OGDEN — There’s a lot of jammin’ going on inside the Golden Spike Center exhibition hall at the Weber County Fairgrounds.
The Junction City Roller Dolls are practicing, and it’s very physical. Athletes block, push, pull, move forward, backward, to the sides. Some squeeze through bodies, or move around them. You WILL fall down in roller derby.
“Malibu Harpy,” otherwise known as Chelsy Bloomfield, is the jammer for the Roller Dolls’ top team. She has a star on her cap. It’s her job to score points, but she has to get through a lot of bodies to do it.
“I’ve had a lot of injuries,” Bloomfield admits. The Layton athlete, 28, counts a “broken face,” a “ruptured disc” in her jaw and a “fractured kneecap” as injuries on the track.
The first time she tried out for roller derby, Bloomfield didn’t make the cut. “But I kept coming back.” And she’s now a team captain, a veteran and one of the trainers for “Fresh Meat,” a tough, get-acquainted-with-roller-derby regimen for new players.
The jams involve two teams of five players trying to get past the hips of opponents to score points. Seven referees are busy calling points scored and fouls that send athletes to the penalty box. Roller derby bouts last an hour, two 30-minute periods of jamming, with a brief intermission. It’s not uncommon for a bout to have 50-plus jams.
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Portia Millet, an Ogden mom known as “Margie Ram,” was a blocker for five years. She’s now a trained official.
With younger athletes skating on the oval, Millet, hitting age 40, says she can give more calling the rules. “It’s up to me and my crew to play safe and fair. ... We try to have athletics with boundaries,” she said.
For seniors and baby boomers who grew up with “roller derby” on the tube, with lots of “fights” and “miracle finishes,” this game is serious — the best team wins fair and square. The Roller Dolls are part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, a global governing body. The Roller Dolls are ranked 134th in the world of 290 teams.
The sport is slowly getting more recognition. ESPN has been broadcasting occasional bouts, and the WFTDA championship on Nov. 6 will be on ESPN3.
The Roller Dolls formed in 2008 and gained admittance to the WFTDA in 2011. The skaters travel around the country and once hosted a team from the Netherlands. “We won,” Bloomfield said.
The bout on Sept. 10 matches the Trainwrecks, the top, traveling team — the one ranked by the WFTDA — against a team from Florida, the Gold Coast Derby Grrls. Gold Coast is ranked 192. Wins are important; get more of them, and the Trainwrecks can move up a division.
The Trainwrecks’ roster features the nicknames of the players: Cherry von Sin, FirecrackHer, Hannah Bull, Josie Cansockahoe, Lady Shatterly, Malibu Harpy (captain), Pickle, Pumpkin Spite, Purple Nurple, Rage N Red, Roll-X, Shorty Shock N Awe, Vulgar Vixen (captain), and Wookie Monster.
Jen Philion, otherwise known as “Lady Shatterly,” started playing in 2006. She discovered the sport watching TV news. “I was interested in any sport that involved skating.”
Besides Junction City, Philion also played for the Boston Massacre when she lived in New Hampshire. Her position is pivot, which she describes as “the quarterback of the blockers.”
The pivot, who has a stripe on her cap, “sort of leads the play and sets the strategy” of blocking for the jammer. The three blockers have plain caps. At a recent scrimmage, both Bloomfield and Philion showed veteran skill and craftiness moving through the morass of bodies.
Philion counts injuries that include a separated shoulder and a cracked rib. Like many players, she keeps in shape for the sport through cross-training, running, lifting weights and swimming.
Deanna Bojanower, also known as“Dee Wrex,” is a veteran of five years. She plays blocker, which means she’s in the thick of the jamming clusters. A fractured fibula is among her injuries.
With about 25 woman practicing on scrimmage night, and a dozen more on the sidelines, there’s an intensity that goes beyond just enjoying sports.
“I just think that it gives women something to be proud of,” said Natalie Wilson, of North Ogden. Wilson, who played under the name “Slayer Cake,” recently retired. But she’s still at the track, volunteering her time.
Roller derby helped Millet, a former skier, find a new passion. “(It’s) digging deep, opening up that part of you that you have,” she said.
The sport has its fans, too. “From the growth of self-confidence to the physical and mental strength gained, to the discovery of one's athleticism, to the relationships built, it really is a special sport that goes beyond scoring points and winning bouts,” said Sahna Foley, of Ogden.
Bloomfield admits that her family worries about injuries. But they have her back. “They’re very supportive of an athletic environment that empowers women.”
THE RULES OF THE GAME
On Saturday, Sept. 10, at 6 p.m. at the Golden Spike Arena Exhibition Hall (1000 N. 1200 West, Ogden), the Junction City Roller Dolls meet the Gold Coast Derby Grrls.
There are two bouts. Junction City’s Trainwrecks play the Gold Coast team; after that, the two reserve Junction City teams, the Aces and Aftershocks, compete against each other. Tickets are $12 at the door. Children under age 12 are admitted for free with a paying adult.
Roller derby is played in two 30-minute halves on an oval flat track. Each team has five skaters, a jammer, a pivot and three blockers.
Play starts with a jam, a cluster of players gathered together. The jammers try to break through the cluster. The jammer who breaks through first is the “lead jammer” and can now score points for her team by successfully passing the opposing players. Only a lead jam can score points. For example: If a lead jammer passed opposing players three times, her team would score 15 points. The jammer has the option of passing her star cap to the pivot, who then becomes the jam.
A jam can last as long as two minutes. However, the lead jammer can end the jam at any time. After a jam, players have 30 seconds to form another cluster and begin a new jam. Usually, there are several dozen jams IN each one-hour game. There are seven on-track officials who determine the lead jammer and points scored, and call fouls. Players who commit fouls sit in penalty boxes. A player can be ejected for an egregious foul.
After 60 minutes, the team with the most points scored wins. For some FAQs, go to tinyurl.com/hjufhho.