Jam out with the Pioneer Valley Roller Derby

By Jenny Rae

Flickr/Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

On Sunday, April 7, an electric current coursed through the Mullins Center as members of the Pioneer Valley Roller Derby put on their skates and took to the track. With tickets priced at $8 for students, the experience was not one to be missed.

Beginning with the National Anthem being performed by a band from Hadley-based Hopkins Academy, spectators rose from their in-house seating or home-brought camping chairs to salute the start of the game. A theatrical announcer welcomed players as they, united with their teammates, glided around the asphalt.

On the back of the men’s dark green or blue T-shirts, nicknames like “Ferrari,” “My Baby Daddy,” “Velawesomeraptor” and “Pope John Maul” amused the audience, along with their colorful socks and knee pads.“Manic-Hottie,” “Bossy Boots” and “Lethe L. Ejection,” among others, showcased their referee power by blading around the inner circle. The players then performed a Derby Demo, which, along with the concise booklet accompaniment given with tickets, explained the rules in a simplified way, helping any roller derby newbies.

For anyone unfamiliar with the sport, a game of flat track roller derby includes two 30-minute periods broken up into two-minute scoring periods called jams. In each jam, the two teams put five players on the track: a jammer, three blockers and a pivot. Each jammer aims to become the “lead jammer” by getting past the other team’s blockers, who don’t go down without a fight. Pushing and tripping are prohibited, as comically illustrated through the players enacting the “Don’ts” and “Can’ts” of the game prior to it starting. If players indulge in any of these illicit behaviors, they are sent to the penalty box where they have to sit, frustratingly watching the bout continue without them. Teams win points for the amount of blockers the lead jammer can pass upon their second full round of the track. It’s not as complicated as it sounds and makes for intense spectating.

First up were the men, with Massachusetts’ own Dirty Dozen competing with the Mean Mountain Boys for the championship title. Heading around the track knocking into one another, skaters skidded in attempts to create a barrier of green and blue. Collective intakes of breath bellowed from the stands as several players almost fell into splits. Heckles from the crowd increased the intensity of the match as the electronic board of scores in the corner also acted as a timer, counting down until the end of the period. Prevalent with barging and pushing, players appeared fearless, falling down yet jumping up with killer speed. At one point, a player reached down and touched the floor while acting like an Olympian on roller skates. Others often resembled Bambi on ice.

Period two set the stage for more aggression, with raucous applause and cowbell ringing exploding from the aisles as the anticipation skyrocketed.  No. 12 added a few last points for the Dirty Dozen as a jumble of men laid across the inner ring. And then the game was over, with the Dirty Dozen losing, 174-233, to the Mean Mountain Boys. Enhancing the good nature of the sport, after the game both teams’ skaters rolled around the track high-fiving members of the audience who stood outside the outer circle.

A predominantly female sport, regulars from the Western Mass Destruction and Mass Attack All-Stars teams burst onto the track with an eruption of leopard print kneepads and rainbow socks. The outfits were exquisite with black streaks across eyes, emblazoned booty shorts and ripped fishnets. These empowered ballerinas of the loop dominated the track and looked fierce doing so. With the audience on the edge of their seats over the aggressive bumping, Thunda Storm raced ahead gaining points for Mass Attack. Western Mass Destruction’s No. 999 also impressed with her dizzying speeds as lead jammer, giving the girls in the movie “Whip It” a run for their money. And in the end, Western Mass Destruction skated to victory, beating the Mass Attack All-Stars, 265-147.

For students interested in partaking in the unique sport, the Pioneer Valley Roller Derby is holding a bootcamp this weekend on Saturday and Sunday on its home turf in Florence and Northampton. If newbies can pass basic skillset tests, they’ll be fast-forwarded into the club with a chance to play in the games happening all summer.

For more information, visit http://www.pioneervalleyrollerderby.com.

Jenny Rae can be reached at [email protected]