Members of the Quabbin Missile Crisis huddle together, skating slowly around the flat track. Each player takes a turn standing taller than the rest, acknowledging the applause from the crowd as Drew Danger announces their names: Jack A. Lope, Chewbecca, Ro$han Roulette, After Risk, Pink Panzer, and so on. After the introductions, the team retreats to the far side of the track and chooses the five skaters who will compete in round one of their bout against the R.I.P. Tides, who are visiting from Portland.
“How many of you are at your very first roller derby?” Drew Danger asks. I raise my hand. So do a handful of others. “Well,” he continues, “I was just like you eight years ago.”
As the blockers and jammers from each team line up, referees move into position, and non-skating officials (scorekeepers and penalty trackers) take their places. The crowd grows eager with anticipation.
Most of the 120 spectators sit in portable beach or camping chairs that they brought with them. The crowd consists of as many men as women. One mom carries her toddler on her back. Another woman takes out her knitting. A few yards in front of her, a spectator with a partially shaved head wears a T-shirt that reads, “Fuck Authority.”
I’m in a warehouse in the Florence section of Northampton, home turf of the Quabbin Missile Crisis and the other teams from Pioneer Valley Roller Derby: Western Mass Destruction, Florence Fightin’ Gals, and The Dirty Dozen. I have come to determine whether roller derby is more sport or subculture. It exhibits qualities of both.