First of all, I am someone who appreciates live and local sports. I would much rather go to a local Greenjackets football game, than watch a game on TV. If I lived equally between a major and minor league sports team, there’s a really good chance I’d prefer to go see the minor league team, where I feel my fanship matters a bit more, and they are pulling out all the stops to earn their fan support. I also like a healthy amount of entertainment with my sports. Intermission activities, pregame, postgame, and the overall event experience matters a great deal.
A few weeks ago, I was reading the blogs on the Times Union website, and found one for roller derby. It turns out that we do have a local team, and they are the Hellions of Troy (HoT) they don’t actually play in Troy, but close enough.
It’s a flat rack roller derby team, part of a resurgent movement to bring back the sport. Other than a few posts on the Times Union though, I really didn’t know what to expect. I had watched some roller derby on tv as a kid I’m sure, but I really don’t remember too much about it. I wasn’t sure if this would be a staged contest, or an actual sport, but either way, I wanted to check it out at least once. So I got myself a road trip buddy, and we were off to Schenectady.
Just based on the advertising, and the teams website, I was expecting an atmosphere similar to when me and my buddies used to go to ska concerts when we were in high school. I suppose I was somewhat close to that, there was somewhat of an underground feel to the night. The costumes, the booming voice of the announcer, the constant music playing. We found ourselves a seat, which are right on the roller rink itself, some 15-20 feet outside of the field of play. The crowd itself wasn’t as colorful, seemed like mostly family and friends of the team, you could tell some people really knew a lot about roller derby. You did have some families there as well. Overall, the crowd of some 100 people was pretty tame and family friendly.
We arrived just in time for skater introductions, which was the most colorful part of the evening. The women had colorful uniforms, some had props for the introduction. In keeping with tradition, they had roller derby names, and they have pretty wide latitude in what their jersey number could be. So you had players like “Short Temper” whose number was 4’11” and then there was number “9 lives” who went by the name “Kitty porn”
According to my program, what we would be watching was an actual athletic contest, and not the staged roller derbys of the past. Since I am a pro wrestling fan, I wouldn’t have minded either way. The game began with a brief overview of the rules, which was good, because I didn’t know them. The demo helped, and the announcer helped a lot by talking about rules and strategy throughout the evening. I didn’t completely understand what I was watching, but there were some fans sitting near us who seemed to have a good understanding of the rules and principles of the sport. So I imagine if I went to more bouts, I would better understand what I was watching.
So what are the rules? You have five skaters on each team. The player in the back is the most important, they are the jammer, and the only one who can score points. Her job is to make it through the 4 players from the other team in front of her, before the jammer from the other team can do the same thing. The first jammer through becomes the “lead jammer” and has control over the play. A jam lasts for two minutes, however the lead jammer can call it off at any time. After clearing the pack for the first time, the jammers get one point for each opponent they pass. So the strategy seems to be for the lead jammer to pass through the pack, then call off the jam before her opponent can score points herself. Each team has three blockers. They want to impede the progress of the other teams jammer. But there are a lot of rules as to what they can do. There’s no punching, pushing, tripping, pulling or elbowing. They can get in the other players way, and it seemed like some hip checking was ok. So the blockers are literally trying to block the opposition, and get them to go out of bounds, or at least to slow them down enough so their own jammer can get through first. Each team also has a pivot, who plays in front of the blockers, and sets the pace of play and is the final line of defense.
Games are two 30 minute halfs. In the first half, the Hellions had trouble earning the lead blocker status early on, but the story of the first half, and the overall bout, was penalties. As a first time fan, this was somewhat frustrating, because it seemed like there were a lot of penalties, and just watching, I couldn’t really see them myself. The track announcer was calling everything, but I really couldn’t tell the difference between a penalty and a legal play. The other team started taking a lot of penalties, and even their jammer was spending a lot of time in the penalty box, meaning their team wasn’t able to score points, and the Hellions were building up a large lead. Was it enough? Me and my friend really had no clue as to how big a lead needed to be before it was comfortable, that would have to wait until after intermission.
Intermission itself was pretty uneventful. The teams were back in their locker rooms. The roller rinks concession stand was open, and there was one intermission game, but overall we were just waiting for intermission to end. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was imagining a wilder crowd, with cheers and more of a concert type atmosphere. The team itself had the costumes, and the names, and the appearance of sports entertainers, but once the bout started, it was really all about the game. Maybe thats just the pro wrestling fan in me that was expecting something different. So the sport was indeed legitimate. I would probally liken it most unto womens hockey. The action can be fast, and it is very athletic. It requires a lot of physical strength and endurance, but you aren’t going to see them checking each other full speed or any other super aggressive moves like that. There also wasn’t much fan interaction once the match actually started, the women seemed to be focused on the game, and taking that seriously. So in the future I’ll be more prepared for that if I go back.
In the second half, the opposing team wasn’t taking many penalties, and the Hellions were taking more, so the lead was slowly evaporating. At one point, the score was nearly tied, when the Hellions put together a couple of good minutes, and widened the lead heading into the final few moments of play. The Roller Rebels put forth a strong challenge at the end, but they couldn’t catch up. It takes a moment to update the score board, so we didn’t actually know who had won until a few moments after the bout was over, but the Hellions were indeed victorious.
I haven’t quite figured out the schedule. It seems like they play every three weeks or so. But I haven’t seen like a league standings or anything. I’m not sure that there is a traditional league schedule, playoffs, and then a championship. It seems as if you just have bouts against any opponent you can find, with the occassional tournament. The Hellions return to Schenectady on September 22nd, with additional home bouts on October 13th and November 10th. But check out the teams website, http://www.hellionsoftroyrollerderby.com/ I’ll try and make it back for at least one of those bouts, my schedule gets pretty busy once school starts again.