Assignment #180 in the 365 Things to Do in Memphis is to spend a Saturday night with the ladies of Memphis Roller Derby. I don't just say that because I'm one of said ladies – I say it because roller derby is kind of an incredible thing.
(That's me on the far right. Photo by Jeremy Kendall, used with permission.)
If you've been to derby before, you already know what a good time it is. If you haven't, you've probably got some questions. Here's what you need to know before you go:
1. Wait. We have roller derby in Memphis?
Yep! Memphis Roller Derby was founded in 2006. The league currently has three home teams (that play each other) – the PrissKilla Prezleys, the Angels of Death and the Women of Mass Destruction – and one all-star team, the Memphis Hustlin' Rollers, that represents Memphis regionally and nationally.
2. So, you guys wear skates and beat each other up?
Not quite. This isn't your grandma's roller derby. The sport has grown up a lot since the 1970s – there's a national governing body, there are rules and strategies, and fighting will get you ejected from the game.
3. Well, that sounds boring. Can you at least throw elbows?
You could, I guess, but you'll wind up in the penalty box. Even though derby isn't a violent, heady bacchanal, it's still a full contact sport. Skaters use their shoulders, hips and butts to block opposing skaters. Hits are legal below the shoulders and above the knees, and yes, those hits hurt (just ask to see our bruises).
4. So, how does the game work? Is there a ball?
There are no balls in derby. The game has a fairly simple premise, but first, you need to know the positions. Each team fields four blockers who play offense and defense. One of them wears a striped cover on her helmet. She's called a pivot and has some specific powers and penalties, much like a football quarterback. Each team also fields a jammer, a skater who wears a star on her helmet. She's the only one who can score points.
At the beginning of each two-minute long jam, a whistle blows. The pack of blockers starts skating forward, jockeying for position. Once they all pass the pivot line, the jammers are released. It's then the jammer's job to work her way through the pack, picking up points for each opposing player that she passes. Meanwhile, her blockers are trying to help her through while at the same time defending the other jammer.
5. Who plays derby? Are you guys professionals?
Sadly, none of the skaters in MRD get paid to play. To the contrary, we have to pay to do it. Our skaters are students, teachers, moms, bartenders, artists, accountants – there's no one kind of woman that plays derby. The only things that every single one of us has in common is that we're over 18 years old and we love the sport.
6. What are your games like? Will I have fun? Is there beer?
MRD's games, which are called bouts, are usually double headers, meaning that you get two games for the price of one. We do sell beer and merch, and Uncle Lou's Fried Chicken sells snacks. Sometimes, we've got other fun stuff like the Amurica photobooth or special halftime shows. The bouts are completely family friendly.
7. That all sounds great. I want to come watch. When and where does MRD play?
MRD plays about once per month at the Pipkin Building at Tiger Lane. The next bout is on June 30 at 6 p.m. You can see a full schedule of MRD's events here. Tickets are $12 at the door for adults, $6 for kids and free for kids 4 and under. You can get advance tickets for $10 at Goner Records or Blues City Skates.