Up Close And Personal Jonathan R. jams against Men's Team USA teammate Bill Coulter. Photo by Sean Hale

Published on March 14th, 2014 | by Andy Frye


Jonathan R. jams against Men's Team USA teammate Bill Coulter. Photo by Sean Hale

Guys Go Global: Men Follow Women’s Derby Footprint with World Cup

World Cup winner and Gotham star Suzy Hotrod has been playing roller derby for ten years now, as of this May. Yet when she first strapped on skates she had no idea that her new pastime in 2004 would grow into a worldwide revolution.

“I was in a band, and my band had broken up when a friend mentioned roller derby and I said, ‘Yeah that sounds fun’.” But for Hotrod, like so many others, roller derby became a devoted passion.  “Derby came at the right time,” she said.

Hotrod also let on that originally derby was “super informal” and that Gotham started practicing outdoors with a handful of women. Even her squad number, #55, came basically by accident. Before a flyering event, Hotrod picked up what she figured would work as derby girl shorts at a thrift shop. These “hoochie shorty shorts” as she called them, happened to have number she would eventually wear to represent Gotham and her country.

“Man, we had a great time,” Hotrod said, observing the laissez faire approach of the early days.

But by the time the first whistles of the first World Cup blew in December 2011, derby had become truly international sport. The next Blood & Thunder World Cup is scheduled for December 2014 in Dallas, Tex., and will feature women from 20 countries this time around.

One other notable fact about the game: flat-track roller derby is the only sport so far in history to establish a men’s game subsequent to being created by and for women. Following the footprint that women have established, the men of roller derby will kick off their own World Cup, Friday in Birmingham, England.

Jonathan Rockey, who is now known to many as Jonathan R. of the New York Shock Exchange, is a jammer for Team USA Men. Before playing, Rockey got involved as a volunteer in Gotham’s league back in 2007.

“It was exciting,” Rockey said. “But I wasn’t convinced at first because of the level of skating.” Rockey, who skated throughout childhood in artistic skating competitions, was eventually persuaded to jump in after being approached by a Gotham skater about becoming a ref or coach.

“He came in as a referee and just had really good skating skills,” Hotrod said says of Jonathan R.  “This was at a time when all of us players were blown away by someone who could skate that well.”

Rockey later got involved at a deeper level as a bench coach for Hotrod’s local team, the Queens of Pain. In turn, the sport grew on him.

“I grew to love roller derby as much as any sport, probably more,” said Rockey, who played football in high school. Meanwhile, Rockey got an itch to play derby himself.

Lucky for him, other referees, coaches and volunteers in leagues across the country were talking about getting a guys’ game together. The original idea was to set up a one-time game or perhaps an annual exhibition bout for men who wanted to play roller derby. In setting it all up, participants would follow women’s footsteps, abiding by WFTDA’s rules. They would skate just like women did and hit hard just like the women of derby do.

Within a few months the guys had gotten it all together.  Rockey and a dozen other male skaters staged one of the first-ever men’s bouts of modern roller derby just outside Chicago in March 2008. Run during halftime of a Windy City Rollers’ home bout, the 10-minute contest between the New York Shock Exchange and the “Monsters of the Midwest” was an unlikely hit. It also served as the springboard for the men’s roller derby nationally, and later the Men’s Roller Derby Association (MRDA). But early on, men’s derby wasn’t exactly embraced by all women in the sport.

“In the beginning, there was a pretty large, vocal contingent who felt that men would try to take over the sport,” said Miss Trial, a respected referee for Philly and Charm City who became an early advocate for men’s roller derby. Miss Trial, who serves now as MRDA’s Head of Officiating for MRDA is also one of the lead organizers of this weekend’s Men’s World Cup.

“I think it was important for men to earn the respect of the roller derby community, work hard and show they had something to contribute.” Miss Trial also said that men who participated in derby as volunteers, referees and coaches had also grown up within roller derby, watching and learning from the game’s prolific athletes.

“A lot of the motivation for men who play came from the women we admired in roller derby,” Rockey said.

The 2014 Men’s World Cup will feature teams from 15 different nations. Opening ceremonies will begin at 9:30 A.M. GMT, followed by Finland versus the US at 11:30.  You can watch the action live all weekend at http://mrdwc.com.

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Andy Frye writes about derby for Fiveonfive and has written for a variety of other sports publications. As LeBron Shames, he skates with the Chicago Bruise Brothers.

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Andy Frye writes about derby for Fiveonfive and has written for a variety of other sports publications. As LeBron Shames, he skates with the Chicago Bruise Brothers.

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