Back in the late '70s and early '80s, I remember watching roller derby on TV. For a while. it came on immediately following the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) programming, and it was almost professional wrestling on skates.
Sports entertainment at its finest.
I probably never thought much about roller derby since then until Konawa High School graduate Katie Hoff (Ackerman) and one of her skating partners, Sam Griffin, showed up at the sports desk one day about 18 months ago. They wanted to turn in some roller derby results to be published in the newspaper.
In May 2010, Hoff and Griffin were two of the founders of the Arbuckle Derby Darlings, an all-female roller derby team that was centered around the Davis area. Fast forward to the current day, and the Arbuckle Derby Darlings have now transformed into the South Central Roller Girls (SSRG), who have most of their home bouts at Star Skate in Ada.
Hoff, known as “Hoff the Chain” on the derby floor, has invited me to watch one of her team’s bouts ever since. Our schedules hadn’t worked out until this past Saturday night, when the Black Heart Queens of the SSRG hosted the Benton County Derby Dames of northwest Arkansas.
It didn’t look like I would get to attend that bout either, but a smoother-than-expected Saturday at the sports desk allowed me enough time to get to Star Skate in time to watch the show.
And what a spectacle it was. I’ve watched just about every sport imaginable in person at least once, and now I can add roller derby to that list.
“C’mon, Cali, roller derby a sport?” some of you are probably thinking right about now. You better believe it.
In the '70s and '80s, there were hair-pulling, tripping and clotheslines, and all that nonsense was encouraged. Today’s roller derby athletes have to adhere by strict rules. Just ask Hoff, who was ejected from one bout for tripping after she herself had tumbled to the ground. Most violations result in trips to the penalty box, sort of like infractions in hockey.
The way current roller derby works is pretty simple. The bout consists of a series of jams. During each jam, each team sends five skaters to the floor — four blockers and one jammer. The jammers from each team try to get by all the blockers as the skaters circle around the rink. Teams get one point every time their jammer gets past players from the other team after one time around the skating path. So if one jammer gets past all five of the opposing skaters, that jammer would earn five points (a grand slam) for her team.
All this is happening under rules and guidelines set forth by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.
As I was visiting with folks familiar with the Queens and the Dames, they all told me that the two teams had met last month in Arkansas and it was a close matchup. The locals won that match, but apparently the Arkansas team had never lost a road bout this year. Something had to give in the rematch.
This bout was close for about 16 minutes of the first 30-minute half. The Black Heart Queens found themselves trailing 16-3 early. If this trend continued, I was sure Hoff and company would never let me near one of their bouts again.
But SSRG jammer Kari “Twisted Armani” Larsen took matters into her own hands, scoring a whopping 25 points during the next two-minute jam to put the home team on top 28-16. That started a streak of 51 consecutive points by the Black Heart Queens as their lead ballooned to 54-16.
By halftime, it was 118-38 before the Queens coasted to a 189-123 victory. I later found out that the SSRG had defeated the Benton County squad 196-125 in their previous matchup in Springdale, Ark.
“It was closer through most of the game, but we pulled further ahead in the second half,” Hoff insisted of the first meeting.
Close, schmose. This local team was pretty dominant. Members of the Black Heart Queens who saw action in this lopsided victory included Hoff, Larsen, Lolo Beach (Pamela Chapman), Justeen Beat-Her (Keshia McMahon), Becky Bulldoz-Her (Corri Carpenter), Pun (Pun Chittchang), Whoop C. Daisey (Jessica Underwood), Galaxy Inferno (Lori Bautista) and Sweeney Quad (Amanda Suenram).
I must admit, thanks to being a lifelong Los Angeles Dodgers fan, I did have a soft spot for Benton County's Brooklyn Dodge-Her. But I digress.
Marcie Petty, who was an official Saturday but goes by “Brutiful Dis’Asster” when she is on skates, said communication is the key to the South Central Roller Girls' success. The Queens are 5-1 this season.
“We communicate really well. We’ve seen a lot of derby teams who look like they have a lot of potential, but they don’t communicate well,” Petty said.
The SSRG are always looking for a few good girls. New recruit tryouts are at 6:30 p.m. Mondays at the Arbuckle Ballroom in Davis. The more, the merrier.
But these derby girls expect the same commitment that any other sports team would. If you don’t make practices, you don’t participate in the next bout. Regular practices are at 4 p.m. Sundays and 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays.
One thing roller derby teams like the SSRG and the Benton County Derby Dames desperately need is community support. They use volunteers for pretty much everything — referees, scorekeepers, announcers, etc.
“We’re looking for corporate sponsors all the time,” said announcer Grant Tompkins, who is the regular man behind the mic for the Benton County team but volunteered his services for the bout Saturday night. “We can hang up banners at the bouts and announce them throughout the match. It's really something the community can rally around.”
Sports fans who haven’t seen one of these roller derby matches live are missing out. I can attest to that. It’s a lot of fun for the entire family. Come see for yourself.
The SSRG are on the road Saturday, Aug. 24, in Jacksonville, Texas, against the East Texas Bombers, but they will host the final bout of the 2013 season Sept. 15 at Star Skate against the Wicked Outlaws Roller Derby of Longview, Texas. Doors will open at 5 p.m., with the bout scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Admission is $7 per person. Kids 12 and under are admitted free.
A fine, entertaining sport.