Cookie Rumble, Oi! Rish and Sarah Hipel high-five the crowd in 2017.

Cookie Rumble, Oi! Rish and Sarah Hipel high-five the crowd in 2017.

Photo by Lex Dodson, provided by Detroit Roller Derby


How flat track roller derby is taking the sports industry by storm

By: Kayla Dimick | C&G Newspapers | Published August 21, 2019

  Jessica Rakkit, Jilleanne Rookard, Swift Justice, Melissa McDonald, Nikki Noxem and Cookie Rumble sit on the bench in 2017.

Jessica Rakkit, Jilleanne Rookard, Swift Justice, Melissa McDonald, Nikki Noxem and Cookie Rumble sit on the bench in 2017.

Photo by Joe Mac, provided by Detroit Roller Derby

 Cookie Rumble hugs Sarah Hipel in 2017 following a Detroit Roller Derby bout at the Masonic Temple in Detroit.

Cookie Rumble hugs Sarah Hipel in 2017 following a Detroit Roller Derby bout at the Masonic Temple in Detroit.

Photo by Lex Dodson, provided by Detroit Roller Derby

METRO DETROIT — It’s the fastest growing sport in the world, but you don’t need to be a superstar athlete to play roller derby.

All you need are some skates, pads and a mouthguard.

Be ready to take a hit.

And just a heads up to all the fresh meat — the term given to newbies of the sport — there is no ball in roller derby.

“For somebody who has never heard of it before, for me, I’d say it’s just straight awesome,” said Christina Clark, the head of public relations for the Bath City Roller Girls. “It’s a sport primarily led by women, but welcoming to all genders and sexual orientations. However you identify, we’ll find a spot for you.”

The game, or “bout,” is composed of two 30-minute halves split into timed two-minute “jams.”

During a jam, five players from each team are on the oval track. The jammer scores points for their team by passing through or around the “pack” of players from both teams. Skaters often choose an alter ego name to skate under.

While roller derby is known for being played on a banked track, most modern leagues, according to Jenn Price, head of games at Detroit Roller Derby, play on a flat track laid out with ropes and tape.

Price said people are shocked to find out that the sport is rooted in safety.

“We are required to wear safety gear, as it is a full-contact sport,” Price said. “We receive penalties for hitting nonlegal hitting zones. Those zones are similar to hockey, but calls are a bit tighter due to the difference in safety gear worn.”

The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the governing body for women’s flat track roller derby, says that players at all times must wear, at a minimum, wrist guards, elbow pads, knee pads, mouth guards and helmets.

“I don’t want to say it’s not aggressive, because it definitely is aggressive, but we do have a focus on safety and rules,” Clark said. “We’re not out there to kill each other. We’re out there to support each other.”

Price said roller derby has been around since the mid-1930s, started by Leo Setzer as a road race for professional skaters. It eventually included more skater contact and transitioned to television broadcast in the 1950s. Viewership declined in the 1960s.

“Soon after, Leo’s son Jerry, ‘The Commissioner,’ took over and added scripted storylines and rules designed to improve television appeal,” Price said. “This era seems to be what most of the public remembers about roller derby. Unfortunately, spectator base still declined.”

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that a new generation of roller derby emerged in Austin, Texas, and there were over 135 leagues.

“Flat track roller derby now has thousands of leagues worldwide,” Price said.

Clark said the Bath City Roller Girls were founded in 2010 and originally played at the Gibraltar Trade Center in Mount Clemens, which is known as Bath City. Now the team plays at Joe Dumars Fieldhouse in Shelby Township.

BCRG is made up of about 40 people, Clark said, who compete once a month from January to September.

Price said Detroit Roller Derby came to fruition with friends at a New Year’s Eve party, and the first game was held in 2006. The league plays at The Masonic Temple in Detroit and runs a recreation program, a juniors league and a men’s league, along with four home teams, and an all-star team. Their season will start up in November.

Both leagues run a bootcamp program: over the course of several weeks, fresh meat is introduced to all things derby. Bath City’s next bootcamp will be in December.

Detroit Roller Derby also runs a program called Derby U!, an informational meeting for people who want to try the sport ahead of bootcamp, or anyone who wishes to referee or be a nonskating official. The next Derby U! will be held at 8 p.m. Sept. 11 at the Masonic Temple, 500 Temple St. in Detroit.

Clark, who skates under the name Akilla the Hun, discovered the sport on a sleepless night in college.

“It’s 3 a.m. and the movie ‘Whip It’ was on, and I watched it because I couldn’t sleep and I said, ‘What is this? I need to learn more,’” Clark said. “It was absolutely nothing like a sport that I had ever played, and I completely fell head over heels for it.”

Clark said she loves that roller derby is an all-inclusive sport.

“We have a really great level of camaraderie. We’re like a little family, and we welcome anybody in our little family. It’s a good place to be. Everyone is super supportive, and I can’t speak highly enough of my team,” she said. “We’re playing a sport and we want to win, but we want to see our skaters do their best — win, lose or draw.”

Clark said it’s a place to escape daily life. The nicknames help with that.

“Each and every one of us have our own separate little lives outside of derby. We have stay-at-home moms — I, myself, work as an editor — we have doctors; we have teachers,” she said. “I don’t want to say that derby is taboo, but it’s intense. Strong, athletic women rolling around on roller skates is kind of odd, and the name helps you separate yourself from who you are during the day. Akilla is nothing like Christina. Akilla is very loud and will go for it, and Christina just listens.”

Price, who formerly skated under the name Ana Matronique and now goes by Price, said her derby journey began in 2010 when she moved to Traverse City.

“They were looking for folks interested in roller derby. I initially jumped in to help Traverse City Roller Derby get off the ground,” Price said. “I joined for an escape and stayed for the community, physical activity and the improvement I saw in my own self-worth.”

Price has played for a handful of leagues in Michigan and is a co-captian for Detroit’s All-Star team.

“It took me a while to get where I am now. Lots of physical and mental change,” she said. “To get better in this sport, it forces you to really pay attention to yourself and routines. That alone has been incredibly beneficial for me.”

For anyone who wants to try the sport but is nervous, Clark said she recommends jumping right in.

“Just do it. Absolutely just do it,” she said. “It’s so unique and it’s so rewarding. You’ll hit milestones that you didn’t even know you wanted to hit. Take the leap, and worse comes to worse (and) you don’t like it, you’ve already met some friends on the side. Come volunteer. You don’t have to skate to play, if it’s not your thing. We’ll support you when you do find your thing.”

For more information on Bath City Roller Girls, go to bathcityrollergirls.com. For more information on Detroit Roller Derby, go to detroitrollerderby.com.

 


Rink lingo

27/5
The minimum skill requirement of skating 27 laps of the track or more within five minutes.

Falling small
Trying to keep your body as small as possible while falling to minimize injury to yourself and other players.

Jammer
The skater on the track who can score points, identified by a star on their helmet.

Pack
The mass of blockers from both teams skating around the track together. The jammer’s goal is to get through or around the pack.

Panty
A stretchy fabric cover worn over the helmet by the jammer and pivot.

Pivot
A blocker with a front-to-back stripe on the helmet. The pivot can be passed the jammer panty to act as the jammer.

Rink rash
Friction burns caused by skin sliding across the track.

Whip
An assist technique where one skater uses the other skater’s momentum to propel forward.