Roller Derby is a contact sport in which two teams consisting of five players each roller skate in a counter-clockwise direction around a track. The event includes a series of short match ups or jams in which a jammer on both teams tries to lap members of the opposing team to earn points. The teams attempt to obstruct the opposing jammer while helping their own.
First played in the United States in Chicago, Illinois in 1935, the game has roots to banked-track roller skating marathons that took place during the 1930s.
Leo A. Seltzer and Damon Runyon are credited with creating the sport.
In 1935, Seltzer read an article in Literary Digest Magazine that noted that 93 percent of Americans roller-skated at one time or another during their lives. Bicycle races and dance marathons were very popular at the time and there were successful 24-hour and multi-day roller skating races. At least one was referred to as a “roller derby” in the press.
Seltzer was challenged to create a sport that included elements of these sports. By July 14, 1935, he had trademarked the term “Roller Derby” and on August 13, 1935 he organized the first Roller Derby game that was played in front of 20,000 spectators in the Chicago Coliseum. Called the Transcontinental Roller Derby, the event was promoted as a marathon race that was touring the country and included male and female competitors.
Seltzer had decided to include women in the competition to attract a large female audience. However, the presence of women competitors gave it a sideshow-like standing and it was not considered a legitimate sport.
Runyon was a sportswriter who attended a roller derby match in Coral Gables, Florida and was fascinated by it. Working with Seltzer the two changed the game to make it more structured with more contact between the players.
The Transcontinental Roller Derby toured the country and attracted moderate interest. However, its popularity started to spike after an event held at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City was televised on November 29, 1948. By the late 1950s and 1960s, the sport was broadcast on several networks. However, it wasn’t long before television oversaturated coverage and attendance dropped.
In 1989, a television show called RollerGames debuted that showed a more theatrical representation of the sport to a national audience. The show ran for only one season because the distributors went bankrupt. In 1999, Spike TV (known as TNN at the time) debuted a show called RollerJam.
The sport experienced another revival in the early 2000s when an all-female, woman-organized amateur series was promoted.
Today there are a large number of contemporary amateur roller derby leagues organized by women and by roller derby fans. Each league includes local teams in matches held in venues that hold from 4,000 to 7,000 spectators. The sport also was helped with the release of a Roller Derby-themed movie called Whip It in 2009.
The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) is the international governing body for flat track roller derby. It was created in 2005 and includes roller derby leagues throughout the United States and the world. In 2006, the WFTDA formed east and west competitive regions and developed a quarterly ranking system that is used to qualify players for tournaments and seedings. In 2009 the group expanded into four competitive regions and its playoff system to include 40 leagues that compete in four regional tournaments and one championship tournament. Today there are more than 400 leagues and 54 apprentice leagues.
The WFTDA hosts the 2017 International WFTDA Playoffs and Championships on the following dates and at the following locations.
- August 18 – 20, 2017 – Division 2 Playoffs and Championships – Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Hosted by: Steel City Roller Derby.
- September 1 – 3, 2017 – Division 1 Playoffs – Seattle, WA, USA. Hosted by Rat City Rollergirls.
- September 8 – 10, 2017 – Division 1 Playoffs – Malmö, Sweden. Hosted by Crime City Rollers.
- September 22 – 24, 2017 – Division 1 Playoffs – Dallas, Texas. Hosted by the Dallas Derby Devils.
- November 3-5, 2017 – Division 1 Championships – Philadelphia, PA, USA. Hosted by Philly Roller Derby.
The Male Roller Derby Association (MRDA) governs roller derby events that consist of coed or men-only competitors. The Junior Roller Derby Association governs games played by youngsters who are under the age of 18. Governing bodies outside the United States include Skate Australia, the British Roller Sports Federation, and Roller Sports Canada. In 2010, the Federation International de Roller Sports (FIRS) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) recognized Roller Derby as a legitimate sport. FIRS reports directly to the International Olympic Committee.
In 2017, teams will be competing at The World Roller Games in Nanjing, China under FIRS rules.
Players are required to wear:
Rules Of The Game
Two teams consisting of 14 players compete in the game and field up to five players each for a two-minute segment called a “jam.” One player on each team is the jammer and the other four members of each team are “blockers.” One blocker can be designated a ”pivot,” which is a special blocker that can become a jammer during play. Jammers wear a helmet with two stars and the pivot wears a striped helmet.
The game is played in two periods of 30 minutes each. Points are scored during “jams” when a jammer laps an opposing player. Each team’s blockers use body contact to obstruct the opposing team’s jammer and block for their team’s jammer.
Referees monitor the action and call penalties. A player charged with a penalty must leave the game and sit in a penalty box for 30 seconds. If a jam ends before the penalty time elapses, then the player must remain in the penalty box during the next jam until the full 30-second time is completed. A jammer is permitted to leave the penalty box earlier if another jammer is penalized and must go into the box. This jammer’s penalty lasts as long as the time the first jammer spent in the box. If a player receives seven penalties, then he or she “fouls out” of the game and must return to the locker room.
Roller derby is played in the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Brazil, New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Israel, Singapore, Dubai, Egypt, and more.