Aug. 30th, 2010

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Last night I went to see Cat O'Mighty and her roller derby team, the Panty Linebackers, which is part of Central Mass Roller Derby. They were in an intrasquad match with CMRD's other team, the Switchblade Sallies. (Members of the two combine as the Petticoat Punishers for matches against other leagues.) The evening also featured a match between two men's teams, the Mass Maelstrom (part of CMRD) and the Connecticut Death Quads.

First, for the skeptics among you, modern roller derby is a real sport, requiring strategy, tactics, and athletic ability. The bouts I saw were played under the rules of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association, although CMRD is not currently a member league of WFTDA. Yes, the men also compete under those rules; the Death Quads are part of the Men's Derby Coalition.

Each bout is a series of two minute jams. In a jam there are four blockers from each team, who skate in a pack, and one jammer from each team who starts behind the pack. The jammer scores points by passing the skaters of the opposing team; the first passing doesn't count for points, the jammer has to pass them a second, third, etc. time to score. The blockers (and sometimes the opposing jammer) try to prevent the jammer from passing; they can do this by simply getting in the way, or by permitted types of contact. (Basically body checks are OK; elbowing, headbutting, and tripping are not.) Players can be penalized for illegal contact, and the jammers can also be removed for going out of bounds without being pushed out. Penalized players go to the penalty box for a minute, which means that their team is playing short-handed; no more than two blockers can be in the box at one time, if there are more penalties the additional ones are deferred until later. The jammer can also go into the box, in which case the other team has a Power Jam; the opportunity to score with no concern for points scored by the opposition. (There are a few more subtleties to the rules; you can read more about the game on the CMRD site.)

The men were up first, and in the bout I saw the athleticism of the jammers seemed to be the main factor. Although the blockers tried to prevent it, the jammers on both teams combined speed and athletic ability to get around the blocking. The primary jammers from both teams (Muchacho del Oro and Peter Rottentail from the Maelstrom, Cirkle Jerk and Poster of Muppets from the Death Quads) were all extraordinary skaters, sometimes leaping over and around other skaters to pass the pack. The Maelstron fell badly behind in the first half (the fact that the talented Muchacho del Oro spent a lot of time in the penalty box didn't help) but rallied in the second half for a closely fought win.

The women were up after an intermission. In this bout blocking was a bigger factor, as most of the jammers didn't have the combination of speed, size, and leaping ability to just skate around the blocks. (The notable exception was Space Invader of the Sallies; when she was on the rink and the Sallies were not shorthanded, all the Linebackers could do was limit the damage.) The blockers did a lot of work, both in obstructing the opposing jammer and in aiding their own. Of course I HAD come to see one of the blockers which might have colored my impression a bit; when Cat O'Mighty was on the rink, she made good use of her size and strength. The pattern of this game echoed the earlier one; the Linebackers fell behind badly in the first half but rallied for a narrow victory, aided by a series of penalties taken by the Sallies in the second half.

You can see a few pictures of the event on my Flickr photostream.

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