Image capturing blockers trying to prevent the jammer from entering. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

I open my mouth and out comes the question: “So, how does roller derby work?” Abby Emrich and Eva Carr looked at each other and let out a heavy sigh, and I get the impression that this might be more complicated than I thought.

Carr started participating in roller derby because of her mother’s involvement. Then, the word got passed to Emrich. The two have played together since. Both enjoy the sport because of the community building aspects, as well as how fun it is. Carr and Emrich are both on the junior team at Rose City Rollers. The team consists of players between the ages of 12 and 17. They both enjoy this aspect as it helps players build connections. “You normally wouldn’t talk to a 12-year-old, but they’re really cool and you wouldn’t know that otherwise,” says Carr. Both think the sport of roller derby is very inclusive and promotes positivity. They explained that there isn’t a need for a certain body type to play derby, unlike other sports that are more exclusive when it comes to what coaches look for in players’ bodies. Roller derby is centered around teamwork, and Carr believes that this helps to develop good character and skills in and outside of the sport.

A roller derby game is called a bout. Basically, two teams participate in each bout, which is comprised of two 30 minute halves. Each half is split into a series of jams, which can be 2 minutes long or shorter. At the start of each jam, both teams send out four blockers and one jammer. When the jam starts, the jammer is trying to pass as many of the opposing team’s blockers as they can in order to get points. Blockers are trying to block the opposing team’s jammer and help their jammer get through the opposing team’s blockers. The team with the most points wins.

The Rose City Rollers are part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). The WFTDA is the international governing body for the sport of women’s flat track roller derby and an organization for leagues to collaborate and network with each other. The WFTDA helps to bring a sense of community to the sport of derby. Teams that are a part of the association compete in tournaments internationally, which helps players to make connections, growing involvement. Both Carr and Emrich are part of a small population at Franklin involved in derby. Both attribute the size to a number of factors. Those include it not being very well-known, a lack of funding and the number of rules. Derby used to be a somewhat scripted sport that focused less on the athletic side and more on theatrics and violence, which served as a deterrent to some. That has since changed.  All teams must follow rules that were developed to help players be safe yet still competitive.

Roller derby has been developing and expanding in Portland for many years and has accumulated dedicated fans and skaters who have been watching or playing for anywhere from a few months to 15 years. High school age players who continue through the ranks in their roller derby team are working to make the sport more well known. They hope to provide better access to students by spreading the word and putting in the time, dedication, and effort required to keep the sport thriving in Rose City. Roller derby is an incredibly communal and friendly sport that has grown immensely over the past few years and provides a safe and encouraging space to a growing number of faithful Portland high schoolers.


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