Fast women on wheels

Roller derby back again on Saturday at Armory

JON WINSLOW Special to the Times Union
Section: Sports,  Page: B3

Date: Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Probably you don't know much about roller derby, just hazy snippets from late-night television in your youth - if that youth extends to the 1970s. Maybe you have memories of women with big shoulders and big elbows knocking each other around a skating track.

If you are younger, you might have seen a more recent show on cable - Rollergirls. In any case, you likely have a lot to learn before you can handle hanging out with the Albany All Stars Roller Derby League. For starters, the women want you to know roller derby is back.

That's true nationwide, where hundreds of leagues have begun in the past few years, and it is true locally, where the All Stars will be staging their second bout on Saturday night at Washington Avenue Armory, a contest between the Empire Skate Troopers - an All Stars combination team - and Suburbia Roller Derby from Westchester County. Doors open at 6 p.m.; the match starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 each.

The first bout in February was a near sellout.

"We couldn't believe it," says league member Kim Eisen, aka Dottie Damage. (The players all use pseudonyms.) "The line was around the block. I thought maybe 200 people would come. We ended up with 10 times that."

The women range in age from 22 to their early 40s and their work extends from librarian to nurse, social worker, engineer and a reporter for this paper.

Betting that Saturday's bout will be a big draw again, we put together this primer on the who's who and what's what of roller derby.

We start today with how points are scored. Each day the rest of the week, we describe the players, with position by position details.

"It looks like chaos," says Alexis DeLaTorre (derby handle: Merry Pain), a blocker for the All Stars. "And it pretty much is. Roller derby is the only sport where you are playing offense and defense at the same time. It is also the only one where all of the action takes place behind you - over your shoulder."

The action comes from two teams of five players each clogging the lanes of a skating track that is barely the size of a basketball court. Derby players talk about strategy and skating skills, but for the first-time viewer, it is tough just to tell the teams apart.

The players - a jammer, three blockers and a pivot - work together to score points during a series of "jams" played over three, 20-minute periods. Teams score points when the jammer from one team laps one or more players from the other. Those players, while attempting not to be lapped, are simultaneously trying to spring free their own jammer to scoot by the pack and score points as well.

At any time, players can be knocked out of bounds by a hip check, a shoulder to the gut or by some less legal move, like a shirt tug or an elbow to the chest.

"I got knocked down, piled on top of, then rolled over and stepped on," Dottie Damage says of one bout. So her mother's advice? " `Please don't break anything! I'm still paying for your teeth!"'

****FACT BOX:****

Wheel entertainment

Photographer Jon Winslow indroductes us to the Albany All Stars Roller Derby League, a collection of women who are reviving a popular television sport of the 1970s. He'll provide images and essays daily through Saturday.

Coming Wednesday: Just what is a jammer, anyway?