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A return of roller derby fun


April 23, 2012
Billie Shelton , The Daily Freeman Journal

Like many of the Baby Boomers I have mentioned it to recently, I do remember sometimes watching Roller Derby on TV on Saturdays when I was growing up. My memory says it was skaters going around and around a banked track that meant skaters were often bumped over the side of the track

The whole thing was pretty far out of the realm of my little farm girl world, but roller derby was popular enough in the late 1950s and '60s that it was broadcast on several television networks. In the reading I did on the subject I found that the derby was scripted and adapted to increase its appeal to the viewing public, but instead viewership declined. It turns out it was about as real as professional wrestling (better known as rassling) was at that same time.

Well, that was about the last contact I had with roller derby. Until this winter, that is. Last weekend we attended our third women's roller derby bout (don't call it a game or a match) in Des Moines. And, believe me, it's nothing like any other sport I've ever watched. I understand just a little bit of it now.

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For starters, even the fans are interesting to watch. Outrageous is the word that comes to mind. They come in all ages and sizes, and yes, there are some garden variety folks, too, like you'd see in the suburbs or the grocery store. Many of them had a cow bell to ring loud and long when the play on the track got especially exciting.

Then there are the players, all of whom are required to wear protective equipment along with team jerseys and helmets. Just like other team sport, jerseys have a number - a good thing because it's difficult as a spectator to identify a specific skater as she zooms by. They come in a variety of sizes, too, and I was impressed with their athleticism that allows them to take many laps around the track in warm-ups before the bout even starts. Heck, even the stretching they do to warm up is pretty amazing.

Besides, you kind of have to like skaters with roller derby pseudonym names like Dinah Soars, Hot Whips Houlihan, Wackajawea, and Wrecknologic. A team has 12-14 members, all amateurs who in real life are teachers, nurses, office workers-as diverse as the general public.

And all are accustomed to a kind of do-it-yourself approach to this unique sport. No one is paid, including referees and officials, and skaters supply their own uniforms and equipment. My research said that it was this approach that got roller derby back on its feet in the early 2000s after its popularity died out in the 1960s.

I say good for them. Skate on.



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