A bang-up bout

Tri-Valley has its moments but Nor Cal prevails

Jaime O’Neill, the author of “Strong women, little wheels,” wasn’t able to attend the Nor Cal Roller Girls’ Aug. 25 bout at Cal Skate against the Tri-Valley Roller Girls, so I went in his place. I’m glad I did.

There were a couple hundred people in attendance, sitting on bleachers at both ends of the track, with the east end serving as the “beer garden” and the west end, near the Cal Skate entrance, as the “family section.”

I knew nothing about the sport going in, other than what I had gleaned from Jaime’s story, and at first the bout was pretty confusing to me. All I could see was a bunch of women skating around the track for a couple of minutes at a time, banging into each other, falling to the floor, and trying to score points, though how they got those points was a mystery.

It wasn’t long, though, before I began to sort things out—thanks to help I got from the friendly woman sitting next to me—and understand that, besides intense physicality, the sport requires a great deal of strategizing and quick thinking. That’s because, as Sister Mary Hate said after the bout, “You have to play offense and defense at the same time.”

That’s especially true of the blockers, who have to stop the opposing team’s jammer from breaking through the pack while creating space for their own jammer to do that very thing—all while zipping around the track. Then, once their jammer has gotten through, they have to try to slow down the pack so she can circle around the track and break through again—the only way to score points.

Complicating things further are the many ways skaters can be penalized and, like hockey players, sent to the sin box for a minute. There are about six referees patrolling the infield, scanning for abuses—face hits, trips, back blocks, track cuts. Like the skaters, the refs give themselves fanciful, funny names like “Doogie FoulzHer.”

Then there’s the matter of the “lead” jammer. The first of the two jammers to break through the pack is designated the “lead,” which gives her a singular strategic power: She can signal an end to the jam at any time—say, when she sees the opposing jammer about to score points.

In fact, many of the jams are shorter than the full two minutes because the lead jammer has signaled them dead.

When the bout began, Nor Cal got off to a great start, with jammer One Hit Wonder quickly racking up 10 points, and just six minutes in the score was 27-7 Nor Cal. This wasn’t a surprise, because Pleasanton-based Tri-Valley was a new team that previously had been in only one bout—though somehow it had won that contest.

For much of the first half the Nor Cal jammers, led by Slappa Ho, Spongy and One Hit Wonder, had little trouble blasting through the Tri-Valley blockers. But those blockers started getting it together, and as halftime neared Tri-Valley had trimmed Nor Cal’s lead from 32 to 24 points.

Then, with less than a minute left in the half, Tri-Valley jammer Enya Dreamz broke through the Nor Cal defense and went on a tear, running up 20 points and bringing the score to 65-56. The sizeable contingent from the Tri-Valley area that had driven to Chico to root for their team, suddenly sensing victory, screamed in excitement.

But it was not to be. Nor Cal was just too strong. Even when down to only three players because of penalties, Nor Cal refused to let its lead slip away, and the team cruised to victory, 164-124.

As rough as the bouts can be, however, there are no hard feelings. Afterward, the teams retired together to a party at the Maltese Bar and Tap Room.