Roller derby is an old sport that is gaining new respect.
The rapid growth of women’s flat track derby in Johnstown is a small-scale version of the sport’s ascension into the mainstream.
Fans can get a taste of the roller skating sport by attending the first Johnstown Roller Girls bout at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Windber Community Building, 1605 Graham Ave.
The all-female skating organization is associated with the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association.
Regionally, roller derby is growing in popularity, said team founder Kim Stewart of Ebensburg.
Stewart, a petite woman in her mid-30s, said her goal is to provide an outlet for competition and athleticism.
“We have recruited women from Johnstown and the surrounding area to be on the ground floor of our league and help promote our sport,” she said.
Make no mistake, this definitely is a contact sport, judging from their gear. Each player wears a helmet, mouth guard, and knee and elbow pads.
The participants take fictitious names and don bizarre accessories such as fishnet stockings, multicolored socks, short shorts or wild makeup to give the bouts a theatrical flair and set themselves apart from other skaters.
“We see some colorful things that the girls add to create their ‘boutfits,’ ” Stewart said.
Doors will open at 6 p.m. with the action starting to roll at 7.
Continuous music will be provided by the band Inside Out, and there will be a wheelchair motocross at intermission.
Bruce Standley of Ebensburg, team announcer and production consultant, said the rules can be a little complicated but he will give the audience a crash course in derby rules.
“I’ll give everyone a little Derby 101 to familiarize people with what they will see,” he said. “I also will give an explanation of penalties during the bout.”
Game play consists of a series of short match-ups called jams, in which both teams designate a scoring player called the jammer. The jammer scores points by lapping members of the opposing team. The teams try to assist their own jammer while hindering the opposing jammer.
“This is the only sport where the player is on offense and defense at the same time,” Standley said.
A penalty is earned by a jammer by illegal passing, which includes elbowing, tripping and back blocking. Passing out-of-bounds also will result in a penalty.
The jam ends when the lead jammer places her hands on her hips, or when the two minutes has elapsed.
The Johnstown league has two teams: Coal Miner’s Slaughter, whose color is black, and Highland Heartbreakers, who wear magenta.
Stewart, aka Kimproper Konduct, is confident people will see more derby leagues flourish.
She started the Johnstown league after driving to State College and Westmoreland County to play. She knew of other women who also were driving long distances.
The new team has nearly 30 members, ranging in age from 18 to the mid-40s. Any woman can play as long as she has the determination, Stewart said.
The women come from all walks of life, ranging from accountants and a professor to a lawyer and stay-at-home moms.
“We will have two teams with about 14 skaters each,” Stewart said. “We try to knock each other down, and I would compare it to hockey or cage fighting.”
Stewart said this is nothing like the bank track roller derbies that were popular in the 1970s and featured catfights and scripted action such as punching or throwing people over the rails.
“This is an aggressive sport, but there are rules and penalties for violations,” Stewart said.
The sport requires physical stamina, and Stewart said she is in the best shape of her life.
“There are no scripted events, but it’s a contact sport – you still get hit and knocked down,” Stewart said. “It’s an aggressive and tough sport, but it is rare that injuries occur.”
Standley said the league wants to be a part of the community and will contribute some proceeds to local organizations.
“From this event we will help the Women’s Help Center in Johnstown,” he said. “In the future, we anticipate donating to the Windber Area Community Kitchen.”
Tom Lavis covers Features for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter.com/Tom LavisTD.