Yes! Grand Rapids has its very own roller derby league, the Grand Raggidy Roller Girls. And this is no flash in the pan. The Grand Raggidy Roller Girls skated their first bout in April of 2006 and since then the league has grown to include 3 teams: the All Stars, the G-Rap Attack!, and the Rapid Assault. Why do I care so much? Because I joined GRRG in March 2011, only one week after seeing my first ever roller derby bout. And in that one year, I have grown so much, and not just as a skater. I have found depths of determination and commitment inside myself that I never knew existed, I have become an athlete despite my hatred of exercising, and I have found the confidence to change my life. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Isn’t roller derby just girls in skimpy outfits, skating around a track, throwing elbows and punches?”. Let’s do a quick comparison of old school derby and modern flat track derby.
Old school derby from the 50s and 60s, what people generally think of when imagining roller derby, was rather like professional wrestling is today, i.e. sports entertainment. The rules were made to be broken, there were villains and heroes, staged rivalries, and stage names, like the Blonde Bomber. Old school derby was also skated on a banked, wooden track which required permanent installation.
Modern roller derby was born in the early 2000s in Austin, Texas but in 2005, with the creation of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, modern flat track derby began to develop into the sport as it is played today. One innovation is the concept of the flat track, which allows the track to be set up on any surface suitable to skating. But the main difference is that modern derby is a sport and, while definitely entertaining, is not scripted anymore than a hockey, football or basketball game. Modern roller derby is a fast paced, full contact sport that relies on speed, strategy and athleticism. But we did keep the stage names.
Do you want to read a book about roller derby? Look into “Down and Derby: the insider’s guide to roller derby” and “Rollergirl : totally true tales from the track“. Or maybe you want to watch a documentary? Try “The Roller Derby Chronicles“ or “Brutal Beauty: tales of the Rose City Rollers“. Or perhaps you feel the need for some popcorn and great movie? Check out the amazing “Whip It” and keep your eyes peeled for Grand Raggidy’s own Shutter Speed!