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The History of Roller Derby

How did roller derby begin?

Roller derby is a complex sport with a rich history, and has changed significantly over the years since the first days of televised broadcasts.

From The Roller Skating Museum:

Few sports have captured the American imagination quite like the Transcontinental Roller Derby. While drawing upon earlier popular marathon events such as walkathons and bicycle races, the roller derby proved to be an exciting novelty. In addition to its uniqueness within the marathon fad, the fledgling sport further provided Americans with one of their first opportunities to witness women compete in a sport under the same rules of play as men.

Modern day roller derby focuses more on the professionalism and camaraderie of high-level sportsmanship between men, women and all genders. While the focus may have shifted from showmanship to athleticism, the sport is just as exciting, exhilarating and heart-pounding as ever before, for both fans and skaters.

How do you play roller derby?

Roller derby is a sport played on either a banked or flat track. At Pirate Bay Roller Derby, we play flat track. Here’s a quick 1-minute breakdown of the game by Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), whose rule set we follow.

In short:

  • Every game is 1 hour long, with two 30-minute halves
  • Each half is broken up into sessions called “jams” –  lasting up to 2 minutes – in which 5 players from each team take the track
  • The “jammers” are the team mates who have the stars on their helmets, and they stay behind the group or “pack” of skaters before the whistle blows – once the jam begins, both team’s jammers skate forward on the track and make their way through the crowd of players, including their own team AND the opposing team
  • The “blockers”, made up of the other 8 players on the track, simultaneously playing offense and defense as they help their own jammer WHILE trying to stop the jammer from the opposite team
  • The goal for the jammers is to go around the track as many times as possible during the 2-minute jam, as they score 1 point for each opposing player they pass with their hips
  • The first jammer to make it out of the pack becomes “lead jammer” and has the ability to “call the jam” by placing their hands on their hips – this tells referees to stop the jam (this tactic is often used defensively, to keep the other jammer from scoring points)
  • All players must follow game play rules, and if any of the team mates go against the rules, they get sent to the penalty box and forfeit their time on the track for up to 30 seconds

Learn more about game play and rules at