Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Jocelyn Rowley

Roller derby - Boulder County Bombers


Photo by Katie Rowley Officials observe roller derby action at the Boulder County Bombers Home Team Championships at the Boulder Fairgrounds on July 8.

From the outside looking in, roller derby seems to have much in common with professional wrestling — cartoonish characters, cartoonish outfits, and cartoonish violence. That comparison may have been apt in the past, when television shows such as RollerJam and RollerGames featured scripted plots and inane stunts, but today’s players bristle at the comparison.

While the sport admittedly has its theatrical side, there’s nothing staged about the competition in contemporary roller derby. The players take the bouts seriously, and are there to win. Nor are the players professionals. They are unpaid, and compete solely for the love of the sport, the competition, and their teammates.

Last Saturday night at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, three teams from the Boulder County Bombers (BCB) flat-track roller derby league played for bragging rights and a trophy in the 2017 Home-Team Championships. The BCB, which was established in 2011, is a member of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), comprised of more than 400 member and affiliate leagues worldwide. There are about 100 BCB league members, including skaters, skating officials, non-skating officials, volunteers, and coaches. Though practice facilities in the area can be hard to come by (and expensive to keep), the league has secured space in a barn west of Niwot for the daily practice and training sessions.

The BCB is primarily women, but men are by no means excluded, and many serve as team volunteers, officials, and dedicated fans. “We are not a co-ed league, but we do have men involved in our league in all areas,” said Courtney Imhoff, Vice President of the BCB, who has been with the organization since 2013. “The roller derby world works hard to be inclusive, and while we can always make improvements, we feel that we’ve struck a good balance! We have skaters and officials from all walks of life.”

Not unlike high school sports, the WFTDA features different levels of competition. Charter teams play for league rankings and divisional playoffs, and are analogous to varsity level. The BCB charter team, the All-Stars, wrapped up the 2017 season earlier this year with a 6-6 record, and is currently ranked 60th out of 325 teams. The Bombers’ B team, the Bombshells, is still in season, with an upcoming bout in Salina, KS (July 15) and then a tournament in September. The league also has a non-traveling C team.

By and large, BCB teams compete against other area flat-track teams, including the FOCO Punchy Brewsters (Fort Collins), but the All-Stars have faced a few international teams this season. The BCB also divides its skaters into three home intra-league teams: the Daisy Nukes, the Shrap Nellies, and the Night Witches, the league’s newest squad. These teams hold bouts throughout the regular season.

With two wins on the night, the Night Witches captured the 2017 BCB Championship, followed by the Shrap Nellies in second place (1-1), and the Daisy Nukes (0-2) in third. For Imhoff, who goes by the roller derby moniker Jude E. Boom when she’s blocking for the Witches and the All-Stars, the win was “fun and exciting,” but roller derby’s main appeal is the community’s inclusiveness and culture of acceptance.

“It’s been an incredibly positive influence in my life,” said Imhoff, whose interest in derby was spurred by its “hard core” physicality. “It’s a wonderful space, where everyone is welcomed. It is also the first place in athletics or the sporting world that I’ve been a part of where there isn’t an ideal body type.”

Roller derby play can seem chaotic to the uninitiated. Like little league soccer, at first it seems like just a mass of bodies in matching shirts darting around together with a common but unclear purpose. But once you sort out the jammer (the skaters with the stars on their helmets) from the blockers (the skaters doing the, uh, blocking), it becomes easier to follow the action.

Make no mistake, though, roller derby is a “full-contact sport”, and injuries do occur. To combat this, the WFTDA has instituted strict safety measures, including a Minimal Skills Requirement test for all participants, and strict rules about how and where bodily contact can be initiated. Nonetheless, as in virtually all competitive team sports, the skaters can expect bumps and bruises after a strenuous bout, and more serious injuries do occur from time to time.

To be sure, nowhere is the theatrical side to roller derby more evident than in the players’ selection of names, and the punnier the better. Among BCB skaters are Downtown Stabbey, Catastrophoebe, Elyse LeKraken, and Dinah Fire. Players choose their own names once they pass the MSR test and, according to Imhoff, choosing a name is like a rite of passage.

“Picking a roller derby name is a really fun part of the community,” said Imhoff, whose derby name is derived from her favorite author growing up. “Some of them are a little risque, but most are pretty family friendly.”

In recent years, some leagues have eschewed the outrageous names in a bid to grow the sport’s legitimacy.

In either case, fans have embraced the sport’s new grassroots aesthetic and have made flat-track roller derby one of the fastest growing sports in the country. The sport also has a developing international presence, with teams in Europe, South America and even the Middle East. The BCB, which grew enough to add a third home team this year, is planning to launch the Boulder County Bottle Rockets, a league for kids 6-12, in August. They are also on the lookout for new league members, volunteers and fans, and will have a new session of skaters starting on July 10th.

“We are always recruiting skaters and officials,” said Imhoff, who said she is especially excited to see younger players getting involved. “The kids are adorable on their skates.”

Up next for the Bombers is the Bombshells B team bout against the Salina Sirens. The BCB will be back at the fairgrounds for the third annual B-52 Bomber tournament in September. For more information about the league, visit their website at bouldercountybombers.com.


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