The Basics of Flat Track Roller Derby

Pivot Helmet Cover Jammer Helmet Cover

Roller derby takes place on a flat track with an inside circumference of 148.5 ft and an outside circumference of 236.5 ft. The game, played in two 30 minute periods, is a series of races between two teams of five players – three Blockers, one Pivot and one Jammer (scorer). Helmet covers, called panties, differentiate the positions. Jammers wear stars while Pivots wear stripes. No covers are used by the Blockers.

The game consists of the 2 teams competing in a series of counter clockwise ’jams’: races which can last up to 2 minutes each. At the start of each jam, the blockers and pivots are positioned between 2 lines on the track, the pivot line and the jammer line. The jammers are behind the jammer line and play begins with a whistle.

track to score points. A jammer scores points by legally passing opposing players while upright, inbounds and not committing a penalty. The Pivots act like the pace car in a NASCAR race and control the speed of the pack while also acting as a blocker.

The Pivots and Blockers must remain in a pack and are not permitted to stray more than 20 feet from the ‘pack’, which consists of the most players from both teams. If a Pivot or Blocker falls or otherwise becomes separated, she is out of play and cannot block or assist the Jammers until she rejoins the pack.

As a jammer fully passes opposing players in the pack, a point is awarded for each one. Points are also given for any opposing player in the penalty box and any player out of bounds for gear or injury issues. The Lead Jammer is allowed to call off the jam (tapping her hips with her hands twice as a signal) to prevent the opposing jammer from scoring or conserve time for her team.

The game is an exciting blend of speed, skill, brains and brawn. The rules can be found at rules.wftda.com and official hand signals can be found here.

A Few Things to Know…

  • To receive points, Jammers must pass opposing blockers while UPRIGHT, in bounds and without committing a penalty.
  • If an opposing player passes the Jammer, no points are scored when the Jammer repasses that player.
  • Points are not scored for passing an opposing Jammer.
  • Blocking is permitted using body parts above the mid-thigh, excluding forearms, hands and head. Blocks from behind are not permitted.
  • A player cannot block with extended arms or elbows.
  • If a player commits an infraction, such as an illegal block or unsportsmanlike conduct, penalties are awarded. A penalty requires the player to serve 30 SECONDS in the penalty box.
  • Quad skates, helmets, mouth guards, wrist guards, elbow pads and knee pads are required.

The History of Roller Derby

In 1935, Chicago promoter Leo Seltzer invented a spectacle called roller derby. The first event, held on August 13, 1935 in the Chicago Coliseum, was a simulation of a cross-country roller skating race. Billed as The Transcontinental Roller Derby, it featured teams of one man and one woman who took turns skating 57,000 laps, or the equivalent of a 4,000-mile cross-country race. Roller derby was an instant success, drawing 20,000 spectators in the first week alone.

Occasionally, massive collisions and crashes occurred. Like any great promoter, Seltzer quickly realized this was the most exciting part and tweaked his game to maximize the carnage. Two teams of five skaters now circled the track, with each team sending out a ‘jammer’ to skate around and lap members of the opposing team. It became a full-contact physical sport, with elbows, body-checks and fights galore. The fans loved it and Seltzer soon took his show on the road.

The sport continued to gain popularity and with the 1950′s introduction of a new medium called television, roller derby catapulted into a national phenomenon. It drew thousands of fans and made legends out of its competitors.

Jerry Seltzer, Leo’s son, moved the family operation to the San Francisco area in 1958. The sport remained popular through the 1960s but waned in popularity in the 1970′s. A combination of spiraling costs and an uncertain economy forced the younger Seltzer to shut down his roller derby business in 1973.

Thanks to a group of industrious and spirited women in Austin, TX, roller derby was reborn in 2001 and has been gathering speed ever since.  This new generation of roller derby pays homage to its theatrical roots but shifts the focus to pure, unscripted, competitive athletics coupled with a DIY attitude and fearless female empowerment.  Contemporary flat track roller derby follows the rules and regulations of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) and is a fast-paced, hard-hitting sport that requires genuine athleticism, strategy, and dedication.  Roller Girls may be theatrical and highly individual, but first and foremost they are athletes and team players.  Today there are more than 400 all-female flat track roller derby leagues all over the globe, in both small towns and major cities.

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