By Katherine Ann Medina
Roller derby is a high paced sport that can be traced back as early as the 1880s, and originated in America. A sport, that once began as amateur or paid races remained popular into the 1920s. It evolved into a multi-day touring race, similar to a cross country race in 1935. Shortly after that, the sport was restructured, and contact was introduced as part of the race, as well as teams and a scoring system. Roller derby turned into a high paced and quite aggressive sport. In the 1940s roller derby was televised and was believed to have helped people keep their mind off The Great Depression at the time. In 1940, it was recorded that more than five million people watched in about 50 US states. By the 1970s, there was a large decline in public interest and roller derby began to be seen more as entertainment than a sport. Stricter rules, regulations, and safety equipment guidelines were implemented into roller derby because it is such a brutal sport.
When roller derby started to gain its popularity in the 1940s, the more popular skaters were sent to local newspaper offices in the cities they were playing to drum up business for the sport. The newspapers mainly reported on the violence and brutality involved in the sport. Because of this factor, most people came to see roller derby for the rough play, not the sport. In the beginning, almost all of the rough play was staged and the winners were prearranged. Most of the spectators had no idea the games were set up this way and just wanted to see more of it. One thing remains the same over the decades, players who get too rough, receive penalties and can be ejected from gameplay. The basic set of rules implemented in the 1940s has stayed the same; however, small changes have been made to the rules. Some of the new rules implemented include a reduction in jam times and the adding of the pivot position. Jams are now two minute sessions that a skater tries to score points, and a pivot is the center player that helps guide the team where to go. Although slightly different, the rules and regulations go hand in hand.
Regulations that have changed over the years are few. When roller derby first became a contact sport, the skaters were on a banked track. Now roller derby is played on a flat track. The main reason for this change is the cost effectiveness of having a flat track. A banked track has to be built and measured professionally. It has to have the proper angle for maximum effectiveness. Otherwise there is an increase of injuries, and fatigue. With a flat track, players can skate on any surface that is able to be skated on. Some examples are; basketball courts, parking lots, skating rinks, and airplane hangars. It is easier to start a new league if teams do not have to come up with a large amount of money to build a track. Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) began as the United Leagues Coalition in 2004 for the purpose of re-introducing roller derby as a sport. It consisted of only roller derby leagues owned and operated by roller skaters. The name changed in 2005 to WFTDA to reflect the goals of the organization. WFTDA can be seen as the “President” of roller derby. They set the safety rules and guidelines for all roller derby teams, they are the sanctioning body for all games, host regional and national tournaments, and provide insurance for athletes and leagues. Leagues use WFTDA as a networking venue to get advice and share resources. WFTDA comprised a list of safety gear that all athletes must wear for any bout. Skaters are provided the minimum safety gear requirements at boot camp.
When roller derby was popular in the 1940s, safety equipment was not used. Like several things in the 1940s, they did not see a need for it. Cars barely had seatbelts in the 1940s, there was no way that safety gear would be deemed necessary for a sport like roller skating. Roller derby of today has…