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Published on September 12th, 2011 | by Hot Quad

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In Pursuit of Derbyness: Superfan

The crowd waits in a barely controlled murmur. The air is thick with the smell of anticipation and overpriced beer. The whistle blows – players erupt in chaos. Thousands of eyes are trained to a single location. Thousands of gasps sighs and moans are heard with every block and maneuver. The play is called, the score flashes overhead. My throat leaps out in a voiceless scream amid the cacophony of other fans and the boom of a cannon. TOUCHDOWN MONTANA!

Shit. Wrong sport.

As fresh meat I’ve been told that to play derby you must first watch a lot of derby. It’s the fastest way to figure out how the game is played and to discover which skills need to be developed in order to be an effective player. However, it’s hard to go to very many bouts without getting caught up in the drama of the sport as a whole, the natural byproduct of which has been discovering that one team that feels like my own. Until recently the only team that was “my” team was the University of Montana Grizzlies. Then the Oly Rollers swept in and stole my heart.

Going to an Oly bout is a bit like going on a pilgrimage. Olympia is not close to home. Parking for Skateland is in a large field next to the rink. The only facilities available during the hour-long wait for doors to open are fairly well-maintained port-a-potties. It’s usually raining. Still, the wait results in seats directly on the floor behind the foam barriers that surround the track. This guarantees that my butt vibrates with every plow stop, hard turn and block. It also fuels my hope that someday one of the players will careen off the track and land in my lap.

As a whole, the setting may be somewhat inauspicious, but the skaters are not. Oly has 3 players headed to the World Cup as Team USA making it easy for me to get star struck. However, Oly isn’t ranked number one in the western region because they have three world-class skaters, it’s because they have 20 great skaters who work together as a team and display a deep knowledge of the game.

For instance, in most of the bouts that I’ve watched, once the jammer breaks through the pack she’s gone. At Oly the opposing team’s jammer had better be damn sure she’s 20 feet out before thinking she’s going to make a lap and score. Time and again the jammer breaks through only to be outpaced in the short distance by Sassy or D-Bomb and wind up with an ass in her crotch while Oly’s jammer races through the pack. Oly can hit as hard as anyone but they rule the pack with their agility and positional blocking.

They also exhibit extraordinary restraint. Atomatrix is easily the fastest skater I’ve ever seen but she never sprints unless she has to and she never looks tired. Tannibal Lector has the patience and ability to act as an effective blocker while jamming, just until enough of her own teammates get out of the penalty box to lend a hand. Neither of those two players would be able to exhibit their particular brand of athleticism if it weren’t for Hockey Honey, Scara Ta Death, Heffer and Licker*N*Split who jam just as often or more.

When all is said and done, and they’ve won by a 137 point spread (average this season), Rettig to Rumble stands at the door, shakes people’s hands as they leave and thanks them for coming. I think it’s a wonderful gesture of goodwill for the fans. It makes me appreciate her, because in spite of all her success in the sport, she’s still connected to the people that help make it happen just by coming to watch.

When it’s my turn to shake her hand there are so many things I want to say. “i know im a grownup and i dont want to be too horribly offputting but omg i think youre so amazing and thank you for being a pioneer in this sport so that others can follow in your footsteps and i know im a grownup but think your face is really scary.” But what comes out is… nothing, although this last time I did manage to ask for a photo and her response was “Sure! Scary or nice?” Scary of course.

The author and Rettig to Rumble

As a whole, the experience grabs at some essential part of my gut and wrenches it up into my chest. I no longer smell the roller rink stench of floor laminate and child vomit, I no longer notice a lack of air conditioning, I no longer remember that the bathrooms rival most gas stations in terms of cleanliness. Instead, I always leave Olympia feeling like I’ve bathed a little in glory, and maybe I have.

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