After watching Drew Barrymore’s surprisingly good film Whip It several months ago, I had roller derby on my mind. A couple of weeks earlier I had been in Toronto for the city’s International Film Festival, and watched as they constructed an outdoor rink to be played on as promotion for that film. A few months later Buffalo Spree did a cover story on Buffalo’s own league, the Queen City Roller Girls. So, with a cursory knowledge of the rules and scoring system thanks to Ellen Page and company, I jumped at the opportunity to see the fun in person. Enter Bout Two in the 2010 season: The Suicidal Saucies vs. the Nickel City Knockouts.Rainbow Rink
in North Tonawanda was electric, with a sold-out crowd of mostly die-hard derby fans. All ages were represented around the rink, some sitting on folding chairs, others standing in the back, or even residing on bleachers set up in the corners. Definitely a fan-friendly event, the announcers get into it from the get-go, adding a bit of personality as they brought out both teams. (I half expect to hear, "Let's get ready to rumble!") Each team has twenty-plus players, with monikers such as Legs Luther, B’kini Whacks, Crazy Legs, and Little Orphan Angry. There are five referees skating around the middle, making sure the hits are clean and elbows are kept in check—something that didn’t happen. The scoring is astronomical, with this match seeing the Saucies double up on their opponents after compiling over 200 points.
Consisting of two thirty-minute periods (why not call them halves?), the game clock runs continuously and keeps the pace fast and intense. Supposedly, there is a penalty box, and I know that the color commentator mentioned players getting caught for infractions, but I had no idea if there were fewer players out there, because the carnage never lets up. The jammer is center to it all as the point getter. She has to travel through all the other players—pivots and a pack of blockers—on the rink during their jam; a point is earned for each opponent left behind. Just now I learned online that the lead jammer—she who beats the pack first—can stop the jam whenever she wants before the two-minute time is up. This explains a lot, since I couldn’t figure out why some jams were longer than others, or why the jammers often kept placing their hands on their hips, as though it was some sort of taunt.
It’s pretty cool when you attend a niche sport like this and can easily get caught up in it all. Right from the first jam, the fans of the respective teams cheered on their girls and reacted to what was going on. This is a huge help in learning the rules, too; seeing what was happening and listening to the crowd helped me find out what moves were good, and what were not. There are also those fans out simply for a beer and a good time. They kept their boisterous applause for the times an athlete hit the deck or got checked over the neon blue out-of-bounds line. One Knockout did end up leaving the playing field with a pretty bad limp, although she came out for the second period to sit on the bench and cheer her teammates on. These girls have hockey player mentalities—you aren’t getting them off the rink unless a bone is coming through the skin or you're thrown out for causing your opponent's compound fracture.
Each girl has her own personality, playing to the crowd and talking and smiling before each jam begins. There are tattoos galore, piercings left and right, and more fishnets than a midnight Rocky Horror screening. But don’t disrespect and assume these players are head-cases, or scary. Sure, they compete hard and take a loss to heart, but I’ve never seen a more jovial group just having a blast—shaking hands after the match, talking amongst opponents during second period warm-ups, and constantly waving to friends and family in the audience. The whole affair is quite good-natured, with candy throwing to the crowd, bread loaf tossing at the half (I think it was bread), a raffle, and even theAlison Pipitone Band
playing during the break from a stage erected at the side of the rink.
The high-paced action lends itself to indoor lacrosse comparisons. I’ve been to a Bandits game and that atmosphere is insane, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, during the course of this season and next, the Queen City Roller Girls begin to cultivate that same type of consistent rowdiness. In fact, this night sold out in advance, which shows how strong the word-of-mouth is. Tons of people were left out in the cold without admittance, many asking ticket holders for any extras they might have at the front doors. With tickets only $12 general admission or $17 front row pre-sale, you really can’t go wrong attending a bout. But be safe and order online or through one of the league’s affiliates beforehand … You won’t be disappointed.
Queen City Roller Girls:http://qcrg.net/
for ticket info, schedule, and rosters.