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The last thing you see is a green blur…

November 20, 2006

Sitting on the floor at the Overlook Activities Center in Manheim Twp., I was fully engrossed watching the Dutchland Derby Rollers, the new all-women roller derby group in Lancaster County.

So engrossed in watching the Harvest Moonshiners’ jammer (the skater that scores points for her team) in fact, that I didn’t notice the pack of skaters coming around the bend.

And the Poison Apples’ jammer getting roughly ejected from that pack, falling in my direction. A quick “look out” yell from my buddy, and…

webblur.jpg****BAM!!!!****

A lap full of One Eyed Jack (the number of that truck: 7).  You can see the collision picture on the right.

Actually, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. My buddy’s warning allowed me to get my legs out of the way (preventing a rare rollergirl-induced compound fracture) and O.N.J. crashed in front of me, but she braced herself well and didn’t take too bad of a tumble.

She looked up, flashed a killer smile and said “I’m sorry” to our group, then hopped back on her wheels and took off to catch the pack.

“I’m Sorry?!?!”

An apology from a wild-child rollergirl? That friendliness was definitely not what I expected.

And that’s why roller derby in Lancaster will work.

Now, I’ve always been a fan of roller derby since I was a kid and the TV series Rollergames was on the air in the early 1990s, and TNN’s now-cancelled series Roller Jam.

This past summer, A&E started showing a reality series called “Rollergirls“, about the TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls in Austin, Texas. It highlighted one of the front-runners in the revival of the sport of roller derby, though this time, it’s in an all-female format instead of co-ed teams.

Leagues are all skater-owned and run. There is no outside management. A national body (the WFTDA) regulates the rules. And this part of the country is seeing a bunch of grassroots leagues forming. Established leagues exist in Philadelphia and Baltimore, while leagues here, in Harrisburg and in the Lehigh Valley are just getting warmed up. And many of those leagues had members at the Rollers’ exhibition for moral support.webblur2.jpg

But most of all, by the turnout of over 1,200 for this first bout and the county’s first look at hellcats on wheels, this turned out to be a family affair. Many young kids in the crowd seems to enjoy the fast action, the bumps and bruises, and their moms in action.

Yes, for some like Fujiyama Mama (seen at left), they brought their own cheering section — their children. In fact, Mama’s daughter, seen hiding behind her “Fujiyama’s My Mama” sign, was dressed in a Puritan pilgrim costume with a Rollers logo on the back … very adorable.

(BTW…wonder where all these cool names come from for derby skaters? Each skater comes up with their own, usually a play on words or a pun. There’s actually a master roster that prevents copying of skater names from league to league. And if you steal a name … well, there’s nothing worse than hired goons on wheels coming to get you…)

Now, about the action on the track.

The league created two exhibition teams for the bout, the Poison Apples in green and the Harvest Moonshiners in orange. In what was a very competitive and rather congenial competition, the Apples overcame a (approx.) 15-point final period deficit and a 6-point gap in the final jam to tie the game at 125. Overtime was needed!

The match was settled with one sudden-death jam, where Spawna Skatin did some superior pack weaving, outpointing the ‘Shiners jammer 6-to-4 for a 131-129 final score, leaving the crowd on its feet and cheering.

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And the family celebrated!

Just a few comments for the good of the league:

  1. Overlook’s facility is great for roller derby skating. Except, the sound system wasn’t that hot for the spectators. Those sitting on the floor around us had a hard time hearing the PA announcers and music. And the PA announcers were trying to explain the rules and the nuances of the sport, but all we could hear was “waa waa waaaaa,” sort of like the teacher in the Peanuts cartoons. Maybe some speakers on stands around the rink edge would be a good addition.
  2. Also, consider putting a PA announcer on the track to help get the crowd engaged and to explain rules better with a wireless microphone. That would also allow the announcer to tell the crowd when a player is being sent to the penalty box, and for what infraction. And hey, maybe an interview with that skater would be fun to hear (I’d use a 7-sec. delay, though).
  3. Periods are 20:00 long, and jams last a maximum of 2:00 each. So please show the jam time on the scoreboard, and have a ref or the announcer keep the period clock. It was very hard to tell when a jam was over (hard to hear ref whistles), having that clock showing jam time would make it easy for the crowd to count down the seconds. Otherwise, consider using an airhorn to signal the end of a jam.

webblur3.jpgOtherwise, things went very smooth. You could see it in the skaters’ faces at the after party. They were ecstatic with the results of their efforts. And seeing the skaters mingle with their fans during and after the event really gave off family-friendly vibes — much welcome in this conservative part of the country

I hope it carries over until March, when things get more competitive as the Dutchland Derby Rollers’ inaugural season kicks off. Right now, four teams of 14 skaters each is projected. The league is still looking for skaters and support staff, with a recruitment meeting on Dec. 3.

But I think I can pencil myself in now for season tickets.

[UPDATE: Made corrections to the name of the group, which is Dutchland Derby Rollers (forgot the derby part, my bad). Interesting, their DDR acronym also belongs to another one of my favorite games, which would be hard to play in roller skates.

And kudos to the group for making the front page of the local section of Sunday’s Sunday News. (I guess that’s kind of redundant…it not like the Sunday News would come out on a Monday.)

[SECOND UPDATE: Here’s a link to the full story on the newspaper’s site, LancasterOnline.com]

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