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Take 2

A different spin on sports by The Seattle Times staff and readers.

April 12, 2013 at 6:06 PM

In the middle of a roller-derby revolution

By Tom George

Tom George is an avid roller derby fan who was introduced to the sport during the Rat City Rollergirls 2nd season in 2006, he is now the head coach of the West Sound Rollergirls junior team based out of Tacoma. You can follow him on Twitter @ElwoodBruise.

In 1963, a  volcanic explosion just off the coast of Iceland kept going and going. The small island of Surtsey was created, taking shape before scientists’ (and the world’s) eyes. Almost 50 years after it’s formation, it continues to fascinate people.

For me, the same thing can be said about roller derby.

Yes, it’s been around for about 80 years in one form or the other, from it’s origins as a legitimate sport in the 1930’s to it’s transformation into WWE on skates in the ’60s and ’70s and it’s demise in the ’90s. But what we have going on today – not only in Seattle but around the world – is not only a sport taking shape, but a revolutionary force in athletics.

The rumblings of the sport started one night in a bar located on Sixth Street in downtown Austin, Texas. The basic concept was roller derby as a legitimate competition between women only. Then, after some bouts at a local roller rink, roller derby’s big coming-out party was an exhibition bout at the annual SXSW Festival a couple years later. People from all over the United States saw it for the first time and went back to their hometowns to form a similar league of their own. Arguably, that exhibition bout and the leagues that were created soon after are modern roller derby’s first big explosion.

Within those last 10 years, roller derby has grown from the one league in Austin to over 1,400 leagues worldwide. The players’ skills have gone from barely being able to stand up and skate to creating speed-skating sensations on wheels. And the rules continue to evolve and develop in order to make the sport as competitive yet exciting as possible. Yet, even during this incredible expansion, the sport still keeps one foot in the gutter with another fist still grasping for more. Participants want it to reach the heights they feel it can get to, yet they still do a pretty good job of remembering the sport’s punk rock roots. This combination also gives roller derby a special feeling that you generally don’t find in other more “established” sports.

Currently, I have the privilege and honor of coaching the West Sound Rollergirls junior team based out of Tacoma. The oldest skaters on my team are only 15 (high-school sophomores), which means they still have at least two years of junior roller-derby eligibility left. Along with teaching skills, strategies and rules, I talk to them about the responsibility of being the second generation of the new roller derby. They must respect the game – past, current and future – as they continue to help this sport grow. And when I see the passion each of those kids has for the game, I’m confident that roller derby will continue to expand and remain healthy for many years.

We’ve all grown up following football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, etc. The history of those sports goes back long before any of us were born. Yet, we have this understanding that as we watch someone like Felix Hernandez take the mound or see Russell Wilson line up behind the center, that they are a continuation of their sport’s history.

With the modern roller-derby movement, we’re seeing that history begin and start to take shape right before our very eyes. And in the same way scientists were excited to watch the creation of the island of Surtsey, this sports fan is thrilled to witness the historic rise of what will I believe will become one of the more widely played sports on Earth.

To me, that’s very, very cool. Just like the sport itself.

Rat City Rollergirls play tomorrow night at 5:30 pm at KeyArena. Tickets and information: www.RatCityRollergirls.com

Want to be a reader contributor to The Seattle Times’ Take 2 blog? Email your original, previously unpublished work or proposal to Sports Editor Don Shelton atdshelton@seattletimes.com or sports@seattletimes.com. Not all submissions can be published. The Times reserves the right to edit and publish any submissions online and/or in print.

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