Sunday, November 20, 2011

Internecine Battle

In their intra-league roller derby bout last night with the Corporal Punishers, the Major Pains, the one-year-old B-team of the Jerzey Derby Brigade based in Morristown, NJ, again proved they have come of age. To be sure, the Pains lost to the veteran A-team Punishers, but this time it was no walk-away. When up against the Punishers last spring, the inexperienced Pains took a 203-63 beating. (See my April blog Wheel Appeal .) The team continued to struggle, and had its worst night when it endured a 351-16 crushing at the hands of the Long Island Roller Rebels. Practice and perseverance paid off, though, and the Pains scored their first win (a solid one at that), against the New Brunswick Hellrazors two weeks ago. Last night the two Morristown teams were almost evenly matched – more so than is really reflected in the 156-106 final score in favor of the Corporal Punishers.

Syd Deuce (#2) again showed herself to be an exceptional jammer for the Punishers, not only exploiting holes in the opponents’ defense, but moving very fast when in the open and circling around to meet the pack again.. In the very first jam she broke through and quickly picked up 4 points for the Punishers, a feat she would repeat. Maggy Kyllanfall (#187) gave her usual strong performance for the Pains, in one jam racking up points on three passes through the pack. ASSault Shaker (#AK-47) and Inna Propriate (#8008) were notably effective and hard-hitting blockers for the Punishers as were Texas Bulldoz-her and Ginger-Ail for the Pains. At one point the Punishers employed the star pass, a tactic which is fairly obscure, but allowed by the rules: when in the pack the jammer can pass off the star helmet-cover (which indicates who is jammer) to the pivot (the lead blocker), a move which can confuse or bypass the opposing team’s blockers. ASSault Shaker, who started as pivot, took the star and went on to score points.

The Pains’ biggest weakness in the past had been blocking – individual skaters were fine but they often were scattered by opponents, leaving holes for the opposing jammer. That has been corrected. While the Punishers still had a slight edge with their defense, the walls, blocks and hits on both sides were well coordinated and none-too-gentle. Syd Deuce, while skating with her usual speed, took a particularly solid hit while overtaking the pack; she went down hard, slammed into the wall, and stayed down. Play halted while the paramedics attended. She was back on her feet in a few minutes but was out of the bout as the paramedics escorted her out, showing once again that, for all its theatrical elements, roller derby is a full contact sport. (I hope you’re OK, Syd.) The bout resumed and continued to be fought hard through the last jam, ending in a victory for the Punishers that had not been gained easily.

On a more personal note, when I was in school in the 60s (yes, the decade was real), I always watched professional roller derby, which regularly was broadcast on local stations (typically WOR or WPIX in the New York area). In 1972 I caught Kansas City Bomber in the theater, which remains my favorite Raquel Welch movie. (The wrist splint she wears in the movie is not a prop, by the way; Raquel broke her wrist in a skating fall.) Derby also was at the Coliseum in DC during my college years. I was sorry to see the professional leagues shut down when economics turned against them – Leo Seltzer, inventor of the sport, blamed the ‘70s fuel crisis and the associated transport costs as the final nails in the coffin.

What was the attraction of the sport? Well, partly it was the attraction of any spectator sport, and derby is a particularly fast-paced and exciting one. I would be lying, though, to deny that the rough-and-tumble playfulness of the derby girls had – and has – a special appeal. While in 2011 I may be just a bit superannuated to chase them (besides they’re awfully fast on quad skates), I still enjoy watching them on the track more than I do watching 280-pound men struggle over a football. The current revival in derby owes much to it being an all-women’s sport. (There are men’s and mixed leagues, but they haven’t gotten the same traction as women’s roller derby.)

Last night was the last bout of the season in Morristown, but I look forward to 2012.

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