The sport of roller derby was invented by Leo Seltzer in 1935, though the rules by which it is still played (with tweaks around the edges) weren’t settled until 1939. Originally it was a mixed gender sport with men and women alternating on the track. Despite winning loyal fans, the sport by the end of the 1970s had trouble staying commercial and the major professional teams folded. Though it never entirely disappeared, derby didn’t really regain traction until 2001 when it acquired new life in Texas with all-women’s teams – typically skated on flat tracks simply because they were more readily available. The revised format spread quickly to the rest of the country and internationally. Nowadays roller derby teams can be found almost everywhere. The fact that overwhelmingly they are smallish and local only adds to the enjoyment for local spectators. I’ve been following the nearby Morristown, NJ, teams for seven years, and still find it one of the most pleasant ways to spend a Saturday evening.
The 2017 season opened in Morristown last night for the New Jersey Roller Derby (NJRD) with a double header. The evening started with a junior division (ages 8 – 17) bout: NJRD Small Stars vs. Gotham Girls Tiny Terrors. It was followed by an intraleague adult bout of the NJRD, which divided itself into two teams for the evening (Blue Bombers vs Betty Whites), largely for the purpose of introducing and putting to the test its expanded roster of skaters. (NJRD’s first interleague bout of the season will be with the Jersey Shore Roller Girls next month.)
In the juniors bout the NJRD girls took an early lead with jammers Alice in Horrorland and Mia Slam aided by well-coached well-coordinated blocking. Energetic defense by Gotham and effective jams, notably by Bea Sting and Juggernaut Jataun, kept the bout from turning into a rout. The second half began with NJRD ahead by more than 100 points, but the Gotham girls redoubled their efforts and steadily chipped away at the lead, Scary Poppins also doing her bit. They closed to within 50 points, but impressive NJRD defense made every point hard. In the final few minutes successful jams by the NJRD left Gotham no time to overtake them. The final score was 153-220 in favor of NJRD Small Stars.
The NJRD divided itself well for the adult match of Blue vs. White. The result was nailbiter of a bout that was undecided until the final minute. Defense for both teams was extraordinarily aggressive, but especially for White, with Shorty Ounce frequently in the path of the Blue jammer. This was counterbalanced, though, by a slight edge in jammers by Blue, notably Marie Furie, Tiger Munition, and veteran skater Tuff Crust Pizza – plus a strategic use of star passes. The score, accordingly, seldom was more than a few points apart, and the first half ended with the board reading 104-109 in favor of White. White’s aggressive blocking and solid jams by skaters including Ferocia Rose, Malicen Wonderland, and Fizzing Whizbee built up a sizable lead through most of the second half, but it disappeared in single 24 point jam by Tuff Crust Pizza. With 5 minutes remaining the game tilted toward Blue. Pizza puy the last points on the board as the clock ran out, with a final score of 188-174 in favor of Blue.
I’m looking forward to what they can do as a united team against Jersey Shore. They seem ready.