A New Type of Jamming
DC Athletes Dominate Roller Derby Scene
Published: Friday, October 12, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 11, 2012 17:10
The players roll out onto the track decked out in bright colors and full of excitement. They play roller derby, the fastest-growing contact sport for women, according to ESPN. They’re fierce competitors who must be speedy, strong and energetic in order to win. But the women who play this sport as amateurs lead different lives during the day.
This action-packed roller skating game secured a place in the entertainment world after it was featured in the 2009 movie Whip It and is now being considered for the 2020 Olympics. The sport has also gained popularity in Washington, D.C., with the D.C. Rollergirls league
Roller derby combines athleticism, speed and strategy. Moving on roller skates, two teams of five members each play the game, called a bout, while skating in the same direction around a track. There are a series of “jams,” during which each team’s jammer, a single-point-scoring skater identified by a star on her helmet cover, attempts to skate laps around the opposing team. Every time she passes a person, her team scores a point. Each jam ends when one team’s jammer laps every member of the opposing team. Throughout the jam, teammates try to clear the way for their jammer and block the other team’s jammer from scoring. In this way, the skaters play defense and offense concurrently.
The DCRG is the only flat track female roller derby league in the D.C. area. This league comprises four home teams — Scare Force One, DC DemonCats, Majority Whips and the Cherry Blossom Bombshells — and one travel team, the All Stars, made up of the best players from the four home teams. The league also sponsors a secondary interleague travel team, the Skaters on Tap, which has a rotating roster for players who cannot commit time to the All Stars.
The league started in 2006 and played its first public bout in 2007 at the Dulles SportsPlex. Currently, the DCRG has 65 members, who range in age from their early 20s to mid-40s. According to Majority Whips player and DCRG Media Chair Emily Gerston, some of these members have come to the sport as novices and others as experienced skaters, but all have an unbridled passion on the track.
“It is tough to determine whether one player is better than another because roller derby has so many positions … but really, all [of our] skaters bring something special to the league,” she said.
By day, most of these women work as nurses, teachers, lawyers, marine biologists, editors, writers and artists. On nights and weekends, however, they become fierce roller derby players and are known by personalized names.
“Outside of roller derby, [these women] would not encounter each other … we have to come together to make this thing work, and we have a do-it-yourself mentality in everything we do,” Gerston said.
To become a member of the team, athletes must be at least 18 years old and have health insurance. If they make the first cut of tryouts, the DCRG offers an annual training boot camp, called the Fresh Meat Camp, to improve and perfect their skills. Once accepted into the league, new members are required to attend two practices a week for 12 weeks and volunteer as trainers, schedulers, promoters, advertisers and fundraisers for the league.
As the Media Chair, Gerston supervises a committee that aims to spread the word about DCRG. Overseeing tasks like buying advertisement space in newspapers and radio shows and finding sponsors, Gerston serves as the first point of contact for anything media-related.
“It’s an interesting job, we’ve come a long way in a short time, and I’m always on my toes,” she said.
Gerston, who joined the league in 2010 after moving to the District from San Jose, Calif., discovered and fell in love with the sport during college when she found herself with free time.
“I was bored … and I found myself on a Saturday night with nothing to do. [I] looked around, said ‘What’s this roller derby thing,’ checked it out and was totally hooked ... I [even] wrote my thesis on roller derby as well.”
Working for a D.C. newspaper outside of the derby, Gerston’s skating persona is “The Oxford Commakaze,” a nickname that she says reflects her love for copy editing. According to Gerston, players can have their names designated to them by their teammates or can choose them based on personality traits or individual hobbies. Other skaters in the league go by “Hoova Dayum” and “Dual Hitizen.”
The DCRG strives not only to cultivate a sense female empowerment among its members but also to promote enthusiasm for roller derby as an athletic activity.
“Roller derby is a sport. … It has an image of entertainment, but it is one of the most intensely athletic and strategic sports I’ve seen and played in my life ... it’s mindblowing,” Gerston said.