- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

DOWNINGTOWN, Pa. (AP) - Ten women wearing skates, kneepads, elbow pads, mouth guards and helmets are lined up, and when the whistle blows the game will start with a lot of pushing, shoving and hitting while the women simultaneously skate around the track.

“You have to have an element of adventure. You can’t be frightened by things. There is no such thing as a timid roller derby player,” said Kath Poehler, or Coach Hot Wheels, who coaches the Brandywine Roller Girls. “You have to be bold. Most of us end up being really ‘type A’ so we’re very driven. We’re very intense people.”

While the sport dates back to the 1930s, its resurgence started about 10 years ago in Texas. The Brandywine Roller Girls who practice in Caln formed four years ago, and the Buxmont Roller Derby Dolls who practice in Hatfield started last year. Both groups are comprised of three teams which accommodate for different skill levels.

“It’s a sisterhood,” said Trisha Jones, president and co-founder of the Buxmont Dolls. “It’s uplifting; it’s empowering; it’s a spirit of family.”

Roller derby competitions are known as bouts, which are broken up into segments known as jams.

“There are two teams. When a jam starts on the track there are four blockers and one jammer from each team,” said Jenifer Harris, a member of the Brandywine Roller Girls. “The goal of each team is to get their jammer through first so they can start scoring points.”

A jammer is the only one that can score points, and once she breaks through the pack she scores points by passing blockers on the opposing team.

“Jammers have to keep going around the pack because you want to score more than just one point off each player,” said Poehler. “So you want to go around as many times as you possibly can.”

Each jam is two minutes long, but it can end sooner if the lead jammer calls it. A jammer earns lead jammer by being the first jammer to break through the pack without committing any penalties.

“That person can actually strategically call off the jam at any point,” said Poehler.

After one jam ends, the teams have 30 seconds to line up for the next jam. There are as many jams as time allows within a 30-minute period and there are two periods per bout.

“It is a complicated and very fast paced game,” said Poehler.

While the jammers’ goal is to earn points for the team, the four blockers on each team work offensively to help their jammer and defensively to stop the opposing jammer.

“It’s similar to basketball in the sense that you play offense and defense simultaneously,” said Poehler. “So as a teammate you are trying all at once to get your jammer through the pack plus deny the opposing jammer from getting through.”

Most leagues play according to Women’s Flat Track Derby Association rules, including the Buxmont Dolls and the Brandywine Roller Girls. However, teams must meet certain guidelines in order to be a full member of the association. One of the three teams within the Brandywine Roller Girls was accepted as a full member in December, but none of the three teams within the Buxmont Dolls has been accepted yet.

The women who play Roller Derby are also known by their derby name. Poehler is also Coach Hot Wheels, Jones is Betty B. Prayin’ and Harris is Jen Hex. Some women choose their name, and others are given a name.

“Some people end up being given a name because of something they do when they are trying out,” said Harris. “I picked my name.”

The women are supposed to register their name with the international registry and shouldn’t have the same name as another player who is in the area. However, since the sport is growing so quickly players aren’t following that protocol as strictly, said Poehler.

“Your name is a rite of passage, so you only get to keep your derby name once you have gone through your scrimmages and you’ve passed all of your assessments,” said Poehler.

It will take about three months for a new derby player to get to that point because there is a lot to learn, Poehler said. But the sport has drawn a lot of women in recent years, and the fans love it too. The Buxmont Dolls‘ rink holds 500 people and their bouts have sold out, said Jones.

“I think that it’s finally a sport that doesn’t diminish women because we can absolutely dish out painful, effective hits. And there’s not too many opportunities that women ever get to do that. Field hockey is modified, lacrosse is modified, hockey is modified,” said Poehler. “All of these sports are modified because women supposedly can’t do this stuff, and we absolutely can.”





Information from: Daily Local News, https://www.dailylocal.com

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