In a comment on my most recent post, Gem asks what the point of roller derby is. In a sense it's a race between the teams fastest girls while the rest of the team runs interference. That's a very simplistic description that doesn't do justice to the game, but it's a quick and pithy way to put it.
A roller derby match is made up of three twenty minute periods. The periods are separated into jams which can be up to two minutes long. The number of jams in a period depends entirely on the teams involved and on how each individual jam plays out.
Each team has five players on the track for each jam assuming that none of the players are in the penalty area. Those five players include a pivot, three blockers and a jammer. The pivot can also be thought of as the lead blocker while the jammer is the person that scores the points for the team. The pivot is the skater with the stripe on her helmet while the jammer is the skater with the star.
At the start of the jam the blockers are in a pack, pivots in front, with the jammers some distance behind. The jam begins at the ref's whistle at which point the pack begins moving. When the rear most blockers reach the point where the pivots began, the ref blows a double blast on the whistle which is the signal for the jammers to begin.
The blockers must stay in a pack and will move at a moderate speed around the track. The jammers must skate through the pack and then lap the pack before scoring begins. On her second and subsequent trips through the pack, the jammer scores points for each opposing blocker that she passes legally, and by legally, she must remain in bounds and not perform any illegal blocks. The blockers' job is to impede the progress of the jammer and knock her silly if possible.
On the first pass through the pack, the first jammer to legally make it through the pack becomes the lead jammer. She may call off the jam at any time after she begins scoring which just means that the jams ends and no more points can be scored by either team until the next jam. If neither jammer becomes the lead jammer, the jam will last a full two minutes. The lead jammer may elect to skate the full two minutes or may call off the jam by placing her hands on her hips.
The game may look like nothing more than a bunch of crazy bitches with a grudge and a death wish. Even after I understood the rules I was unable to make sense of the jams for some time. Over time, as I've watched and grown more in love with the sport, I've finally come to a point where it makes sense mostly. I still have a hell of a time trying to score jams. Many people do, and for this reason, there are jam refs. They are on the inside of the track and skate alongside the jammer, pointing at the jammer they are watching and keeping track of points accumulated by their jammer. If there is a lead jammer, her ref will hold his or her non pointing hand in the air to indicate lead jammer status. There are other refs who watch the packs and jammers looking for rule infractions.
There are indeed rules, though many people may assume there are not. The rules pertain in large part to blocking techniques and tend to try to put a modicum of safety on an inherently dangerous sport. I would wager that my brief synopsis is enough for most people. However I will give a couple of links to help out any prospective roller derby fans or hopeful skaters. If you want a more in depth version of the rules, look HERE. If you want to get involved in derby you can either check online for a local league or look HERE and scroll down for a listing.