’t paid in any way. In fact, most of the time, skaters pay monthly dues to the league to pay for various expenses, usually between twenty and thirty dollars. Also unlike in previous incarnations of Roller Derby, none of the action is choreographed. Broken bones, bruises, lost teeth and gashes are not uncommon.
Roller Derby, in all its incarnations, traces its roots back to the Great Depression and an enterprising Chicago man called Leo Seltzer. He originally conceived of Roller Derby as an endurance sport in which coed teams raced around a track for fifty-seven thousand laps, about the distance across the continental United States. By the 1960s, Roller Derby evolved into a contact sport, complete with a scoring system. By the 1970s, however, with the economic slump that came with it, Roller Derby was pretty much dead, until the current revival got started by a group of determined Austin, Texas women in 2001.