All posts by KC Carr

3 Ridiculous Things You Probably Believe About Roller Derby

Who among us has been to a WFTDA or OSDA bout and didn’t love absolutely every moment of it? And for those who raised their hands, how many of you also delight in the deaths of puppies and baby woodland animals?

Roller derby is one of the few sports that just about anyone can enjoy. It’s fast-paced, exciting, easy to follow once you’ve learned a few basics (just like any other sport), and it is, in my opinion, one of the most affordable sporting experiences available today, dollar-for-dollar. That’s referring to tickets, mind you; by the time the bouts are over, you’ll want so many t-shirts, stickers, patches, hoodies, caps, and key chains that you’ll probably wonder where the “affordable” part went.

But it’s also one of the least-understood sports in the country, and given the flamboyant history of roller derby dating back to the wild and crazy 70s, it’s no wonder. Those who were around then can remember the spectacle, and even those who weren’t have probably seen the footage. Here, then, are four of the silliest misconceptions making the rounds today about women’s flat track roller derby.

Myth #1: The games are staged, and the outcomes are pre-determined.

The reality:
The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association is nothing like the roller derby of the 70s, when Raquel Welch dazzled us in Kansas City Bomber. Obvious differences aside — like the presence of a flat track instead of the banked track Welch skated on — the games (and fights) actually were staged back then and the outcomes decided in advance, much like present-day professional wrestling. But those days are long gone.

Yeah, no.

Likewise, the Old School Derby Association (OSDA) skates under a slightly different set of rules, but the parallels remain: even though there is an element of spectacle and the skaters adopt tough, almost cartoonish monikers under which they compete, the fact remains that the roller derby of today is a real sport.

The official WFTDA rule book is a quarter-inch thick (and costs eight dollars to buy), complete with penalties, parameters for ejection, and “zones of engagement,” which I still haven’t figured out. It can take years of experience to really grasp the minutiae of the game, and by then, the rules have been revised slightly and there’s more to learn. But the point is, anyone who’s afraid they’re in for a WWE-style fake-fest is in for a shock, because there are games to be won — and believe me, these girls are in it to win it. Best get out the way.

Myth #2: The players make good money doing this.

The reality:
Actually, it’s quite the opposite.

The WFTDA is a not-for-profit international governing body of women’s flat track roller derby; none of the skaters get paid for their participation. Players must pay for their own equipment, medical treatment (when necessary), travel expenses, and all incidentals related thereto including meals, hotels, and so forth. They pay monthly dues to the league and are required to participate in committees that organize fundraisers, event planning, rulebook changes, marketing, and merchandising — all without a paycheck. It can (and often does) amount to an enormous time commitment, but there’s hardly a one in the bunch who would say it isn’t worth it.

The women who participate have full-time jobs, families, spouses/partners, children, and bills to pay just like all of us. The fact that they’re infinitely more bad ass than we are doesn’t mean the electric company just looks the other way. Although I would, if I worked there. Who wants to incur the wrath of a derby girl?

Go ahead and count me out.

Myth #3: It’s basically a fight on wheels.

The reality:
Did I mention there’s an actual game being played? As rough as the game of roller derby can be, some of you would be positively shocked by the kinds of physical contact they can’t make: elbows, punching, tripping, kicking, even shoving. All of the above would likely result in an ejection from the game on the basis of gross misconduct. The rulebook is very specific on the kinds of blocking allowed, the body parts players can block with, and the legal target zones, i.e. the parts of opposing players’ bodies you can hit. If you’re still stuck on the similarities between roller derby and pro wrestling, you may just want to get it out of your system now:

Now that you’ve seen that (fun) mess, go to our YouTube page at and compare it to any one of our game videos. Except that you can’t, because there is no comparison.

The level of sportsmanship displayed by players in the WFTDA is unparalleled. I’ve seen fights in baseball, basketball, football, hockey, soccer, and even tennis, but I have never, ever seen a fight at a WFTDA bout — and I’ve seen bouts in Kansas City, Los Angeles, Omaha, Des Moines, and Houston. That kind of sportsmanship is pretty extraordinary when you consider the level of physical contact and competition these ladies experience on the track. Unsportsmanlike conduct that leads to violence is so rare in this particular league that when it does happen, fans give it a name like “The Punch Heard ‘Round the Derby World,” or something equally cheesy. Because it just doesn’t happen.

And so on. And so on. On top of everything else, every event is billed “family-friendly,” and I regularly see kids of every age at the games. If that doesn’t change your mind, we probably can’t help you anyway.

Some parting thoughts on the Show-me Der-B-Q

Having attended 15 of the 17 games at this weekend’s Show-Me Der-B-Q at Municipal Auditorium (and only missing the two because of a death in the family), I came away with several impressions I’d like to share, both of the bouts themselves and of the dominant teams in the South Central Region. It was a fantastic weekend of derby, some games were much more intense than others, and I have to say, I learned quite a bit myself.

1. Competition really exists at the top.

First, and this is bound to be disputed by some, I was shocked by how few national-caliber teams there appear to be this season in the South Central Region. If you look at this weekend’s tournament results, the list of teams capable of competing on the national level appears to be exactly two names deep:  (#1)Kansas City and (#2)Texas. Any seeds lower than that, and it will only be a shootout when they’re playing each other. For instance, the game between (#2)Texas and (#3)Nashville on Saturday was billed as the game of the day; it was bound to be a clash of the titans once teams seeded that high got around to playing each other, right?

Except that Nashville got squashed, as did (#4)Atlanta when they played (#1)Kansas City later that day. And that seemed to be the theme that ran through most of the tournament: when the lower seeds meet, you might see some close games and a few upsets, but once you start climbing the ranks into the higher seeds, more and more blowouts begin to ensue.

Hell, even the game between (#3)Nashville and (#4)Atlanta on the final day of the tournament was a snoozer. Nashville thrashed Atlanta by 175 points and held them to only 1 point in the entire second half. Clearly, there’s a gulf that exists even amongst some of the higher-ranked teams in the region, and it’s no wonder people are left with impressions like this:

“I’m really proud of our team and our region. I think a lot of people underestimate the North and South Central Regions, but we’re really coming up. I’m so proud to be going to Championships with Kansas City and Nashville.”
— Texas co-captain Bloody Mary

(quote courtesy of

The problem with this statement is that no one appears to be underestimating anything. Kansas City and Texas mow everyone down, and the lower seeds are left to squabble over the sandbox. I certainly don’t intend to insult anyone’s efforts or competitive spirit, but when you start looking at teams on the national level (Gotham, Oly, Rocky Mountain, Kansas City), a person really has to wonder how long a team like Nashville would even last in next month’s championship tournament — and they were seeded third. Anytime the third seed gets pummeled so handily by a team one seed higher, you can pretty well forget anyone seeded below them, particularly from a national perspective.

Hopefully, in the seasons to come, the regional bracket won’t be dominated over (and entirely decided by) what kind of day the top seeds are having. Ideally, I’d love to see a tournament in which any one of the ten teams could compete on the national level — but I realize that’s “ideally.”

2. My love for the Omaha Rollergirls is only limited by my love for Kansas City.

Take a look at this…

… and tell me you don’t absolutely love the Omaha Rollergirls. To begin with, that’s Auntie Embolism on the left, formerly of the Kansas City Black Eye Susans (the greatest of the KC house teams, win-loss record be damned). On the right, that’s Anna Maniac, star jammer for Omaha and possibly the most underrated player in the division. She is to the Omaha Rollergirls as Mike Sweeney was to the Kansas City Royals — a star player on a middle-of-the-road team who would stand out wherever she went, but who may never get the recognition she deserves simply due to geographic location.

More importantly than any of this, though… just look at ’em. When this photo was taken, the Omaha Rollergirls hadn’t won a damn game all weekend. [Editor’s note: they would lose their remaining game as well.] But their team pride and their competitive spirits hadn’t diminished one little bit, and my friends, that is what roller derby is really about. The true spirit of the WFTDA lives in many cities, and Omaha is by no means the least of them.

3. The Kansas City-Texas game was closer than the score reflects.

The Texas Rollergirls wound up winning the South Central Region title by 40 points, and that’s not a huge margin, but it still doesn’t accurately reflect the intensity of the game on a whole.

When the tournament began on Friday, Texas left me with the impression that they were a one- or two-trick pony — they relied extremely heavily on star jammer Olivia Shootin’ John to the exclusion of nearly every other jammer on the team, with the possible exception of Vicious van GoGo, who saw more and more action as the tournament progressed. But given the team’s over-use of John, particularly in the second game against Nashville on Saturday, one wonders where they would be if she were to be injured and Texas had only GoGo and their stellar defense to guide them. I dare say they would not have defeated Kansas City, and indeed, Nashville would have been a much bigger problem, even taking into account the 143-point victory that Texas eventually celebrated over them.

Kansas City, on the other hand, has a stellar defense as well, but they also boast an impressive array of jammers whose varying styles of play can only serve to confuse opponents. Hall Balls, clearly the best of the bunch, sports a quiet, understated, graceful style of ass-kicking that simply doesn’t alert the opposing team to the threat they face. Up-and-coming jammer Jade Lightning also seems to have adopted this approach and will likely achieve a similar level of success with the proper experience. By contrast, dynamic jammers Track Rat and Kelley Young are like a rain of fire, storming the pack and breaking through like the Kool-Aid man whether anyone’s thirsty or not.

Drink up, bitches.

Strong, lanky jammer Case Closed seems to be the most versatile of the bunch, capable of catching opposing blockers completely off guard with her unpredictable skating style and her ability to switch from Track Rat to Jade Lightning in the blink of an eye.

Facing down Kansas City, though, and working to their obvious disadvantage, was the penalty trouble that is the result of their naturally aggressive style of play. Too often, jams began with only two Kansas City defenders and sometimes no jammer, the missing skaters relegated to the box after much back-blocking and track-cutting ensued. At no point did Texas suffer from any comparable defensive disadvantage, and they enjoyed many more power jams than they should have as a result.

And while the two teams’ defensive strategies are similar, Kansas City’s jammers experienced an inexplicable difficulty breaking through the pack that Texas simply did not, by and large, and between that and the penalty trouble, it was just too much for the Wolfpack to overcome. They did surprisingly well in the face of all this, and their extremely sportsmanlike conduct on the track after the game was inspiring on a level that I have never witnessed in any other sport, professional or otherwise.

Kansas City, Texas, and Nashville move on to the WFTDA Championship Tournament next month in Denver, and I’m picking Gotham to win it all.