Don’t stop believing

By Sunny Montgomery

An hour before the bout and already a long line of fans were assembled at the arena entrance in anticipation of the Rollergirls’ of Central Kentucky’s (ROCK) home bout against the Gem City Rollergirls (GCRG) of Dayton, Ohio, the same Gem City who ROCK beat in 2007 for their very first victory.

Tonight was the team’s annual salute to the armed forces. Service members received door discounts and rollergirls challenging them to push-up competitions.  In the far corner, the 108th Army Band from Concord, North Carolina—dressed in fatigues and equipped with keyboards, saxophones, and guitars—played a loud and soulful rendition of “My Girl.” 

I took a seat at the track’s edge as ROCK began their warm-ups and the Army Band began its cover of the infamous “Tequila.”  I sipped beer and watched the rollergirls dance-skate their way around the track.  The team shimmied their shoulders and twirled in circles. One skater took her teammate by the wrists, whipped her forward, and sent her into a risky-business knee slide across the track.

My friend Vincent entered the arena, his first roller derby. I invited him to sit next to me.

Good advice

Photo by Jack King.

I think it is easy for newcomers to be intimidated by the roller derby.  The sport is fast-paced with lots of action and, as announcer Bill Widener always jokes, the rule book is 3,000 pages long.  My advice to Vincent was simple:  keep your eye on the Jammer and just surrender yourself to the spirit of the sport.

The whistle blew, signaling the bout’s start.  The pack was off.  At the second whistle, the jammers rocketed forward like firecrackers.  They bumped and shouldered their way though pack.  GCRG’s jammer pushed forward, was declared lead jammer then, almost instantly, called off the jam by tapping her wrists to her hips.  Vincent gave me a quizzical look and I shrugged.  Later, I learned, the strategy of calling off a jam early prevents the other team from scoring.  With ROCK’s Bitty Bast’rd on her heels, GCRG had decided not to risk it.

The bout remained anybody’s game throughout the first half.  At one point, GCRG was up by 45 points.  Ten minutes later the score was nearly tied.  The crowd was on the edge of its seat.  Beside me, Vincent—suddenly a veteran of the sport—hollered instructions at the skaters. “Inside!  Inside!”  He screamed.  The ref blew his whistle, signaling halftime.

“Good call,” Vincent assured him.

The score remained close during the second half until GCRG encountered a series of power jams.  A power jam occurs when one team’s jammer is sent to the penalty box thus allowing the residual jammer to rack up points with slow-play.  With ROCK’s jammer in the box, GCRG was able to score a whopping 39 points in a single jam, but ROCK fans did not lose hope.

The ROCK, the Wave and the Journey

In fact, their excitement grew.  I glanced around the arena.  It was easily the biggest turnout of the season.  ROCK’s hype-man, Darstrosity, led the audience in a rowdy cheer: Ooh R-O-C-K! ROCK! ROCK! ROCK!  We did the wave.  We screamed as loud as we could and when ROCK lost the bout 134 to 199, the fans remained undaunted.

After all, the final score is just one aspect of the roller derby.  So what if you don’t understand every foul called or every point scored?

When the 108th Army Band strikes up a Journey cover and the girls of ROCK rush the center track to lead the already-boisterous crowd in an improvised sing-a-long of “Don’t Stop Believing”—that is the spirit of the roller derby.

ROCK’s next home bout is August 11 at Heritage Hall.  Doors open at 6.  Bout begins at 7

 

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