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The sport you might have missed in Oklahoma

by Tiffany Gibson Modified: August 21, 2013 at 9:45 am •  Published: August 21, 2013

It’s a sport that has captivated audiences for decades, a sport many have compared to pro wrestling and even football.

And it’s also a sport many people in Oklahoma might not know still exists, especially in their hometowns.

What is this amazing sport I’m talking about?

*Roller derby. Yes, Oklahoma roller derby.*

Some of you may remember that the sport gained popularity in the 1930s and continued until the early 1970s. At the time, you could enjoy these races at home on TV and watch as skaters clotheslined, tripped and punched one another.

But in the 1970s that came to an end. Several attempts were made to revive the sport over the years, but it wasn’t until 2001 that the sport started to become a reality again.

Since its revival in Austin, roller derby has become a hot commodity in most major cities. It has also spread around the world and is even being considered for future Olympic games.

While it’s not your traditional “little league” sport, it has garnered a loyal following and fan base. The skaters who participate come from all walks of life and are unique in their own way.

You might not recognize them in public, but on the track they’re hailed for their moves and skater names, such as “Scary England,” “Emma C. Hammer,” “T-Pain,” “Sinful Lee” and “Molly Menace.”

Oklahoma City has several leagues, and there are many more throughout the state. Most people are shocked when I tell them this, because they didn’t even know roller derby was still around.

Stranger: “Do you get paid to do that?”

Me: “No, we have to organize and pay for everything ourselves.”

Stranger: “Wow..”

Me: “Yeah, wow is right.”

Bottom line: Roller derby might have taken off as an underground activity, but it’s growing and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

In the metro, we have the Oklahoma Victory Dolls, Oklahoma City Roller Derby, the Oklahoma City Outlaws and the Oklahoma City Wolf Pack. There are even more leagues in Tulsa, Lawton and smaller counties across the state.

Full disclosure: I’m a member of and skate for Oklahoma City Roller Derby. But, I have the utmost respect for all of the leagues. The Outlaws play on the banked track — similar to what you might have seen in earlier decades — and the Wolf Pack is a men’s roller derby team. (Yes, men can play roller derby, too.)

The sport is played with five skaters on the track from each team. Each team will have a jammer and four blockers, unless a skater is in the penalty box. It’s similar to hockey in that way.

It’s a difficult sport to explain sometimes, but think of it like this: You’re playing offense and defense at the same time. You’re trying to get your jammer through the pack, while also focusing on trying to stop the opposing jammer.

Most teams play on a flat track now, which has made it easier for leagues to sprout up across the country. All you need is some rope and tape and a few other items to build a track on an appropriate floor surface.

However, other teams like the Outlaws still play on a banked track, which gives you speed and is raised and tilted at a certain angle. You might also recognize this track if you’ve seen the film “Whip It.”

Besides the track, a lot has changed since the sport’s debut. For example, you can’t clothesline, punch or trip anyone anymore. Sorry to let you all down, but I’d rather keep my neck and face intact.

There are rules now to keep participants safe, but it still is a rough sport. Proof: I actually wrote this post with a broken arm.

So, let’s put that pesky rumor to rest that roller derby is staged and “fake.”

I’ve been playing the sport for two years now, and I’ve learned a lot about the intensity of the game and the dedication it takes to play. Going in, I don’t think I was fully prepared for how much it would change my life. It’s hard not to eat, sleep and breathe derby now. When you’re not at practice, you’re reading about it  or watching archived bouts online.

The women and men who play this sport work extremely hard. They’re skating several times a week, conditioning their bodies outside of practice and taking constant shoulder hits and hip checks.

There’s nothing fake about roller derby. You get bruises, bumps and, sometimes and unfortunately, even breaks.

But you also get teammates who cheer you on and become life-long friends. I joined roller derby because of the camaraderie, but I stay because I truly love the game. And you might too.

If you’re interested in getting involved with the sport, check out any of the leagues I mentioned above. You can also read and research more about it on WFTDA.com. That stands for Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.

Feel free to post any questions in the comments below. I’ll try to answer as many as I can.

And for a look at how the game is played today, check out this recent bout between the Texas Rollergirls and reigning champs, Gotham Girls Roller Derby.

- Tiffany (aka Block Party)

by Tiffany Gibson
News Online Editor
Tiffany Gibson has worked for the Oklahoman since August 2011 and is a member of the digital news team. In addition to writing and web editing, she also creates multimedia features for the website and maintains social media accounts. A Tennessee...
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