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What is Roller Derby?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 23, 2024
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Roller Derby is a contact sport played by professional teams as well as amateur teams. It has turned into mostly a sport for women players. The rules vary between leagues, but usually two teams of five players each skate pack-style counter-clockwise around a thin track. The two positions in Roller Derby are blockers and jammers, and the pivots are blockers that set the initial pace at the start of the derby.

Jammers in Roller Derby try to get through the pack and the first one who does is the lead jammer. The lead jammer has the right to stop the jam, and the decision to do so is considered a strategic one. Points are scored when the jammers go through the pack a second time. Blockers do their best to stop the opposing jammers, but they also have to help their own jammers move through the pack by doing what is known as whipping. Whipping means pulling or pushing the jammers, and the jam is over either when it is called off by the lead jammer, or when a set period of time is reached, such as two minutes.

The sports entertainment style of Roller Derby has its roots in the Transcontinental Roller Derby that was started by film publicist Leo Seltzer in 1935. Pairs of skaters lapped around a track in 11 1/2 hours every day to try to skate the equivalent of the approximate distance between Los Angeles and New York City. Seltzer took his event to different cities and charged spectators admission. Eventually, the show turned into the sport we know today, as new rules and strategies kept being added.

The International Roller Speedway, sometimes called Roller-Catch, started touring Europe and the Philippines in 1937 — two years after Seltzer's event. Other roller teams started up in the 1960s, but Seltzer's Roller Derby, then run by Leo's son Jerry since the late 1950s, was the only one that was ever really popular. It lasted until 1973 when they closed it down, claiming high overhead costs. Attempts to bring the sport back were not really much of a success until the early 21st century when Roller Derby teams, mostly women's teams, began forming in many North American cities.

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Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On May 29, 2014

I have a co-worker who does roller derby. She's come in to work with some pretty big bruises, and sore, but she says she really enjoys it and she skates with a good group of ladies.

It looks a little too rough for me. I'm not really interested in contact sports, but apparently, my co-worker has a good time. She said the best part is they're not looking for Hooters girls -- they really prefer bigger women because they need people not easily bowled over. Makes sense to me.

By Pippinwhite — On May 28, 2014

There's actually a roller derby club near me and I've honestly thought about joining! They say they'll even teach members to roller skate, so it could be a consideration. You can even get used roller derby skates, which will make it cheaper to join, according to the club.

It looks like a lot of fun and may be a good way to work off some aggression. If I thought I could handle it, I'd really go out for the team. Don't know that I'd tell too many people, though.

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