Rat City

by Matt Ruff on March 28, 2012

Re-AnimateHer © 2012 Frank Blau Photography

So, I have a new favorite sport.

In January, my friend Frank Blau got me a trackside seat for the season-opening bout of the Rat City Rollergirls roller derby league. I had a great time and have been raving about it ever since, so last Saturday night I went back with Lisa and a bunch of our friends, and now they’re all raving about it too.

For those of you who missed Whip It, roller derby is a contact sport that combines elements of speed skating and rugby with a biker bar/Rocky Horror Picture Show aesthetic. It’s played on an oval track that can be flat or banked. Each team fields five players at a time: a jammer (easy to spot because of the big star on her helmet), who scores points by lapping the other team’s skaters, and a pivot and three blockers, who collectively form a pack that tries to stop the opposing jammer. In blocking, contact is supposed to be limited to the hips, torso, and upper arms, but fouls are common, and it’s not unusual for both teams to have one or more players in the penalty box. Part of the strategy is knowing how to play shorthanded—or press the advantage when you’ve got the other team outnumbered.

And yes, there is strategy. It would certainly be possible to run derby as a staged spectacle like professional wrestling, and the Rat City league does have elements of that, like the costumes and the player names—”Anya Heels,” “Betty Ford Galaxy,” “Foxy Throwdown,” “Tempura Tantrum“—but out on the track they play for real.

Anya Heels (2nd from left) gets missile lock on jammer Skate Pauli Girl © 2012 Frank Blau Photography

Saturday night’s second match-up, between league champs Grave Danger and the Derby Liberation Front, was particularly amazing. With less than fifteen minutes to go, the DLF were down by 35 points. Then Grave Danger’s jammer got sent to the penalty box and the DLF went on a 29-point scoring rampage, after which the two teams were neck-and-neck to the end, with Grave Danger just managing to stay ahead for a 122-117 win. One of my friends who’d initially been a little skeptical about derby pronounced this the most exciting game he’d ever seen.

Nehi Nightmare (right) tries to pass Kamikaze Kim while Avihater looks on © 2012 Frank Blau Photography

If you’d like to check it out, Rat City’s next bout is on April 21st at Seattle’s Key Arena. The league championships are on May 19th. General admission for adults is $14 in advance, or if you want to splurge, you can get a trackside seat for $37. If you really want to get close to the action, the league is holding player tryouts this Saturday, March 31st, and a referee clinic on April 1st. And if you’d like to see more game photos, visit Frank Blau’s website (thanks, Frank!).

Update: Via @TheAuthorGuy, the International Rollergirls’ Master Roster—apparently, every player’s derby name must be unique. Hours of punning entertainment here.

Update #2: As Josh notes in comments, tickets are cheaper if you buy them from the Key Arena box office or from Fast Girl Skates in Wallingford, and adult general admission tickets from those outlets are buy four, get a fifth one free.

Kates March 28, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Good article, it’s great to see new fans become so enamoured of the sport. However, the next Rat City bout is on April 21st, not the 24th, just mentioning so readers know.

Matt Ruff March 28, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Oops! Fixed.

Josh March 28, 2012 at 6:02 pm

It’s worth noting that you can save a fair amount of money on tickets by buying your tickets either at the KeyArena box office or at Fast Girl Skates in Wallingford — they don’t charge the Ticketmaster fees there, and if you’ve got a group of folks going you can buy five tickets for the price of four at those locations.

I’ll be up in the Throttle Rockets (perpetual underdogs) fan section, cheering for Luna Negra, who is amazing.

Matt Ruff March 28, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Yeah, we got our tickets from the Key box office.

And I agree about Luna Negra, but I’ll be rooting for Grave Danger.

Loco Chanel March 28, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Matt–

Thanks so much for coming (and raving about us to your friends! and coming back!) and I’m thrilled you had a good time at the game on Saturday!

Hope to see you again in April!

xo,
Loco Chanel #37
Grave Danger

Matt Ruff March 28, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Thanks for the awesome bout!

CynicalGuy March 29, 2012 at 10:03 am

Matt, I recommend that you and your friends check out Rat City’s all-star bouts in June and July–you’ll get the best in quality derby as the best of Rat City’s skaters will be skating against the best skaters from another league’s all star team.

Also consider going to a regional tournament and or the WFTDA Championship Tournament–the best and most exciting roller derby in the country will be on display and you won’t be disappointed.

Turd Fergusson March 29, 2012 at 11:17 am

These bouts also have the most amazing music! Who ever thought they would go to Key Arena and hear Hank III or The Accused or Agent Orange or Slayer over the loudspeakers. Sometimes I think I could go just to her that girl play records.

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