The Awesome Mitten- Michigan Roller Derby
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Roller Derby

The Awesome Mitten- Michigan Roller Derby
Photo courtesy of Lars Hjelmroth, Detroit Derby Girls

While the term “Roller Derby” dates back to the 1920s, the modern day version is immensely different than the prototype. Contemporary women’s roller derby is an exciting and engaging display of athletic skill, and an all around good time.

It wasn’t until the late 1930s, with Leo Seltzer’s Transcontinental Roller Derby, though, that the sport began to evolve from a sort of marathon of skating into a more physical competition. Following this development, roller derbies gained huge popularity, with the inception of several competing franchises in the late 1960s.

The Awesome Mitten- Michigan Roller Derby
Photo courtesy of Dan Bachorik, Detroit Derby Girls

Unfortunately the initial rise in popularity dwindled, and the sport saw somewhat of a lull in the 1980s and 1990s. But the late 2000’s marked the beginning of modern women’s roller derby in Austin, Texas. The new popularity can be attributed to the onset of leagues run by athletes who are also participants, as well as the resurgence of  the flat-track version of the sport, which made it possible to play nearly anywhere as track boundaries could simply be marked on a floor.

In 2004, the sport took another important step forward with the establishment of a main governing body, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). At the organization’s inaugural meeting in 2005, twenty different leagues developed a standard set of rules, safety standards, and tournament structures. By 2009, the WFTDA had expanded to include four different regions to accommodate new members and even welcomed its first international league.

While not all of the Michigan roller derby leagues are members of the WFTDA, they all adhere to a similar structure. In a standard match, there are five members from either team in play. Four of these players are blockers, while one is referred to as the jammer, who can be identified by the star on their helmet.

Once play begins, the first jammer to pass the foremost blocker becomes the Lead Jammer (the only one who can call off

The Awesome Mitten- Michigan Roller Derby
Photo courtesy of Scott Lipiec, Detroit Derby Girls

a jam, or race between the teams to score points). During the jam, points are scored for each blocker that the jammer is able to pass.

For those of you who, like me, were a little lost after reading all of these foreign sounding terms, have no fear: it only took me about two minutes watching an actual match to understand what was happening and start getting into the action. And with 28 different leagues spanning 23 cities in Michigan, you’re sure to be able to experience the roller derby for yourself without heading too far from home.

But while roller derby has established itself as a legitimate competitive sport, there is still plenty of fun to be had. Nearly all of the players have hilarious nicknames (think Mary Pop ‘Ems, Stomper Facin, Miz D Molisher, and Racer McChaseHer) that pair perfectly with their awesomely zany and colorful uniforms. And since many are flat-track competitions, the setting is often very intimate, allowing fans to interact with the players and get right in the action.

So check out the list of Michigan teams, and head over to the team websites to find out when and where the roller derby is coming to your area!

Hayley Serr, Feature Writer

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