Thursday, November 18, 2010

Roll Players

I had no idea that this 'sport' still existed.  I thought that Roller Derby was something from the 50's and 60's and was about as legit as Pro Wrestling. Then today, I read this in the sports page.

Anyone who's ever witnessed a Lakers game or an Ultimate Fighting Championship would vouch for the comic book excesses of today's athletic endeavors. Probably began with Babe Ruth. And devolved into Chad Ochocinco.
But never mind that right now, for we have found something purer, perhaps, near downtown, at a banked-track roller derby league known as L.A. Derby Dolls. Once, sometimes twice a month, some 2,000 people turn out to watch these tough puppies fly around the rink in unstaged athletic competition that is twice as ornery as any hockey game. You think the NFL bleeds violence? Ladies and gentledudes, meet the Derby Dolls.

Roller derby? Really? Yeah, that's been going on right under your radar at this converted warehouse in Echo Park. Beginning in 2001, the sport's organizers contend, roller derby abandoned most of its canned-ham shtick in exchange for actual athletic competition in which one woman, known as "the jammer," tries to whipsaw-fly-bounce-jounce-somersault-squeeze-elbow-scrape-scratch-claw-cuss her way through the opposing team, gaining a point for every player she passes. Raquel Welch did this once in the movies, as did Ellen Page more recently. "CSI: Miami" is here this week to film some of the mayhem for an upcoming episode.

Is roller derby reborn? Maybe. Today, it is a rapidly growing and affordable alternative to the average sports experience. Is roller derby legitimate? Lay down your 20 bucks and decide.

Listen, all I know is that if flying bodies were whisky, modern roller derby would be Charlie Sheen.

Tonight's center of attention is one Judy Gloom. Librarian by day, roller derby diva by night. She's one of those jammers, which means she flings herself through the scrum about 20 times a night. Hell on wheels, this little Glendale librarian.

Tonight's center of attention is one Judy Gloom. Librarian by day, roller derby diva by night. She's one of those jammers, which means she flings herself through the scrum about 20 times a night. Hell on wheels, this little Glendale librarian.

"Go, Judy, go!" the public address announcer intones, and the crowd gobbles up the chant.

Judy's going, all right ... past an opposing skater, the wicked Long Island Lolita, and right into another, Fleetwood Smack. Obviously, some cheeseball remnants of the sport's early days remain.

Gloom herself is uncomfortable by all the extra attention at this, her going-away party. She is, after all, a librarian in real life, not some chest-thumping NFL pork chop with self-esteem issues.

Since 2004, she has trained three times a week and led the Flight Crew, one of five teams in the year-round L.A. league. She has spun around the track a million times, done duty as the league's PR person, all for what? Nada. The skaters do this for free, as do a lot of the support staff.

"I'm doing this for the sport, for the competition," she explains, as if that's any reason to perform athletically.

For Gloom, 31, roller derby was also a way to connect with people in L.A. when she moved here from Phoenix. She'd always skated — "a rink rat," as a kid — so when she spotted the Craigslist ad for roller derby skaters, she'd found instant family.

It also helped her grow up a little, she confesses, to become more sure of herself and well-rounded. While she skated a lot as a kid, she'd never competed in sports, content instead to lose herself in books.

Soon, the left brain was feeding the right brain, the vegetarian was becoming a carnivore, and the librarian was becoming someone not to mess with.

"I'm kind of an aggressive librarian," she says of her double life. "But as skaters go, I'm kind of shy."

Hers is the story within the story of the Derby Dolls, a decidedly unglamorous but endearing sport that packs the plywood bleachers with folks in search of something different on a Saturday night.

The "bouts" are broken into four 15-minute quarters. Before the game, there are craft booths to browse and a live band to enjoy. At halftime, more music, pizza and Tecate beer. This is minimalist sports, a crazy roadhouse atmosphere with mostly 25- to 35-year-olds but many spectators twice as old.

It's sort of the anti-L.A. scene, the polar-opposite of blingy Staples. There's a guy in a lobster suit, for example, leading cheers. Neither the teams, nor the league, has any sort of seafood connection, but the regular mascot didn't show one day a couple of years ago, so the guy in the lobster suit got the gig. He's been around ever since.

That's the Derby Dolls.

"There's not one type of people here," says fan Joel Mandelkorn, who likes to bring out-of-town guests to this warehouse on Temple Street. "It's one of those things that, once you know about it, you're always telling people."

Consider yourself told.

You can follow this link to see a short video,

Ladies?  Lace up your skates!!!


Terry's Tete-a-tete said...

Used to watch it all the time in my teen years. We have it in our little town, but on a flat track and lesser scale, but I heard it's growing.

Laoch of Chicago said...

One likes female roller derby.

Ramblingon said...

I haven't seen anything like that for awhile. Looks like it's just as rough as it ever was.

Beth said...

I remember roller derby. I thought it was silly. Jim liked to watch it though. LOL

prairiegirl said...

You know, I think they just had a roller derby thing here this past weekend, when Gene Simmons and his wife were here filming an episode of their tv show.

I'd have taken my kids but god only knows what my 14 year old would have said or done......hahaha

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