This is a busy time in the world of sports. The NBA and NHL playoffs are underway. Major League baseball is in full swing (and the Red Sox are already six games back), and the Kentucky Derby is next week. So naturally what did I do the other night? If you guessed I went to the roller derby, you'd be correct.
Saturday I made the field trip to the Washington Avenue Armory to watch the Albany All Stars take on the Long Island Roller Rebels, and I'll be honest with you, there are worse ways to spend a Saturday night.
Never having been to a roller derby bout (apparently the matches are called bouts) I wasn't sure what I was getting into but I did have a few basic expectations. The main one was that there would be an actual raised track, with railings, like this.
Sadly, this was not the case. The track in the Armory was flat and upon closer inspection during one of the intermissions, it was nothing more than electrical tape laid out in an oval. Definitely a disappointment, but hey, it cost $10 to get in and since the Albany team asks for donations on it's web site for it's banked track fund, it's clear that the league's resources are a dollar or two shy of those in the NFL - or XFL for that matter.
To get a better feel for what I'm talking about, here's some video from a bout in Albany that occurred in February.
After getting over my initial disappointment at a lack of a track and railings that people would be hurled over, we settled in for some derby action. The first plus of the night was the fact that the concession stand was stocked with Stella Artois. That was a huge score. Sure, they also had Bud Light Lime and a few other shitty beers if you were so inclined, nothing goes better with an event featuring large, scantily clad, women covered in make up on roller skates than a premium Belgian import. You'll have to trust me on this one.
So we settle in and the match/bout whatever the hell you want to call it begins and two things are obvious, 1) you do not want to mess with these women, and 2) the announcer is wearing a purple satin suit and goes by the name Moe Cheezmo.
I'll get to the announcer in the second. In terms of the participants, they are ladies of various sizes and shapes, almost all of them covered in a ton of make up and wearing their roller derby uniform. As far as I can tell, the uniform consists of a tank top and then after that, it's up to the team member to chose what else she's going to wear. Some wore skirts, some just bikini bottoms, one person had shorts and 90 percent of them were wearing fishnet stockings. I saw more fishnets the other night than a fisherman does in a year.
The bout was called by aforementioned announcer who roams trackside calling the action and urging the crowd to get loud. As I mentioned, the outfit he was sporting the other night consisted of a purple suit coupled with some white shoes. Here's Mr. Cheezmo calling the action (I apologize for the picture quality, all I had was the crappy camera on my blackberry)
A cool feature of roller derby is that every one has a stage name. Even the refs go by snappy monikers like Wellen Doud and and Maul Bunyan. Every sport should do this. Can you imagine if Tim Higgins got to pick his own stage name? He would probably go with something like King Timmy or Large and In Charge. Ahh, good times.
So with Cheezmo calling the action, the bout gets underway. To the best of my knowledge it works something like this - each team skates around in a circle and each team designates a "jammer" who gets points by getting past the opposing team. Each team also fields "blockers" whose job is to stop the other team's jammer. There are some other nuances to it, but basically that's all you need to know.
Well that and the fact that Albany team's blockers did a lot of skating and very little actual blocking. They got crushed by their opponents from Long Island - losing the game by 40 points. I felt like I was watching a Greg Robinson led SU team. The Long Island team had some woman named C-Roll who skated circles around the lovely ladies from Albany. In the words of Yoda, competitive this one wasn't.
As far as the action itself, there's definitely a lot of bumping and grabbing, but the cartoonish violence that I seem to remember from years ago isn't there. No one was punching any one in the head, there were no flying clotheslines or drop kicks. Just some scary looking women throwing hip checks at each other - which still isn't a bad thing. At one point one of the ladies from Long Island got really pissed and had to be restrained from going after an Albany team member by the rest of her team. Sadly we were robbed of a full on roller derby brawl. That would have been awesome beyond words.
Here are a couple more bad shots of the action:
The Long Island team huddles up during a time out:
All in all, for the $10 it was two solid hours of entertainment -- so if you get a chance, I'd recommend you check out some roller derby, but make sure there's a decent beer to go along with your evening. It classes things up a bit.