Photos, video and story by Casey Laughter, Daily Flipz Staff Writer
Roller derby is so much more than just skating around an oval track. Participants of the sport will tell you roller derby is a character building, physically demanding, team sport where you have to work together to reach a common goal, which is to win.
“When parts of my life went south, I needed something to help me sort of find my identity again. I wanted something that would help me get back my confidence and strength and I thought of derby. It just happened to be open recruitment time with the Gems, so I went once and never stopped,” Ventling admitted.
According to roller girl Jenny Ventling, the structure of roller derby is layered.
“Roller Derby is points-based, and the way it is played is pretty simple.A roller derby game/match is called a 'bout' which lasts roughly an hour. That hour is broken up into two-minute increments called jams. The two teams each have 5 players on the 'track' during each jam, with four blockers and one jammer.”
A jammer, identified by a special helmet cover, is a skater that attempts to score points for her team. She does this by passing blockers of the opposing team. For every blocker passed, the jammer scores her team a point.
Roller derby is a women’s sport, involving full contact. However, there are rules, which include no usage of hands, elbows, knees, or kicking an opposing team’s skater. Girls will use their shoulders, chests, upper arms, hips, and butt to block and push others out of their way or to block or drive them out of bounds.
The Gem City Roller Derby team was founded in 2006, and is a full member of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association. The number of skaters on the team will fluctuate, but averages out to roughly 60 skates and 80 members total, which includes referees, coaches, officials, and volunteers.
So who is roller derby for? Roller derby is for every type of women! The Gem City Roller Derby team has women who are new moms, who have grandkids, who are professionals with college degrees, and even transgender and gay women.
Jenny Ventling is both a rostered skater on the Violet Femmes, the B-level team, and the League Secretary on the Board of Directors, has been with the team now for 1-½ years. As a child of the 1980’s, Ventling always loved roller skating, and when in her twenties, she contemplated joining a roller derby team, however, life had other, more important aspects that demanded Ventling’s attention.
“Derby is a place where people are safe, which may seem ironic because we spend a lot of time hitting each other. Most skaters find derby during a tough or transitional time in life, when they needed something to help them get through. Derby is all about being strong, pushing past your limits, and being supported by a group of people who is not only a team, but is a tight family.”
Roller derby will test your limits when it comes to physical fitness. While one does not have to be totally physically fit to participate, there are requirements that must be met.
“We all have to pass a test in order to play official bouts. Twenty-seven laps in five minutes it no easy task. I'm in no way a fitness expert, but I can tell you that skating and playing derby is intense and builds muscles, stamina, and fitness. We push ourselves pretty hard and that absolutely transfers to other parts of life,” states Ventling.
Pushing yourself to the limits is what roller derby is all about. Father Rob Culver, whose daughter Gabrielle participates in roller derby, and has done so for the past 3-½ years.
“Time management is huge when it comes to balancing derby, school, chores, and family responsibilities.”
While roller derby can teach responsibilities, it can also transform us in our daily lives. Culver has absolutely seen a change in his daughter she has joined the Gem City Roller Derby team.
“It definitely brought her out of her shell and she has blossomed socially. It also absolutely gave her more confidence in herself and her decision making.”
Ventling echoed the exact words of Culver, saying “derby definitely builds confidence and self-esteem.”
Roller Derby General Rules
“Derby is a place where people are safe, which may seem ironic because we spend a lot of time hitting each other"
STORY EDITED BY SPORTS EDITOR CHRIS POUNDS