It was a quiet, sunny, spring evening in Wilmington, Mass., but you wouldn’t have known it inside the Shriners Auditorium, where it was kind of dark, and pretty noisy — because roller derby is noisy. And kind of dark. And a little mysterious, at least until it was explained to me that points are scored when jammers fight their way through the pack for a pass, roar around the oval-shaped track, and fight their way through the pack for another pass.
So that’s as straightforward as skating in circles can be, except that the second contest on the card on this particular evening offered entertainment unusual even by roller derby standards. It pitted the all-male Central Massachusetts Maelstrom against the all-female Boston Massacre, the latter featuring such fearsome personages as Dixie Kicks, Dottie Danger, Maya Mangleyou, and…
“My real name is Amy Chilton, and my roller derby name is ‘Bad Person,'” she said.
“Bad Person? You don’t look the least bit like a bad person,” I said.
“Well, it’s meant to be sort of ironic, a joke,” she answered.
Aha, said I to myself. Then I asked Bad Person about the unusual challenge of skating against a team of men.
“It is a different game with the men,” she said. “We’re used to being able to move more people on the track, so we kind of have to change our strategy a little bit, so that makes us a little nervous, but we have scrimmaged them before, so … we’re not totally walking into the dark on this.”
“When you say ‘move more people on the track,’ do you mean knock them down?” I asked.
“Yeah, hit them, move them where they don’t want to go,” she said. “Usually when we’re playing other people about our size, it’s a little easier. But some of these guys are our size.”
I backed away from Bad Person, cautiously, and approached a member of the all-male Central Massachusetts Maelstrom with the utterly pedestrian name of Richard Gannet. He discounted his team’s advantages of size and strength.
“I would say that with derby, it’s a lot more finesse,” he said. “Your ability on skates, as far as playing derby goes, is actually more of how you can manipulate yourself on skates, not necessarily your mass or anything like that.”
“But I’ve got to say they’ve got the advantage because they’re using goofy names,” I said.
“Absolutely. I actually like a lot of their names,” Gannet responded. “They do have a lot of good names. Like I said, I skated under ‘Striker’ up to last season, but this year I kind of wanted to take my own name and kind of go with that – have that be my persona in derby this year.”
No hiding behind some moniker like “Ginger Kid” or “Speed Metal” there, and maybe it didn’t matter. The referee, who called himself “Three Day Bender,” didn’t think it did. He’s the guy who told me that roller derby is misunderstood.
“One of the first questions I get when I tell people I’m a roller derby referee is, roller derby has rules?” he said. “Or aren’t you guys like professional wrestling? Because everyone’s used to the roller derby of the ’70s or ’80s, where it was fixed. It was promoted very much like professional wrestling is now and was then.”
Yeah, yeah, I said. But men against women. Is that a special challenge for the officials?
“Yes and no,” he said. “The men’s games and the women’s game are played under the same rule set, but you’ll often hear them say, ‘same rules, different game.’ So it’s a little bit of a challenge, but many of our crew tonight have experience working with both the men and the women.”
“But not the women and men together?” I asked.
“Some of us do, some of us don’t,” he said. “It’ll definitely be a challenge tonight, but it’s one we’re looking forward to.”
Bad Person, Vixen Ta Hitcha, Maude Forbid and the rest of Boston Massacre took an early 7-0 lead, but the Central Mass Maelstrom quickly caught up, and by the time I asked Rammy Lammy for some play-by-play, they’d put the Massacre in the rear view mirror. Not, Rammy Lammy thought, necessarily for good.
“Number 1993 on the men’s team, made pass after pass after pass, and that’s what caused them to break apart,” Rammy Lammy said. “I wouldn’t say – it’s certainly a gap, but I wouldn’t say it’s a gap that precludes victory by them.”
She might have been right, but for a series of infractions, the first of which sent Belle Air Bomber to the penalty box. Or, more precisely, penalty bench. In any case, there she was.
“I had a multi-player block,” she said. “I held on to my teammate too long.”
“And they caught you,” I said.
“And they caught me,” she answered.
“Well, I hope you get away with it next time,” I replied.
“Thank you,” she said.
Moments later, Vixen Ta Hitcha was also sent to the “sin bin.” I had to know why.
“I don’t know, to be honest with you,” Ta Hitcha said.
“That’s unfair,” I said.
“Yeah, it is.”
“They sent you in here and you don’t know why?” I asked.
“Well, I know why, but I don’t believe it was true,” she said.
Maybe it was the penalties. Maybe it was that spurt five minutes in to which Rammy Lammy referred. Whatever the reason, the men of the Central Massachusetts Maelstrom prevailed over the women of the Boston Massacre, 284-131. Maelstrom member Ryan Conlin was gracious in his assessment of the team that was second best that evening.
“Boston is a very, very tough team,” he said. “They’ve been around a long time. They have a lot of very smart players. They have a lot of very smart coaches. Always nice to have good competition.”
With that, Ryan Conlin rejoined his Central Mass Maelstrom teammates, perhaps to strategize for their next tilt with the men of the New York Shock Exchange, while the thoughts of the vanquished Boston Massacre turned to an upcoming rumble with the Calamity Janes of Maine.