If the phrase “roller derby” conjures up images of bloody skaters punching each other in the face as they speed around the track, you’re only half right.
Modern roller derby is still a full-contact sport, but today there’s more of a focus on teamwork, skill and strategy than in those rough-and-tumble days of the ’60s and ’70s. On June 1 the Grim Reapers, based in Grimshaw, Alberta, brought the fast-paced sport to the Baytex Energy Center in Peace River with their Spring Fling Her bout.
The Grim Reapers formed in 2012 and now have roughly 34 members. They believe roller derby “helps empower women with self-confidence, leadership skills and helps develop athletic abilities while improving overall fitness.” This was their first bout since forming.
Tianna Rebalkin, the Reapers bout coordinator who’s also known as “Rainbow BarBrawlHer” on the track, says they wanted “have fun, play our game and raise awareness about our sport and team.” A highlight for Rebalkin was the turnout for this bout against the Killbillies from Fort St. John, BC.
“It was our very first bout as a team and it was packed! We did not expect that many people to come and support us. It was a great game. We ended up losing 145 to 300, but it was still amazing!”
Roller derby started in the 1930s and quickly became popular and spawned professional teams. Subsequent decades saw derby turn into a form of sports entertainment where the theatrics overshadowed athleticism.
The contemporary form of the sport began in the early 2000s as an all-female, woman-organized amateur sport in Austin, Texas. There are now over 1,200 amateur leagues worldwide, and some can perform to audiences of 4,000 to 7,000 spectators. Roller derby has become so popular that it’s even on the list of possible roller sports for the 2020 Olympics.
Roller derby is played by two teams of five who each skate counterclockwise on a circuit track. Each team has a scoring player (a jammer) while the others are blockers. After the jammer’s initial pass through the pack of skaters, they score points each time they lap members of the opposing team. The blockers on both teams use body contact, position changes, and other tactics to help their jammer score while slowing down the opposing team’s jammer.
The team got the word out about the event with newspaper ads and articles, radio ads, word of mouth, signs around various towns, social media sites and their own Web site. Rebalkin thinks the learning curve provided by planning an event for the first time is important.
“Because it was our first event of this nature, it was a definite learning experience. I would say give yourself lots of planning time. However, [I believe it] will be so much easier [to plan a bout] the second time around.”