For six days out of the week, the Hunter College Sportsplex is exactly what it sounds like: the gym space for the college's athletic department. But on Saturday night mats get thrown down and it becomes the space of the Gotham Girls Roller Derby who come to skate, block, and jam at high speed.
Gotham Girls Roller Derby is a non-profit, all female, do-it yourself league that is made up of four home teams. They are the Bronx Gridlock, the Brooklyn Bombshells, the Manhattan Mayhem and the Queens of Pain. The League’s mission is to create a space to promote the physical and mental strength of amateur female athletes.
This space allows skaters to come and let their hair down and escape the drabness and monotony of the daily grind.
Roller derby is played with five players per side. There are three blockers, a pivot and a jammer. The jammer starts out behind all of the rest of the players and tries to get past all of the opposing team. The blockers' job is to make sure the jammer does not pass them. The jammer will receive a point for every opposing team player they overtake before hitting the start line again. The pivot calls the plays and directs traffic.
A game, or bout, is played over two thirty-minute halves. Each bout is made up of many sets called jams.
The Gotham Girls Roller Derby opened their season on March 31st with a bout between the 2011 champion Brooklyn Bombshells and the Queens of Pain. Brooklyn were ahead most of the game, except for a couple of tense instances in the second half when their Queens rivals tied it up. The final score was Brooklyn: 178, Queens: 162.
Lauryn Tacoronte: I’m Lady Fingers and I skate for the Brooklyn Bombshells and I block primarily, but today I’m going to do a bit of jamming.
This is kind of our battleground. Before you get here, it’s just a regular old college gym, and then you throw on your skates and weigh down the track, and now it’s an epic battlefield.
The whole room right before the whistle goes really silent. It’s like *wawawawawa*
..and then that whistle blows, and it’s just like a light switch goes on, and then you are just in the game and that’s it. It’s you and the other people on the track, and there’s no one else there.
Margot Atwell: Roller Derby gives me a community. I’ve got a hundred people who care how I’m doing and say “Hey, how’s your day?” when I see them a couple times a week, and that’s pretty invaluable.
I love the physical challenge of it. There’s not much in adult American life that’s physically hard. And I find as someone with a really intellectual job, I find being able to challenge myself and push myself physically a really great tonic to the stresses of my work day.
Things I’ve learnt as a player have changed who I am in my daily life. I’m a lot more confident. I try to be more straightforward. Whether I have my glasses on or off, whether I have my skates on or off, I’m the same person. Roller derby allows me to – it give me an outlet to express frustration or anger that I might feel otherwise, but I might not express.
Something that struck me while filming this was how popular this offbeat sport is. Gotham
Girls Roller Derby has an extremely devoted following (especially for an amateur sport), and have hundreds of people involved with the organization. A sold-out crowd of more than 900 people came to watch the home opener at the Hunter College Sportplex. Tickets were $25 a piece.
Gotham Girls Roller Derby encourage anyone to strap on skates and join them, but skaters must try out in order to win a spot on one of the four teams. For those who do not make it, there is still a rec league.