Tuesday, December 14, 2010

SPORTS>>Sport marks 75 years

Roller derby has not just infiltrated the major cities and suburbs of the United States, it has become a worldwide happening.

Since a grassroots movement began in 2001, mom-and-pop teams and small leagues have sprung up in 20 countries, including Europe and North America, where roller derby was once mocked as a female version of professional wrestling.

Populated by ladies in macabre and sometimes provocative attire, roller derby is easily one of the most physical of women’s sports and has been enjoying a revival that began in Austin, Texas.

Roller derby went nationwide in 2006 when the A&E Network broadcast the reality series “Rollergirls.”

The series was only 13 episodes, but it was enough to feed roller derby’s growth into Oklahoma and now Arkansas.

Roller derby has its roots and draws its name from endurance skating races held in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until Chicago theater owner Leo Seltzer organized the Transcontinental Roller Derby in 1935 that the sport began to take form as a seasonal-type activity.

Seltzer borrowed from various sports including bicycle racing, where he got the idea for the wooden oval to hold the races that later became known as bouts.

Roller derby’s endurance aspect wasn’t enough to hold fans’ interest and the TRD began placing emphasis on physical contact.

That led to a shift toward the modern format of 30-minute periods and two-minute jam sequences.

Roller derby has seen many incarnations and took on a show-biz tone in the early 1960s when the National Skating Derby challenged Seltzer’s version of the sport from the West Coast.

Former skater Herb Roberts created the NSD in southern California in 1961 and later that same year sold the league to Bill Griffiths and Jerry Hill.

The duo took the league’s original team, the Los Angeles Thunderbirds, and made them regional celebrities with a series of televised bouts against “heel” opponents and plotted story lines.

The NSD also featured male competitors in a coed format.

Seltzer’s son Jerry took over the TRD operation in the 1950s and moved it to southern California.

Jerry Seltzer sold out to Griffiths in 1973 and Griffiths combined the TRD and NSD, using a series of different names and subplots over the next two years.

When Griffiths’ operation finally ran out of steam in 1975, the do-it-yourself movement began to blossom as skaters from the defunct league came up with a stripped-down, less gimmicky version that was re-branded Roller Games.

This helped generate new interest over time, and Griffiths, still determined to profit from a league to which he owned the rights, created the Roller Games television program in 1989.

Still featuring the Los Angeles Thunderbirds as its good-girl “baby faces,” Roller Games took the fictional story lines and exaggerated on-track challenges to a new level.

The program utilized a tricky, figure- eight track and revolved around contrived “controversies” over player eligibility issues, among other things.

Bouts featuring the T-Birds are still held in southern California, but the stigma attached to the brand and its flamboyant past has kept Roller Games from taking a significant role in roller derby’s new generation.

In late 2001, when a group of skaters broke away from a local promoter to form Bad Girl Good Woman productions in Austin, Texas, it marked the beginning of roller derby’s modern era.

Four clubs were formed and regular league play began less than a year later.

From that small circuit evolved two different forms — flat and banked track. Flat track roller derby quickly became the most common version because of its less costly setup, and The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association emerged as the sport’s dominant sanctioning body.

Most of the theatrics and shtick associated with the previous generations of roller derby have been discarded by the new wave and the attire has also been overhauled.

The classic outfits looked like a hybrid between softball and hockey uniforms but modern outfits are campier. The uniforms range in style from sparkly and florescent to downright gothic.

Some modern jammers are heavily into tattoos and piercings as well as using alternative makeup and hairstyles.

A team consists of five players starting with the pivot, who is designated by a horizontal stripe on her helmet and is responsible for maintaining a consistent pace at which she leads the group of blockers.

The pivot is also the last person an opposing jammer has to pass to get into scoring position.

Points are scored each time a jammer passes a blocker while skating around back to the pack.

The blockers follow the pivots and are responsible for most of the strategy. Depending on the strength or weakness of a team’s jammer, blockers can opt for more offensive-minded schemes in which they attempt to clear lanes for scoring opportunities.

They can also assume defensive sets that usually take the form of two girls lining up arm in arm in the middle of the track.

Jammers are designated by a star on the sides of their helmets and begin 30 feet behind the pivot line and 20 feet behind the pack.

They are required to skate through the pack one time to be in scoring position and the first jammer to make her way through the pack becomes lead jammer.

The lead jammer can end a jam at any time by repeatedly touching her hips.

Jammers can pass their stars to the pivot players during a jam and assume a blocking role for the remainder. This negates any lead jammer designation, essentially starting the cycle over.

If a jammer

Blockers are not allowed to grab a jammer’s uniform or limbs and throwing elbows or back blocks are also prohibited.

Most blocks are made by quick shoves with the hand, shoulder or a swinging hip. Blocking by ducking down and rising up as a jammer approaches is discouraged for safety reasons, though it is technically not illegal.