Roller derby began as a spin-off of marathon events, walk-a-thons and dance-a-thons, popular in the 1930s. Leo A. Stelzer sponsored the first marathon skating session in 1935. The teams registered in the competition had to skate a total of 3,000 miles around the rink. Beginning in 1937, physical contact within the sport increased and the sport became similar to what audiences see today.
A roller derby tournament consists of two 30-minute halves, called jams. Each team has nine players, with eight of those players being blockers and the ninth being a jammer. The role of a jammer is to pass as many members of the opposing team by the end of the jam. Each person passed is a point for the jammer’s team. The blockers work together to prevent the opposite team’s jammer from passing them. Each player chooses his or her own derby name, which is typically a pun, such as Peter Babriel, Estee Slaughter or Dizzy Bennet, all of whom are members of the Kansas City derby league.
Physical contact between players is limited to a player’s hips, rear and shoulders. Players wear helmets, kneepads, elbow pads and wrist guards to prevent injury if they fall onto the hard surface of the track. For teams in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), the derby track is completely flat with no banking. Using elbows, purposefully tripping other players and passing out of bounds are all illegal moves in roller derby. Any player found to be using illegal moves can be sent to the penalty box outside of the rink.
Men originally were involved as referees and officials in women’s roller derby. It has been only been recently that men’s teams have formed in the United States. Some women’s derby teams have publicly objected to the formation of men’s teams. Women’s teams have long dominated roller derby, and there is fear that men’s teams will pull attention away from the women’s teams.
The Men’s Roller Derby Association was established in 2007, and since then, men’s roller derby has gotten significantly more press than women’s derby. Many women’s teams have opened tryouts and positions on teams to men in order to create more unity between men and women interested in roller derby.
The local roller derby women’s league is called the Kansas City Warriors and consists of four teams: The Black Eye Susans, the Dreadnought Dorothys, the Victory Vixens and the Kansas City Warriors traveling team. The Kansas City Warriors won this year’s Division 2 WFTDA International Playoffs in Cleveland, Ohio and will compete again Nov. 8 in St. Paul, Minnesota for the championship title. Tryouts for the league are being held on Nov. 10-11 and 17-18.