Hot Wheels & Mad Men
By Steven Baker | Photos By Steven Baker and Joel Giltner
I was first made aware of roller derby as a young man in the 70s. That would be the 1970s. Wild, tight-shorted women punching, jabbing and snarling at each other at breakneck speed. Decades went by. I was made aware of its resurgence by a friend Amy Larson. She had made her way through the ranks of roller gals, made the cut, and began breaking skulls. Anyone who has a TV guide can count the cliché films made about female empowerment and comradeship made via this sport. Not to take away from the ladies as they are tough, dedicated and damn good. However it’s only a matter of time till the greasy, hackneyed hands of Hollywood scriptwriters got their meat hooks around the idea.
It never occurred to me that men, sweaty, burly, mildly and angry, would take on this sport. But, Darryl Watson (AKA F-Stop), informed me otherwise and invited me to their practice. Their very, very scary, fast, dangerous practice. Before we get into the bone breaking details, (Oh yes, bones were really broken), let’s briefly visit the history of roller derby in these fine United States. Leo Saltzer first invented the precursor to what we call derby in the 1930s in Chicago. These were endurance contests of skating, by some accounts they lasted for a month or more with full time staff and skaters. This being the time of dancing marathon endurance contests, these events were often attended by 20,000 people.
The first televised Roller Derby aired in the 1940s and the aggressive gals were an instant hit. Often there was more physical contact than your average football game. As the game progressed, these ladies were seen as examples of women’s liberation, By 1960, there were hundreds of teams touring the US, setting up in basketball arenas and thrilling fans coast to coast. Nothing good ever lasts and derby was dropped from television in the 70s. What you may now recognize as roller derby is actually called “Roller Jam”, a more high speed, aggressive version, invented by a rival of Mr. Seltzer.
The guys of the Rollin’ Bones Derby Team practice at a rink in Brighton, CO called The Wagon Wheel.This place is a time capsule dedicated to the 1980s. Florescent carpeting, video games, and of course the ubiquitous disco ball over the rink itself. This is not what is called a banked track, just your run of the mill flat roller rink that we all spent hours of our childhood traveling in slow circles to the sounds of Air Supply. However, these men are not going slow. Their practices are brutal and physically challenging and not without injuries.
The Bone’s, as they refer to themselves, started in 2009 over beers as The Bones asked themselves,”Why should the girls have all the fun?”.
After being invited to practice with the The High City Derby Divas, and improving their skating skills, 3 months later. The Bones played their first ever road game against Tucson’s Dry Heat Militia in Phoenix AZ. Though the Bone’s roster, at this time, was filled in with guest skaters, the match was hard fought and came down to the last jam with a final score of 136-134 over the Militia. They were on their way with a road victory under their belts and wood splinters in their teeth.
Practice starts off like any other sport. Guys getting to the rink directly after work, still in work clothes. Getting into gear, knee pads, helmets, jersey, it’s a slow transformation with typical locker room banter about their kid’s, work, sports, upcoming bouts, and the like. They hit the planks and a stern look of concentration drops over each face, as they slowly turn up the speed, lap after lap. The drills are truly insane. I can’t explain it any other way. Example, take a lap at full speed, all the other team mates lay on the rink crosswise and you must jump over them, lay down at the end of the line, then the skater at the beginning of the human obstical course does the same. Were there crashes, skates in the ribs, wipe outs with arms and legs akimbo? Of course there were! But they keep doing it, again and again, until everyone gets it right.
“The worst injury I’ve seen in Roller Derby was when Dr.Rob broke his collar bone at practice, he’s got some serious hardware in there now. Looked like a motorcycle chain on the X-ray,” says Team Treasurer Lee Mey, (AKA Mr. Badwrench), “I’ve heard of broken ribs and punctured lungs. There are rules [for derby] to protect the players.” He continues, “We work with our new players on how to fall and how to protect yourself on the track. I don’t think derby is much more dangerous than any other sport. I’m not one of our Jammers but I do jam in practice and scrimmages and I would say that jamming in Roller Derby is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in any sport I’ve played.”
Now, I think would be a good time to explain the rules and structure of the game. At first glance it looks like a bunch of people skating as fast as possible and just taking each other out. But that is wrong. There is a rhyme and reason for every action. Mr. Badwrench assures me that one could enjoy a bout and NEVER understand the rules. I could not agree more. It is a fast paced game and full of spills and thrills.