(credit: HANNIBAL HANSCHKE/AFP/Getty Images)

by Dan Morgridge

Windy City Rollers

Next bouts: 1/28 and 2/11
Price: $20 in advance (with discounts for 4 or more)

Late winter sports fans traditionally only have three things on their minds: mid-season basketball, hockey and Super Bowl withdrawal. But those in the know are preparing for the beginning of one of Chicago’s best sports experiences – and one that fits in with a more modest sports budget than anything at the United Center. The eighth season of The Windy City Rollers is upon us, and the hundred-plus skaters of Chicago’s premier flat-track roller derby league are ready to duke it out for the Ivy King Cup – as well as your entertainment. But before the season gets into swing (starting February 11th), they’re holding a pre-season charity bout this Saturday:

Four teams enter, one team leaves – with the all the money going to their charity of choice. In order to get pumped up for this sneak peak, we’ve put together a quick guide to the wonderful world of the Windy City Rollers.

(credit: Gil Leora)

The Rules

For those whose understanding of Roller Derby is based off of hazy memories of James Caan in “Rollerball,” you’re probably going to need a refresher on the basics. For those who saw “Whip It” a couple years ago, you’re in better shape, but still might need a refresher. Two teams of skaters line up on the starting line. Each has three Blockers, a Pivot, and a Jammer. At the whistle, the jam begins, and the jammer from each team starts working their way from the back of the pack to the front, trying to be the first to pass all members of the opposing team. Whoever does so is the Lead Jammer. That jammer has the option to start lapping the opponent’s players again for points – or to call off the jam if the other jammer is about to do the same and get points of her own. The pack’s goal is simple: help your own jammer through, and crush the other jammer into smithereens. Whichever team jams up the most points wins. Basically, think of a running back trying to get through a defensive line… on skates.

(credit: Gil Leora)

The People Behind The Scenes

A dedicated staff of dozens helps make the league a truly polished sporting event experience. Referees, scorekeepers, and two fantastic announcers keep the game running smoothly. The heavy hitting nature of the sport is not for the faint of heart and plenty serious injuries have been incurred – luckily, a dedicated medical staff and trainers keep safety first. And for the aspiring new skaters, a farm team and excellent coaches means that there’s no amateur hour when it comes to bouts – they’re trained, tested and ready for primetime.

Who Are These People (and when do we party)?

Of course, the first thing most people notice in Derby are the skater’s names. Ruth Enasia, Yvette YourMaker, Zombea Arthur – the gals know how to come up with an alter ego. And if you’ve ever been to any of their afterparties at the Bottom Lounge, you know that most of them can drink you under the table. But despite the sassy sobriquets and their wild behavior, the gals aren’t all backyard wrestlers or punk rockers. Teachers, nurses, police officers, yoga instructors – even some moms are present in the ranks of the Rollers.

The sport’s fan base is continually reaching more people and more demographics. Strong crowds have turned out not only for league and All-Star games, but also for major events like the WFTDA Championships in 2010. New spectators are realizing what the die-hard fans already know: while there’s still some alternative spectacle to a Derby bout, these are athletes that really know how to roll.

Dan Morgridge is a writer from Chicago’s Ukrainian Village. He is a Hell’s Belles fan for life.