Roller derby teams battle it out at Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion
on March 22, 2011
It’s pouring rain outside, but the parking lot of Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion is still nearly full. Person after person dashes from their parking spot, through the downpour and quickly deepening puddles, to the main entrance of the giant industrial-looking warehouse. Many have umbrellas, and those who don’t hold just about anything they can find over their head—a jacket, a newspaper, or even a plastic bag.
It’s Saturday night and the crowd is here for the 2011 season opener for the Oakland Outlaws, Oakland’s own roller derby team. The Outlaws are facing off against the Berkeley Resistance, the newest team to be added to the B.ay A.rea D.erby (B.A.D.) Girls Roller Derby league.
The B.A.D. Girls Roller Derby league was founded in 2004 and is made up of four teams: The Oakland Outlaws, The Berkeley Resistance, The Richmond Wrecking Belles, and The San Francisco ShEvil Dead. Last year, the B.A.D. Girls realized that three teams were no longer enough to accommodate the growing number of women who wanted to skate, so the Berkeley Resistance was born. The four league teams only play each other once a season; each match drawing a large crowd.
At the Craneway Pavilion, the roller derby ring is laid on top of the floor, the track is marked with hot pink duct tape and takes up half of the huge space. The rest of the area is filled with vendors selling everything from B.A.D. Girls Roller Derby Merchandise to handmade leather goods and skate shop gear. Food and drink stands are scattered throughout the warehouse and a taco truck sits directly outside one of the buildings side doors.
Audience members sit anywhere they can—the area surrounding the edge of the rink resembles the beach on a crowded summer day. The floor is covered with blankets of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Families play cards and small children run amok, smiling and laughing.
A few minutes before the game is scheduled to start, all 13 Oakland Outlaws skate onto the track, black bandanas covering their noses and mouths (they are supposed to be outlaws, after all.) The team skates around the track in a tight huddle. They are crouched down, bent forward, hands on knees. As the announcers go through the lineup, each Outlaw pops up from the pack when her name is called.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” a voice booms from the giant speakers throughout the warehouse. “Put two fingers in the air for the new roller derby team, the Berkeley Resistance!”
“The Age of Aquarius” starts playing over the loud speakers. The Berkeley players skate onto the track waving flowers in the air and giving everyone the peace sign, twirling and skipping as they make their way around the track. The Berkeley team’s coach, who has the derby name Stinky Hippie, walks behind the team. She is wearing a bright orange muumuu and a large pink scarf.
The Berkeley players wear light pink jerseys, their names written on their backs in black. In order to keep games fair—and fun to watch—a number of top players from the league’s three older teams volunteered to switch to Berkeley once the new team started, spreading the leagues talent and inexperience out evenly. Berkeley player Frisky Meow, who is known to Resistance fans as Home Leslie, used to play for the Richmond Wrecking Belles. She was one of the first to volunteer to lead the new team and is now one of its two captains.
Roller derby “has a really steep learning curve,” Frisky Meow said about teaching newbies the sport. “But we have the best league ever. It’s the best roller derby you are going to see in California.”
As the players parade in front of them, three announcers sit behind a small table on top of a platform in one corner of the rink. They are current roller derby players Chesty Gillespie, Miss Moxxxie of San Francisco’s ShEvil Dead, as well as former skater Skato Masochist. The announcers not only narrate the action happening on the track, helping to clear up any confusion the crowd might be having, but also add humor to the proceedings. “Flower power to your Berkeley Resistance!” shout the announcers.
With the game about to start, the announcers do a quick run-through of the basics of roller derby, with members from both teams demonstrating moves, illegal hits, and positions along with the verbal explanations.
In roller derby, each team tries to score the most points by helping players called “jammers” pass as many opponents as possible as they continually skate around an oval track, scoring points for overtaking opposing players. A roller derby match consists of two 30 minutes halves, each made up of numerous “jams” during which the jammers earn one point per opponent passed, starting with their second pass through the pack. Players called “blockers” prevent the opposing team’s jammer from progressing, while helping their own sail through the group smoothly. Players called “pivots” skate at the front of the pack and direct their team’s blockers—like a playmaker—on what to do. Each team has five skaters on the track at one time, including three blockers, one pivot, and one jammer. The “pack” consists of eight players—both teams’ blockers and pivots—who must skate closely together.
Unless a jammer is in the penalty box, each team plays both offense and defense during each jam. One jammer from each team on the track tries to score points with the help of their blockers and pivots. At the same time, blockers and pivots are also playing defense by trying to stop the opposing team’s jammer as she tries to score points for her team. Everything happens fast and all at once.
A jam can last up to two minutes, but can be ended at any time before that by the lead jammer—the first jammer to make it through the pack without penalty. The lead jammer ends the jam by hitting her hips with her hands. The teams play until 60 minutes are up, and the team with the most points wins.
Roller derby is a full-contact sport and injuries do occur. “But contrary to popular belief,” the announcers tell the crowd on Saturday, “there are rules in roller derby.” Players are allowed to use their bodies to slam into their opponents as hard as they would like, but they cannot elbow, grab, or trip other skaters and in general, are not allowed to hit above the neck or below the knee.
In order to prevent injuries from bad hits, all the players are required to wear a helmet, elbow pads, wrist pads, kneepads, and a mouth guard. Seven referees work on the ring at all times to call the penalties. There is one referee on the inside track, three referees on the outside track, two referees monitoring the jammers, and one head referee, who has final say on disputed calls.
“And ladies and gentleman, if you still don’t understand the rules, I guarantee you that somebody sitting next to you does,” the announcers add. “So don’t be afraid to ask questions and get ready for some roller derby action!”
Veterans Ivy Profane of the Oakland Outlaws and Frisky Meow of the Berkeley Resistance are the night’s first jammers. “Lining up on the jammer line for the Berkeley Resistance is number 7, Frisky Meow! And at 500 mg, Ivy Profane for the Oakland Outlaws!” the announcers call out.
Frisky Meow and Ivy Profane are arguably the biggest names on each of their respective teams, but they could not look more different. Frisky Meow’s long blonde hair is pulled into two pigtails that fly behind her when she skates. Her pants look like a combination of black and grey acid wash and tie-dye. Her helmet is a metallic gold. Ivy Profane wears all black. Her short brown hair is tied back in a spiky ponytail. She is easy to spot on the track as one of the tallest girls in skates, and also because she’s wearing glasses with thick black rectangle frames. Both girls wear a cap over their helmet with a huge star—red for Oakland, orange for Berkeley—on both sides. That star identifies them as the jammers.
As pack of Berkeley and Oakland blockers and pivots readies itself behind the starting line, three Berkeley players place their hands on their teammates backs. They are already forming a wall to keep the Oakland jammer from passing.
A whistle blast rings out through the cavernous pavilion. The pack takes off and stays bunched together. It is a penalty for a blocker or pivot to be more than 20 feet from the pack.
When the last member of the pack crosses the starting line, two more whistle blasts ring out. The jammers from both teams burst from their starting line, sprinting toward the eight other girls already zipping around the track.
Frisky Meow reaches the pack first. Her teammates slam the Oakland skaters out of the way and Frisky Meow skates cleanly through the pack. “And Frisky Meow is your lead jammer!” shout the announcers as she emerges from the group and onto the open track.
Meanwhile, Ivy Profane is still stuck in the middle of the pack, struggling against a wall of pink but unable to burst through. Oakland player Leathally Blonde furiously throws her body into the backs of Berkeley’s Aunti Christ and Brawllen Angel, who have created an unmovable barricade at the front of the pack. The Outlaw finally creates an opening and Ivy Profane sails through, only to run straight into the Resistance’s pivot La Chica Mala.
Since Ivy Profane is still working on her first attempt to break through the pack, each opposing player she passes does not earn her a point. But Frisky Meow, who has arrived once again at the back of the pack after a trip around the track, will now earn a point for each black Outlaw jersey she passes.
Frisky Meow is helped through the pack by her blockers who clear the way— she scores four points for Berkeley, passing Oakland’s three blockers and pivot, once. Then she turns around to see Ivy Profane still stuck behind a Berkeley player. Frisky Meow slaps her hands to her hips and ends the jam, preventing Ivy Profane from scoring any points—she was unable to make it through the pack a first time, much less a second. Berkeley is ahead.
Berkeley continues to lead for most of the first half, until, with only nine minutes left to play, Ivy Profane once again steps up to the jammer line, along with La Chica Mala, who is jamming for Berkeley. “If anyone can score those points, it’s Ivy Profane,” the announcers say before the whistle blows.
Ivy Profane works her way through the pack, bobbing and weaving around Resistance players trying to get in her way. She breaks through the front and a huge cheer erupts from the crowd. But the excitement is quickly squashed when La Chica Mala catches up and crashes into Ivy Profane. The resounding whistle that follows means La Chica Mala’s defensive move was a major penalty. Annoyed, La Chica Mala skates to the penalty box—a couple of folding chairs situated between the two teams’ benches—and remains there for the next minute of play.
With La Chica Mala in the box, the Outlaws enjoy a minute-long power jam—Ivy Profane is the only jammer on the track. When she ends the jam, Ivy Profane has earned nine points for Oakland and propelled the Outlaws to within two points of Berkeley. There are nine minutes left in the half.
Only a few minutes later, the Outlaws score enough points to pass the Resistance—Oakland now has 53 points to Berkeley’s 51, taking its first lead in the game. The fans are chanting, “Let’s go, Oakland! Let’s go, Oakland!”
The Resistance must now stop a charged Oakland team from extending the lead. Oakland’s Hazel-Raw, “a particularly brutal jammer” according to the announcers, skates up to the line. Bright red stripes are drawn underneath her eyes. The star on Hazel-Raw’s cap is not just red, but completely covered in red glitter. A red bandana and two tightly braided pigtails peek out from under her helmet. Her black spandex shorts are extremely short.
Hazel-Raw bursts from the line when the whistle is blown. Frisky Meow, back in her role as blocker, looks behind her to see Hazel-Raw fast approaching. She begins setting up a block. Frisky Meow spreads her feet father apart, lowering her center of gravity and allowing her to physically take up more space. Aunti Christ skates up beside her, already similarly positioned, and they grab hands. The block is set.
With Hazel-Raw now only a few feet away, Frisky Meow falls back to meet her, and throws the weight of her entire body into the Oakland jammer. Frisky Meow doesn’t manage to shove Hazel-Raw off the track, but shakes Hazel-Raw’s balance enough to send her hurtling into Aunti Christ’s back. But Hazel-Raw, is only deterred for a second and quickly sneaks past Aunti Christ to score for Oakland.
No matter what they do, the Resistance can’t stall Oakland’s growing lead and when halftime is called, the score is Oakland 80, Berkeley 63.
Returning to the rink for the second half of play, the Oakland Outlaws start throwing more of their new players into the heart of the action. Murderyn Monroe, one of Oakland’s eight newbies, steps up to the line to jam for the Outlaws. When Murderyn Monroe breaks through the font of the pack as the lead jammer, the crowd—along with Ivy Profane—jumps to their feet with excitement. Ivy Profane is screaming while jumping up and down, taking off from and landing on the rubber stoppers at the front of her skates.
But Ivy Profane doesn’t celebrate for long, as Frisky Meow is quickly catching up. As the pack passes the Oakland bench, Ivy Profane and Mandi Festo—the Oakland coach—are slamming their hands onto their hips and screaming at the top of their lungs “CALL IT! CALL IT! CALL IT!” They want Murderyn Monroe to end the jam.
But Murderyn Monroe keeps skating for a few more critical seconds. As the skaters hit the corner, Frisky Meow hurls herself into the Outlaw jammer, sending her flying over the low black mats that line the edge of the rink. As she goes down, Murderyn Monroe furiously slaps her hips, ending the jam.
People in the crowd are getting excited now—the end of the match quickly approaching and the score tied. There is 3:45 left on the clock and the score is Oakland 129, Berkeley 129.
Berkeley’s Brawllen Angel and Oakland’s PB Arson stand at the jammers’ line, ready to go. But when they take off sprinting, instead of rushing towards the pack and trying to break through, Brawllen Angel decides instead to stop PB Arson from moving forward toward the pack at all. Positioning herself directly in front of PB Arson, Brawllen Angel uses her body as a shield, and PB Arson can’t get past her. Brawllen Angel keeps herself in PB Arson’s face, and manages to knock her of the track.
When a player is knocked off the track and no penalty is called, that player must re-enter the track behind the opponent who originally knocked her off. PB Arson gets up and stares at Brawllen Angel, who is standing still and staring back. Then, Brawllen Angel starts to skate backwards toward the oncoming pack. She looks like she is almost taunting the Oakland jammer, and continues to back up.
PB Arson is skating fast along the outside of the track, but she doesn’t get behind Brawllen Angel fast enough. Brawllen Angel stops and bolts forward only when she can feel the breath of the pack’s leaders on the back of her neck. PB Arson is left to enter the track directly in the middle of the pack, and becomes trapped behind Berkeley’s blockers as Brawllen Angel skates along the open track ahead.
“I don’t even know if there’s a rule for that!” The announcers shout in disbelief at Brawllen Angel’s strategic plan. But all that footwork took time, and Brawllen Angel doesn’t manage to pass any opponents in the pack on her second attempt. Neither jammer scores before the two minutes are up.
Now it’s time for the last jam of the night and the score is still tied. Europe’s song, “The Final Countdown,” fills the pavilion. “This is the jam for Ivy Profane,” the announcers say. “This is her song.”
This will be a power jam for the Oakland Outlaws. Ivy Profane is the only jammer on the track, because the Berkeley jammer is stuck in the penalty box. The whistle blows and the pack takes off. The whistle blows twice more and it’s all Ivy Profane. She hits the pack at full speed, and the cheers and screams from the crowd get louder and louder. When she breaks through the front of the pack, the biggest cheer of the night echoes of the high ceilings. The audience chants “OAKLAND! OAKLAND! OAKLAND!”
Now all Ivy Profane has to do is make it back around the ring to the pack and pass one Berkeley player to clinch the game for Oakland. As she skates around the empty portion of the track, Ivy Profane looks tired. It has been a hard and close game all the way through.
As she once again approaches the pack, the entire Oakland Outlaws team watching on the sidelines is on their feet. Some are holding hands, huddled together; some are jumping up and down, their hands waving in the air. All they need is one point.
Ivy Profane dives into the mash of girls, every one of them fighting for the win. The Berkeley players are trying to position themselves in front of her, impeding her way, and slamming into her to push her out of the way. Oakland’s blockers are doing the same thing, but their tactics are aimed at the Berkeley blockers instead of Ivy Profane. When her star soon emerges out in front, the Outlaws go crazy. They’ve won, 138 to 134.
Ivy Profane calls the jam, but the referees are the only people still paying attention to play. As Ivy Profane slowly glides off the track and over to her bench she is engulfed by Outlaws, all jumping on top of her, arms around each other in a giant hug.
But the Berkeley Resistance team members are happy with their performance, too, even though they lost. “We’ve been building this new team with half veterans and half new girls and we’ve been working really hard,” said Frisky Meow. “We could not have played better. Except next time we need to try and stay out of the box.”
“I knew it was going to be close, but I didn’t know it was going to come down to the last jam like that,” said Ivy Profane. “But I definitely knew that they were a really tough team and they were going to give us a run for our money.”
Text by Abby Baird, photo slideshow by Felix Irmer and Teresa Chin.
Richmond Confidential welcomes comments from our readers, but we ask users to keep all discussion civil and on-topic. Comments post automatically without review from our staff, but we reserve the right to delete material that is libelous, a personal attack, or spam. We request that commenters consistently use the same login name. Comments from the same user posted under multiple aliases may be deleted. Richmond Confidential assumes no liability for comments posted to the site and no endorsement is implied; commenters are solely responsible for their own content.
Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.
Please send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.