Broken Hearts & Body Parts: River City Rollergirls on collision course with each other

Mark Robinson
Staff Writer

The anticipation builds as the crowd counts down from five. Ten competitors await the signal. The first whistle sounds, and eight bodies jolt into motion. Within seconds, another whistle sounds, and the jammers are released.

Mayhem ensues.

“Forty Ounce Bounce” bursts from the red line and weaves toward the cluster of competitors in front of her. She reaches the back of the pack and begins manipulating her way through a host of hipchecks and shoulder charges.

She absorbs contact from all angles as she cuts through the thick of the pack. As she emerges, the crowd erupts into applause.

The River City Rollergirls were out in force on Saturday night.

The nonprofit group hosted Broken Hearts and Body Parts, a roller derby doubleheader at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. The event pitted Poe’s Punishers and Uncivil Warriors against the visiting Columbia Quad Squad and Miss B-Havers.

“We’re not watching our favorite sport on TV; we are the sport,” Maya “Brawling Barista” said. “This is our league, and these are our fans screaming for us – it’s indescribable and addictive.”

River City Rollergirls are in their sixth season of competition. The league boasts two teams but may be expanding due to increased interest in the area. The two teams travel and compete regionally and nationally; the league operates under the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby rules.

In roller derby, each team is allowed 10 players on the oval track. Each team consists of three blockers, a jammer and a pivot. The blockers are responsible for defense, and along with the pivot, make up the pack. The pivot is a hybrid player that starts as a blocker, but becomes a jammer later in the jam, or round.

The jammer, whose helmet is marked with two stars, is the primary scorer. They are rewarded points for each blocker they pass after the initial lap around the track. The jammer that passes all the blockers and pivots first is rewarded the position of lead jammer and wields the power to end the jam at any point during its two-minute duration.

Like hockey, there is a penalty box for infractions. Those who are penalized spend a minute out of action. A match, or bout, consists of two 30-minute halves with a 10-minute halftime. The team with the most points at the end wins.

The game play itself is hectic. The echo of the referees’ whistles mashes with the click-clack of skates on the concrete floor. The crowd is always buzzing, anticipating the next big hit. Injuries are a reality; EMTs wait on the sidelines to respond if necessary.

Jolinda Smithson, or as her teammates call her, “Smithson Wesson,” is an adjunct professor of mass communications at VCU.

All of the River City Rollergirls have a nickname that appears on the back of their jersey. Some of the more colorful ones include “Traumagotchi,” “Patsy Climax” and “Scarriet Tubman,” just to name a few.

“Brawling Barista” hopes that more first-timers come out and experience the sport she loves. “The bouts are exciting, terrifying, emotional and intense,” she said. “It is the best way to spend a Saturday night in Richmond, hands down. We are Richmond’s home team!”

For more information about the River City Rollergirls, visit their website at www.rivercityrollergirls.org.

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