In some ways, the State College Area Roller Derby (SCAR) is still in its infancy, but its members are tough, dedicated and excited about derby.
I attended a practice with SCAR Derby and even put on a pair of skates to find out just how tough a derby girl has to be.
At practice, members warmed up with a few laps around the rink. We also practiced an exercise in which we paired up and one partner pushed or pulled the other.
Then, skaters separated into two groups: “fresh meat” and returning members. Since I, of course, had never done roller derby before, I went along to practice with the other new recruits.
Almost all of our practice was devoted to learning different ways to fall properly. I had never imagined there would be so many techniques for falling. The other new recruits and I learned that it is so important because we need to be able to get up quickly if knocked down during a bout, or match.
We learned and practiced one-knee falls, two-knee falls and a type of fall that resembled a baseball slide. Even though I used to rollerblade a lot, not all of the movements were as easy as they looked. It was difficult to get up without using the floor for support.
It was even more difficult to keep up the energy throughout the whole practice as bruises formed on my body. But the “fresh meat coaches” were encouraging and enthusiastic, and the other new recruits kept going through every fall technique.
Meanwhile, the returning members were learning strategies to use during bouts. In between falls, I could catch glimpses of what was going on. One girl was trying to break through a pack of several others. They jostled and yelled, and it looked more fast-paced than what I was doing. I could see why the new recruits didn’t get to practice bout strategies just yet.
Later, I talked with a few SCAR Derby members to find out what makes the derby an experience worth having.
Amber Shaw is one of the founding members of SCAR Derby, which got its start in October 2010.
Shaw, 32, of State College, said she had read an article in a magazine about roller derby, and thought it sounded interesting. Also, some of her friends from her home state of Arkansas had started roller derby leagues of her own.
“I remember being upset that we didn’t have a league here,” Shaw said.
Once she graduated from school, she found other women interested in starting a roller derby league,
In the beginning, she said, the league was very disorganized. No one really knew what to do. All the members knew was they were interested.
She added that in a way, the league is still in its founding stages. The way it operates is still being solidified.
“I always tell people that the derby league was the baby I had at 30,” Shaw said.
Shaw said that she values the friends she has made through roller derby, which includes many other women in their 20s, 30s and 40s who are at the same place in life she is.
However, the athletic component is enjoyable to her as well.
“Derby is the perfect combination of femininity and strength,” Shaw said. “I love knocking each other down. I love the rough and tough physical aspect of it.”
The team has two to three practices per week, which last around two hours each. Shaw said the team tries to go to a bout once monthly. This year they are scheduled for 12 bouts — six away and six at home.
What exactly goes on in a bout? Shaw explained the scoring system.
A bout between two teams is broken into several two-minute sessions known as “jams.” There are two main positions: “jammers” and “blockers.”
The jammers from each of the two teams race each other around the track. Meanwhile, four blockers per team either try to impede the opposing jammer, or help their own jammer get around the track safely.
Each time a jammer passes a blocker from the opposing team safely, she earns a point.
The jam continues for the entire two minutes, or until one of the two jammers calls it off. Jammers might end the jam early if they believe the opposing team can score the same or more points than they can.
Caroline Hubbell is looking forward to competing in her first bout on February 16.
Hubbell (junior-fine arts) joined the roller derby last September. She said she wanted to start an extracurricular activity, but hadn’t found any through Penn State that she had really liked.
“So I thought I’d give it a try, and I fell in love,” she said.
Getting started actually wasn’t too difficult, she said. It took some practice at first, but she was motivated to come to practice and keep getting better.
Shaw said determination is the key factor in new derby recruits.
“I’ve yet to meet someone who is completely hopeless as far as learning to skate,” she said. “The things that we see hold people back is an unwillingness to learn.”
I was still sore three days later.