If you like seeing women on roller skates shoving each other around a concrete track for a couple hours, you only have one more chance to see such a spectacle in Concord.
We can only be referring to Granite State Roller Derby, which has its final Concord match of the season this Saturday at Everett Arena.
The home team Legislashers will take on the Granite Skate Troopers, a team from the New Hampshire Roller Derby league, at 7 p.m. This will be the last match in Concord for the Legislashers; the team’s final bout will be in Manchester on Aug. 26.
Roller derby is, admittedly, a niche sport – GSRD Vice President Maddie “Lil Sumpin’ ” Cole said so herself. It’s fair, in that case, to assume that many people don’t really know much about it. We really didn’t know anything other than it involved roller skates, until we talked to Cole to get some of the details.
“The game has morphed quite a bit since the iconic roller derby image of the ’50s,” Cole said. “We now skate on all flat tracks, which makes the game much more accessible. The flat track has been a key switch in the sport. Additionally, we’ve added a lot of safety rules – no more hair pulling or any of that scripted stuff. It’s pure athleticism.”
Back in the day, competitions were held on banked tracks, kind of like those indoor cycling tracks you see in the Olympics. The matches were also notable for their abundance of violence – choreographed or not.
Today, there’s a lot more order in the sport.
Here’s how the gameplay works:
Five skaters from each team line up at the jam line, and each team has a skater with a star on her helmet. She’s the jammer, and her goal is to score points. Points are scored by passing members of the other team without getting knocked out or getting a penalty. The jammer tries to go around the track as many times as possible, and each time she does she gets points for the team.
“It’s really fun, and it takes a little time to catch on to what’s going on, but once you do, it’s really cool,” Cole said. “It’s not only physically challenging but also mentally challenging.”
The mental challenge comes in the form of strategizing. While each team’s jammer is going ahead trying to make passes, the other four team members, the blockers, have decisions to make. They can play defense, trying to clog up the lane for the opponent’s jammer, or they can play offense, trying to clear a path for their own jammer. Sometimes the blockers do both at the same time – it all depends on the flow of the game and the situation at a given moment.
While the competition is stiff, roller derby is a community sport, and everyone more or less gets along. The atmosphere is kept fun by the use of nicknames – Cole is the famous Lil Sumpin’, there’s a Slaying Mantis, a TazSlamian Devil – and after every match, the home team takes the visiting team out for dinner and drinks at Buffalo Wild Wings right across the street from Everett Arena.
“It’s very friendly,” Cole said. “We leave the competition on the track. … It’s a friendly, loving, supportive community.”
The sport can also provide a psychological lift.
“The sport is a really empowering sport,” Cole said. “As a woman you feel really strong and powerful while you play.”
Because this will be the final home match of the year, there will be a few formalities to wrap up the season.
“We always do some sort of announcement and congratulations,” Cole said. “Every game there’s two MVPs for each side. If we have any retiring skaters we’ll congratulate them. So there’s usually a nice wrap-up.”
If you’ve never been to a roller derby event before, this will be as good a time as any to check it out for the first time.
The action gets under way Saturday at 7 p.m., with doors opening at 6:30. Matches typically last between an hour and a half and two hours, depending on penalties, timeouts and things of that nature. Tickets are $12 at the door or $10 online – go to facebook.com/granitestaterollerderby for tickets and more info. Kids 10 and under always get in free.