Justine Kowalchuck skates on as Megan Leonard blocks Karen McClinton.

Justine Kowalchuck skates on as Megan Leonard blocks Karen McClinton.

It’s derby time!

Revelstoke Derailers set for home debut against Whistler team in Ski Town Showdown this Saturday

It’s here. The Ski Town Showdown. The battle for roller derby dominance between the Revelstoke Derailers and the Black Diamond Betties out of Whistler. It’s the debut of roller derby in Revelstoke.

For many, the impression of roller derby still rests in the theatrical, sports-entertainment display of the 1970s, when the violence was played up and the games were scripted. The current incarnation of the sport is a grassroots revival that started at the turn of this century and has quickly spread around the world. Hundreds of leagues have sprouted up across Canada and the world.

This Saturday, June 23, will see two new teams face off when Whistler comes to town for a bout at the Forum starting at 6:15 p.m.

The Revelstoke Roller Derby League started last fall when Stephanie Ells organized a meeting at the Big Eddy Pub. She didn’t know what to expect, but 23 girls showed up and the league was born. They bought skates and started practising their skills – first at the tennis courts in Columbia Park and then at a variety of locations before finally moving onto thrice-weekly practices at the Forum. Several players went to a derby boot camp in Kamloops in May.

Choosing a derby name is a tradition of the sport and the Revelstoke Derailers are no exception. The players on the Revelstoke Derailers go by names like AKilla’ the Honey, Tank, Dirty, Kissmy Carnage and Crash Test Chloe. Ells’ nickname is Pownder Puff.

The Derailers first bout was last month in Penticton – a 189-156  win for the Pistoleras. The held a scrimmage against a team from Vancouver earlier this month and lost handily. Both bouts were a learning experience, they said.

The basics of roller derby are simple – two teams of five skate around a track, with one player from each team designated as the jammer and the other players the blockers. Each jammer has to make it past the blockers to score points. The blockers, in turn, try to create room for their own jammer to pass while stopping the other team’s jammer. They can block using their hips, butts and shoulders, but elbows aren’t allowed. One of the blockers is called the pivot – they wear a striped helmet and call out orders to the other blockers. In essence, both teams are playing offence and defence at the same time.

“It’s like having two pucks on the ice,” said Tennille ‘Kernel Panic’ Barber.

A roller derby bout consists of two 30-minute halves, which consists of plays called ‘jams’. Jams last for up to two minutes but can be ended at any point (more on that below). There is no limit on the number of jams in a period and there is 30 seconds between jams.

Last week I went to the Derailers practice to get a taste of the action. My first impression of roller derby was the seeming chaos as the pack skated about and the blockers jockeyed for position. The jammers circled around, trying to break through the madness, and then the play would stop. I was never quite sure why, despite having brushed up on the rule before going.

As I watched, it became clearer what was going on. I also had help from A.C. Slayed Her, who explained the action to me.

The pack would start first and as soon as everyone was past the start line, the jammers would take off. The first jammer to make it through the pack would become the lead jammer, which gives them the ability to stop the round whenever they want. The lead jammer can call the play if they’ve built up a big lead but also if they’re stuck in the pack, have fallen, or find themselves trailing badly to the opponent.

Of course, there are twists. Probably the biggest one is that the pivot can be made into the jammer mid-round with a move called the star pass (for the star the jammers wears on their helmets). When I watched the practise, the black team pulled off a star pass. When the play stopped, Ells was excited. “That was awesome,” she said. “What just happened was amazing on all sides.”

A demonstration of the sport is planned for before the bout just so the audience isn’t too confused.

For many of the girls, the appeal of the sport is the combination of skill, toughness, teamwork and, yes, sexiness it provides. It’s a real team sport that allows them to be rough while wearing fishnet stockings and hot pants.

Of about 30 girls who have been practising, there will be 14 girls dress for the Derailers at Saturday’s bout and all will have a turn as jammer, though some more than others. The team is bringing in Bradley Foote, aka Coach Lime, to help prepare for the bout and they have just received new jerseys.

What about the fans?

“They need to stand up and cheer when a girl in the Derailers jersey with a star on her helmet passes the other team,” said Ells.

Sounds easy enough.

The Revelstoke Derailers take on the Black Diamond Betties at the Ski Town Showdown on Saturday, June 23, at the Revelstoke Forum. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. and the bout starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at Zala’s, the River City Pub, Society Snow & Skate, Mane Attraction, and online at www.brownpapertickets.com.