“The mission of the WFTDA is to promote and foster the sport of women’s flat track Roller Derby by facilitating the development of athletic ability, sports woman-ship, and goodwill among member leagues. The governing philosophy is, 'by the skaters, for the skaters.' Women skaters are primary owners, managers, and operators of each member league and of the coalition." {1}. -excerpted from the WFTDA mission statement
Roller DerbyTM has entertained many generations during the 20th Century as the sport evolved from the skating marathons of the Great Depression, through Leo Setzer's pioneering Roller Derby league to the popular choreographed bouts of the Sixties and Seventies. But by the dawn of the new millennium, the sport was all but a fondly recalled relic of the past, unknown to most born after 1980.

In 2001, a group of women in Austin, Texas shared a vision to revive the sport. They founded Bad Girl, Good Woman Productions, the first contemporary all-woman Roller Derby league. The league featured four teams competing in a low cost, flat-tracked version of the sport. The founding skaters had minimal business experience and little more than their personal savings to start the league. Employing a do-it-yourself philosophy and heavily leveraging their femininity in fundraising enterprises, the new league struggled through its first year. These pioneering efforts were the subject of the award winning documentary, Hell on Wheels.

The BGGW's hard work earned them popular success and a Roller Derby revival quickly spread far beyond Austin. But despite the success of the new league, internal friction arose between the founding management who owned the BGGW and a majority party of its skaters. The differences were ultimately irreconcilable and resulted in a schism. The BGGW founders renamed themselves the TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls which persevered to become a premier banked track league. The majority party left the BGGW and formed the flat track skating Texas Rollergirls league.

As the flat track model was free from the expense of building and maintaining a traditional banked track, new leagues quickly formed throughout North America adopting the rules and guidelines retained by the Texas Rollergirls league. The WFTDA started as an online discussion and support group for this network of leagues and in 2005, "became the official membership organization which sets the rules and standards for the game and facilitates networking and collaboration among members {2}.”

The Game

A Roller Derby bout played between WFTDA member teams is played on a flat track with two 180 degree turns and parallel 35' straight-aways. The inner circumference of the track is roughly 148.5' and the outside circumference is 236.5'.

Roller Derby skaters are required to wear 2x2 skates, a helmet, wrists guards, elbow pads, knee guards, and a mouth guard. Skaters must be women over 18 years of age. There is a minimum skills requirement that WFTDA recognized skaters must demonstrate annually.

Each team may field up to fourteen skaters for a bout. Each bout is divided into two 30 minute periods which consist of "Jams" that last up to two minutes apiece. Each team puts a lineup on the track consisting of the following skaters.

  • One (1) Pivot Blocker (wears a helmet cover with a stripe)
  • Three (3) Blockers (no helmet cover)
  • One (1) Jammer (wears a helmet cover with a star)

In each Jam, the Pivot Blockers line up at the Pivot line and the remaining Blockers must line up behind them. These eight skaters form the Pack. Behind the Pack, the Jammers line up on the Jammer Line. The Jam begins with a single whistle blast from the Jam Timer. pair of whistle blows. The first whistle starts the Pack forward and once the entire Pack is past the Pivot line, the second whistle starts the Jammers.

Each Jammer will attempt to skate past the opposing team’s Blockers. The Blockers can use their hips, shoulders and butts to block the opposing team's skaters or to push them out of the boundaries of the track or to knock them off their skates.

The first Jammer to legally maneuver past the opposing members of the Pack is awarded Lead Jammer status. The Lead Jammer may now score points and will attempt to skate around the track to engage the Pack once again. Each opposing Blocker that the Lead Jammer successfully passes earns that Jammer's team a point and she can continue to lap the Pack for the duration of the Jam.

The opposing Jammer, who does not have Lead Jammer status, can also score points in exactly the same manner. But the Lead Jammer can "Call off the Jam," early at any time to prevent the opposing Jammer from scoring. Otherwise, the Jam ends two minutes from the first whistle and a new Jam with a new lineup begins in 30 seconds. The 30 minute play clock runs continuously unless a time-out is called by one of the teams or by the officials.

Officials

A WFTDA bout requires an officiating staff of referees and penalty trackers to enforce the rules and procedures. Supporting officials may be women or men.

Skating Officials. These are the referees who regulate play and enforce the rules. They employ whistles and officially designated hand signals as a means to properly communicate to scorekeepers, penalty trackers, skaters, announcers and fellow referees.

  • Head Referee. This referee is the senior skating official. She/he skates on the inside of the track, monitors the Pack for rule infractions and assesses penalties to any skater. Other officials defer to the Head Referee. The Head Referee is the only official which may expel a skater or coach.
  • Pack Referees (up to 3). These referees skate on the inside or outside of the track and primarily monitor the Pack for rule infractions and assess penalties to skaters in the Pack.
  • Jammer Referees (2). Each Jammer has her own dedicated Jammer Referee. This official skates with a Jammer on the inside of the track and monitors her/his Jammer to see if she has passed the Blockers legally and within the bounds of the track. This official may asses penalties to a Jammer, award Lead Jammer status and may award a Jammer points.
Non-Skating Officials. These officials - Scorekeepers, Penalty Timers and a Jam Timer, assist the referees in tracking and regulating points, penalties, penalty box time, the Jam clock and time between Jams respectively.

Rules and Penalties

The WFTDA's rules governing member teams and play are extensive and are periodicaly subject to change. For a complete listing of the current WFTDA rules visit the official WFTDA rule guide. This overview of the WFTDA's rules is not conclusive but should further illuminate the main points of the game.

The Pack

    The Pack is defined by the largest group of in-bounds Blockers skating in proximity. The Pack must contain members from both teams. Skater proximity is defined as "not more than ten feet (as measured from the hips) in front of or behind the nearest Pack skater. When two or more groups of Blockers equal in number are on the track, more than 10 feet from one another and no single group meets the Pack definition, no Pack can be defined.”

    Examples of illegally "Destroying the Pack,” or creating a "No Pack" situation, include: "a skater, skaters or team running away, braking or coasting to drop back more than ten feet behind the opposing team, taking a knee, intentionally falling, or intentionally skating out of bounds in such a manner that the legally defined Pack is destroyed.” Destroying the Pack is subject to an array of penalties.

    Blockers can only engage other skaters in the "Engagement Zone.” This zone is defined as, "an area twenty feet behind the rearmost Pack member to twenty feet in front of the foremost Pack member and between the inside and outside track boundaries. Jammers may engage each other anywhere inside the track but must be within the Engagement Zone in order to legally initiate engagement with Blockers. Jammers may engage each other outside of the Engagement Zone."

    "When a skater’s position in relation to other skaters on the track is lost due to the actions of an opponent, such as a legal block or being forced out of bounds, this is known as 'Loss of Relative Position.' A skater losing her position in this manner must re-enter the Pack within her previous position." Forcing an opponent down or out of bounds is NOT considered illegal destruction of the Pack and the skater forced out must re-enter the Pack legally. Re-entering the Pack ahead of the Blocker that forced a skater out of bounds, for example, is a penalty known as "Cutting the Track.”

Blocking

    Blocking is "any movement on the track designed to knock the opponent down or out of bounds or to impede the opponent’s speed or movement through the Pack. Counter-blocking is any motion or movement towards an oncoming block by the receiving skater which is designed to counteract an opponent’s block. Counter-blocking is treated as blocking and held to the same standards and rules."

    The WFTDA has notably divorced itself from the choreographed, fist-fighting hallmarks of Roller Derby of the past. For example, during forearm contact between skaters, if the initiating skater extends her arm during contact resulting in receiving skater being propelled forwards or sideways, this results in a blocking penalty for the initiating skater.

    Skaters may NOT target the following regions of another skater:
    • Anywhere above the shoulders, or "High Blocking"
    • On the back of the torso, or "Back Blocking"
    • Back of the booty or back of the thigh
    • Below the mid-thigh

    Skaters may initiate contact WITH the following parts of her body:
    • The arm from the shoulder to the elbow
    • The torso
    • The hips and booty
    • The mid and upper thigh
    • Skaters may NEVER initiate contact with the head

    "Skaters may not execute a block on an opponent who is down, falling, or getting up after a fall. Skaters are considered down if they have fallen, been knocked to the ground or have taken a knee. Skaters on one knee are considered down. After downing herself or falling, a skater is considered down until she is standing, stepping, and/or skating. Stationary standing players are not considered down."

    "Skaters may not use their hands, arms, or legs in any grabbing, holding, linking, or joining fashion in a multi-player block."

Penalty Assessment

    Every penalty is assigned a specific hand signal. Most type of penalties will assessed by a referee depending on the impact on the affected skater. to be a Minor Penalty or a Major Penalty depending on the severity of the infraction For severe infractions, expulsion is also an option. The criteria for deciding whether a penalty shall be Minor or Major differs with the type of penalty and is ultimately subjective to the referee calling the penalty. For an complete and current list of penalties, please refer to the official WFTDA site.

      Minor Penalties. A referee assesses a minor penalty with an appropriate hand signal and announces loudly the team color, skater number and penalty type. Minor Penalties are usually assessed when, "the infraction does not result in a loss of relative position to the targeted skater." For example if a Blocker illegally blocks a Jammer but the Jammer is not forced out-of-bounds as a result, the Blocker may be assessed a Minor Penalty. A skater can accumulate up to four Minor Penalties without consequence but every fourth Minor equals a Major Penalty which earns the skater a stay in the penalty box.

      Major Penalties. A referee assesses a major penalty with an appropriate hand signal and a whistle blow. She/he then announces loudly the team color, skater number, penalty type. followed by "Major!" Major Penalties are assessed when, "the infraction results in a loss of relative position to the targeted skater." For example if a Blocker illegally blocks a Jammer but the Jammer is forced out-of-bounds, looses position, balance or falls as a result, the Blocker may be assessed a Major Penalty. This assessment results in an immediate stay in the penalty box.

    Any skater with accumulation of seven major penalties will foul out and must physically leave the bout. If a team has enough skaters fouled out so that they cannot form a line, they must forfeit.

The Penalty Box.

    "When a skater is sent to the penalty box, she must immediately exit the track and skate to the penalty box in the counter-clockwise direction. Penalty timing will not begin until the penalized skater legally enters the penalty box from the appropriate counter-clockwise direction." The penalty period is two minutes.

    No team may have more than two Blockers and one Jammer seated in the penalty box at a time. "If a team has more than two penalized Blockers, the penalties will be served consecutively as the third Blocker will sit out once the first Blocker has served her penalty." This may require the third Blocker to serve her penalty in the next Jam.

    When a Jammer is in the penalty box, the other team is said to enjoy a "Power Jam" The remaining Jammer is subject to the same scoring rules. There may not be, at any time, zero Jammers on the track.

Leagues

As of 2012 there are 130 Roller Derby leagues officially recognized by the WFTDA. These leagues are divided into four regions: West, North Central, South Central, and East. In addition to these regions, there are a growing number of leagues outside North America including leagues in Japan, Europe, the United Kingdom, and Australia. A complete and current roster of these leagues can be found at the WFTDA site.

When the WFTDA was formed, there were fewer leagues and most followed the example of BGGW in organizing their leagues into four or more internally competing teams. This enabled a league to accommodate a large number of skaters and a large number of yearly bouts. As the number Roller Derby teams grew in number, inter-league bouts became more common.

A majority of leagues now have "All-Star" traveling teams, many with B-Squads and C-Squads, who are dedicated to inter-league play. These bouts are often the highlights of a Roller Derby league's season as the best players from rival leagues compete for bragging rights. Often such a bout will be a double-header featuring a B-Squad bout followed by the "All-Star" main event.

This inter-league play is ranked by region. Regional rankings are carried out quarterly and are calculated by a vote of all active WFTDA leagues. Based on these rankings, the top ten leagues participate in a playoff tournament. The top three teams from each region's tournament then participate in the WFTDA championships.

The WFTDA was created to help build new leagues and their apprenticeship program is still very important to their mission. Many leagues' B and C squads bout against up-and-coming leagues, many of which desire to join the WFTDA. The WFTDA apprentice program matches new leagues with a mentor from an established WFTDA member league.

Eligibility requirements to be a WFTDA recognized league include the following:

  • The league must be at least 51% owned by league skaters.
  • The league must be governed by democratic principles and practices.
  • The league must be managed by at least 67% league skaters, active or retired.
  • The league must participate in at least 4 flat track Roller Derby bouts per year.

Derby Culture

Since the release of the BGGW documentary Hell on Wheels, Roller Derby has benefited from exposure in the national media. Roller Derby has been featured on Good Morning America, The CBS Morning Show and The Today Show. Drew Barrymore directed a 2009 film Whip It! a story of a fictitious BGGW-like league featuring several real-life BGGW era skaters and Ellen Page as a hot new Jammer. A sexed-up account of Roller Derby was portrayed in A&E's television series Rollergirls.

While obviously benefiting from the tarted-up exploits of television's Rollergirls, the WFTDA member leagues continue to closely associate with its do-it-yourself and female empowerment roots. Every WFTDA league is organized as not-for-profit entity. The very real expenses of hosting Roller Derby bouts are offset by sponsorships, ticket and merchandise sales as well as by fundraising events and promotions. The beneficiaries of any net profits are usually other non-profit organizations that help the community. Battered women shelters, rape prevention organizations, homeless shelters and food pantries are frequent beneficiaries.

Roller Derby is a full-contact sport played by rough-and-tumble women. This image is key to the infectious popularity of the sport. A "Derby Girl" is difficult to define and she varies wildly but typically some variation of a "punk rock-hell-cat-tomboy" image is employed, especially below the waist. Ripped fishnets, striped knee socks, booty shorts, and leggings. Few skaters bout bare-legged so as to avoid "rink-rash." Many skaters cultivate their tough-girl images giving themselves official skater names like "Wreck N'Shrew,” "Suzy Hotrod," "Beth Amphetamine" and"Queefer Sutherland". Heavy tattooing is common. Bruises are badges of honor. Skaters with broken bones skate in splints and casts and stil deliver big hits and fast play to keep the crowds engaged, loud and on their feet.

In the larger cities and with the most established teams, Roller Derby bouts take place on the scale of more well-known professional sports in arenas and pavilions with thousands of permanent seats. Other bouts take place in field houses, skating rinks, and even in warehouses with folding chairs and track-side "Suicide Seats.” While many in the WFTDA have aspirations to see Roller Derby to become a professional and Olympic level sport, the low-overhead WFTDA flat track style of Derby continues to inspire the formation of dozens of new leagues and teams in even the smallest of communities.

Every skater in Flat track Roller Derby is an amateur athlete. She draws no salary for skating. She must skate frequently and be as fit as possible if she is going to compete with her teammates for a spot on the team. Her league might have a dedicated practice space and have skating practices and scrimmages up to seven days a week. Her skate bag stinks and is stuffed with her helmet, pads, skates and skate tools, spare wheels and the flotsam and jetsam of an athlete. She talks Derby, she Facebooks and Tweets Derby. She stalks the internet for videos of her potential rivals.

She is going to work as hard as she can to earn a spot on the "All-Star" roster. She has given herself to her Derby persona and to her Derby team. She shall live to hit her opponents and to hear the crowds howl and cheer her Derby name. Derby is her love and her life. The heart and soul of Roller Derby, she is the embodiment of a WTFDA athlete.


The WFTDA is not the only game on skates! New teams are forming and holding try-outs all the time for women, men and juniors on flat and banked tracks.
Find a Roller Derby league near you!



{1}http://wftda.com/
{2}http://www.texasRollergirls.org/about/faqs/#1
http://wftda.com/rules/wftda-minimum-skill-requirements.pdf
http://wftda.com/rules
http://wftda.com/rules/20100526/section/6
http://wftda.com/leagues
http://www.oldschoolderbyassociation.com/
http://wftda.com/rules/wftda-rules-appendix-b-track-design.pdf
http://wftda.com/faq/playing-flat track-Roller-Derby
http://www.continentaldivideandconquer.com/
http://www.txrd.com/
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CpggAO97lk
http://www.grooveefortune.com/countrystarr/photos/RollerDerby/4.htm
http://www.hellonwheelsthemovie.com/about.htm
http://www.austinchronicle.com/sports/2009-11-27/921441/
http://triblocal.com/wheaton/galleries/2011/12/dupage-derby-dames-roll-into-first-home-season/
http://www.derbynewsnetwork.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Seltzer
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1172233/

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