Roller derby makes life better — that’s how one member of the Acadiana Roller Girls, Lafayette’s amateur and thoroughly beguiling roller derby team, puts it. Who are we to argue?
The team kicks of its 2016-17 season Saturday.
First, let’s get something straight: Roller derby is a bona fide contact sport. It pits two teams of skaters, each with a specific role on the track, against each other in an effort, like all team sports, to score more points than the opponent. Players get sweaty. They get sore and bruised. They break bones. They get angry. It’s the real deal. And it’s sexy at the same time.
“Oh my goodness, I have a tinge unit — those electrodes — I have those on my lower back right now from practice last night! Yes, it is very physically demanding and very exhausting,” says Ashley King, AKA HotMess Maulee. (It’s customary for roller derby players to take intimidating or otherwise tongue-in-cheek nicknames — a throwback to the sport’s kitschy heyday in the mid-20th century when it had evolved from a legitimate women’s sport into something more akin to professional wrestling; the sport faded in popularity as a spectator sport during the late 20th century but has enjoyed a renaissance in these first two decades of the 21st, again as an athletic endeavor. There has been talk about introducing roller derby into the 2020 Summer Olympics. Really, there has.)
“The theatrics are no longer a super big part, but our personalities show,” King says. “Now don’t get me wrong, there are certain skaters that are an absolute hoot to watch, but that’s more personalities than theatrics.”
Here’s the 101: Games are called bouts. Five players from each team skate counterclockwise on the track over the course of two 30-minute halves that consist of a series of jams, or plays, in which the jammer (kind of like a back in football) tries to break through the opposing team’s line of blockers and lap the opposing line. That’s how points are scored. Or something like that. There’s also a position called pivot that does … something. (Not unlike most every other sport, the intricacies and nuances of roller derby can be strange and exotic to the uninitiated. I am uninitiated, and still waiting for some patient soul to explain curling to me!)
“I’m a blocker, so my job is to block the jammer — the player with the star [on her helmet] — to try and not let her get past, and also making holes for my jammer,” King explains. “It changes from defense to offense super quickly.”
It’s a contact sport, no doubt, but there is an element of sexy to the roller derby phenomenon as well. The Roller Girls’ logo depicts a buxom derby damsel, complete with knee pads, gloves and fishnet stockings disappearing on a garter into her shorts — the sort of figure that would be at home on the fuselage of a B52 bomber during World War II. So yes, kitschy Americana remains source material for the sport even as it has evolved back into the legitimate sport of its origins. Expect to see a few tattoos, too.
“Our skaters are women from all walks of life who range in age from 18 to over 50. We are students, stay-at-home moms and all kinds of professions,” notes team member Sophia Gibson. “Some are veteran athletes while others have never played a sport before joining the league. We have more than 20 skating members and even a few who are unable to skate due to injury — I myself have a broken leg — but are still fiercely committed to our team’s success. Roller derby makes life better, and we want to share the love with our community.”
The Roller Girls play their home games at Top Shelf Sports in Youngsville. In addition to Saturday’s home game against the Spindletop Roller Girls — bums from Beaumont, I tell ya! — root for the Roller Girls on their home track April 8, May 6, June 3, July 29, Aug. 19 and Sept. 16. The team will travel for away games April 29, May 20, June 10, July 22 and Aug. 12. They’re going to go 12-0, damn it, you watch!
As a promotion for the season opener, the team hid (in plain sight) several “golden wheels” (gold-painted rollerskate wheels) that will give the finder free admission for two to Saturday’s bout. Get hints about where the golden wheels are hidden as well as other information at the team’s Facebook page.