Holy Rollers

      I surprised my son with tickets to the women’s Boston Roller Derby competition at the Shriner’s Auditorium in Wilmington. I thought a night at the roller derby would make a unique birthday present. (My son turned 32 years old , so I’m running out of gift ideas.) I also thought it would be a great father and son bonding moment.

     I saw an ad in my local newspaper promoting the event. I didn’t know the roller derby was making a come-back. It may not be officially back, but it hasn’t died out completely. I thought I should grab some tickets before the sport is gone for good.

     Roller derby as a sport is retro yet futuristic at the same time. There’s an element of excitement in a game comprised of people on wheels whipping around a track, throwing elbows and pulling ponytails to score points. In its earlier days, a roller derby match was more akin to professional wrestling than professional sports, but times have changed. Today’s roller derby is taken more seriously, with more rules, more referees and more penalties.

     Our bleacher seats near the center of the track gave us a great view of the action. These teams of scrappy women were all business. From the look in their eyes, they took these games very seriously, even though they sported names like Elektra Cute, IntoxiKate and my favorite – Loch Tess Monstah.

     I was distracted from the action on the track because I was busy people-watching the audience. The spectators were just as interesting as the skaters. I was surprised by the number of middle-aged patrons. I was in awe of the uniquely hairstyles, many displaying colors not found in nature. Partially shaven heads were the norm. Tattoos were omnipresent. There were lots of children in attendance accompanied by parents who felt the event was family friendly. In this day and age of blurred lines, I guess it was.

     The main match of the night was between the Boston team, appropriately named the Harbor Horrors versus the A-Team from Dublin, Ireland. I had no idea when I purchased my tickets I’d witness an international match-up. I was all set to spend the night cheering on the home team until a group of Dublin fans filled the bleacher seats beside me. They journeyed from Dublin to Wilmington to attend the event. I could tell they were true Irishmen from their shocking red hair, thick Irish brogues and the shopping bag of beer they smuggled in to the stands.

     One of the gentlemen in the group was married to the lead player on the Dublin team. He was there to cheer for his wife. After their shopping bag of beer ran out, they bought concession stand beers for everyone in our row. After that, I was rooting for the Dublin team as well.

     I wanted to find out more about this group of foreign travelers (because it wouldn’t be a night out if I didn’t ask questions to random strangers to learn their untold story). I found some common ground to start a conversation.

     “Hey, Dublin,” I called down the bench to the big red-headed guy in the center of the group. “My grandmother was Annie Kelly.”

     “Who?!” he said in a heavy Irish accent.

     “Annie Kelly,” I said. “Her family was from Ireland.”

     “Do I look like the Registrar of Ireland? You think because I’m from Dublin I know everybody who’s ever lived in the country?”

     The conversation wasn’t going quite as I planned. Plus he was drunk and balling his hands into huge fists.

     “I just wanted to let you know I’m Irish too,” I said.

     “You’re not Irish. Your ancestors were Irish. Nothing against you or your grandmother. Nice to meet you, though,” he said shaking my hand.

     My son tugged my elbow pulling me back to my seat.

     “Dad, sit down before you get punched in the head,” he said.

     Now it felt like a roller derby match. We had a great time despite trying to follow the confusing rules. Even with the helpful handout explaining the scoring and penalties, things were still somewhat vague. We decided to just sit back and enjoy the show.

     The night made rekindled my romance with the sport. Before I attend this year’s summer games, I’m going to watch Whip It, the 2009 Drew Barrymore roller derby film. I’m going to try to track down a copy of the 1972 film Kansas City Bomber starring Raquel Welch. As an impressionable fourteen year old, that film inspired me to become a fan of the sport – and of Raquel as well. That’s a whole ‘nother story. This is a roller derby article, but like the sport itself, it’s hard to stay on track.

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