Chicago Roller Derby: The Quick & Dirty

Roller Derby season is in full swing again in Chicago. After the home opener on the North Side last weekend for The Chicago Outfit,
Chicago's biggest and oldest league, The Windy City Rollers return to the UIC Pavilion for a double header bout.

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If you haven't seen roller derby before, you might have preconceived notions about the sport and how it is played.
It's not like WWE Wrestling, or God forbid, their kitschy spinoff GLO aka the "Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling". No, roller derby is a real sport for sure. In 2011, you won't see scantily clad babes without helmets, checking other women into the side rails. And unlike the video clips from the '70s, there's no antics: no slapping, no head-butts, no headlocks, and no pigtailed women pulling each others' hair.

"We're all good friends. It's like a sisterhood, of sorts," explains Tori Adore, a team captain for The Fury, WCR's reigning champions.  Flat
track roller derby
is what the Windy City Rollers do, and it is both competitive and at times rough. Like just about every other roller derby in America, no one uses in-line skates or roller blades. It's four wheels on a foot. Quads only.

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So, if you're not up to speed on how derby works, the quick and the dirty is this...

There are two teams of five players on the flat track at all times. The jammer is each team's scorer, and she's identified by a star on her helmet. The jammer scores points for the team for every opposing player she passes (legally...no cheap shots, no checking) during each period or "jam" as it's called. The other four ladies block and protect their jammer, while setting the pace of their team's game, round the track.

Within the Rollers' league you've got four teams that compete during normal bouts, plus a farm team called the Haymarket Rioters,
from which the major league teams can draft new talent.  The best of the four-team league also participate further in a traveling team, the Windy City All-Stars, who travel to compete against other derby all-star teams throughout the country.

These women are a committed bunch, practicing up to five times a week, skating in preparation for a monthly bout, usually the third Saturday of every month. When not skating, they're involved in charity work, and pay dues to participate in their league.

What most people know about roller derby more is not so much the rules of the game, but the subculture around it. While there may be a "bad girl" look associated with the sport, one of the other things that makes derby so fun to talk about is the names. Some of the best derby names are just downright creative, original and a bit devious, such as Athena DeCrime and Mo Vengeance. Others come in the form of altered athlete and celebrity names, like Slammy Sosa, Zombea Arthur, and Jailya Roberts, the last of whom, by the way,
makes her living by day as a cop.

Beyond the theatric celebrity-type names, roller derby has made a splash in Hollywood as well. Drew Barrymore broke into her directorial debut just under two years ago with "Whip It", a film about a nice girl from the drab suburbs who joins the derby. The film wasn't a small fringe work either, showcasing Oscar nominees Ellen Page and Juliet Lewis in major roles.

Of course with both the WCR's match and the Cannes Film Festival in full swing this week, my drama wheels got turning, and I think
roller derby in film has quite a future. I can see it now... Good Will Hunting 2 starring Ben Afflict-Pain and his Miramax sidekick Leonardo Decapitate, who spends his efforts wooing a stunning derby girl in Minnie Piledriver. Even Mame Judy Dench makes a brief but critically acclaimed appearance as the girls' derby coach. And Charlie Sheen doesn't make the squad, but as team dog we call him Win Tin Tin. Anyways...

At first glance, punk chick mystique might grab you, but the truth is derby women come from all walks of life. Some are lawyers, moms, and others spend the day as professional photographers responsible for pics you might see in a magazine you're reading right now. Other derby women are business owners, and there's even one who works by day as a press secretary for a prominent
Chicago Alderman.

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Regardless of whether you're a baseball fan or booked up watching the Bulls playoffs this weekend, The Windy City Rollers matches are good competitive stuff to watch. Like with the best of sports, the home bouts have an atmosphere similar to Wrigley or The Cell, which makes you feel like you're not just watching but participating.

Saturday's bout kicks off at UIC Pavilion at 6pm, with a second match at 7:30pm. Check it out, it's worth it.

Andy Frye writes about sports and life here, and lets it all hang out sportswise on Twitter at @MySportsComplex.

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