Chicago’s Windy City Rollers
Chicago’s history with roller derby (a term coined by the Chicago Tribune) goes as far back as 1935 when people would pack the old Chicago Coliseum to see “Colonel Leo Seltzer’s Transcontinental Roller Derby.” The sport has changed as much as the world has since then, transforming from a gimmicky side-show race to a full-contact sport consisting of teams of trained and organized athletes.
Jump to 2004, when Elizabeth Gomez (Juanna Rumbel) and Kelly Simmons (Sister Sledgehammer) established the Windy City Rollers, the city’s first all-female flat-track roller derby league.
Consisting of four teams, Double Crossers, The Fury, Hell’s Belles and Manic Attackers, the league held its bouts at the Congress Theater until 2006 when it moved to Cicero Stadium. Now on a regulation-size track, the teams competed each season for the right to play for the Ivy King Cup, named for Chicago derby legend Ivy King.
During its initial phase as a league the bouts seemed to resemble pro-wrestling more than a legitimate sport, but as popularity grew the Windy City Rollers dropped some of the kitsch and boiled the formula down to a fluid mix of brutality and poetry.
Matches begin on a whistle, when a pack made up of three blockers and one pivot for each team begin to skate around the track. On a second whistle, both team’s jammers will attempt to race through the pack. The jammers tend to be the quickest and most agile girls on the track, and the blockers capable of dishing out the most crushing hits. Once a jammer has made it through the pack, she can score points by racing around the track again and lapping her opponents. The first jammer to clear the pack gains “lead jammer” status and calls “the jam” off at any point. What unfolds is a sport that requires chess-like strategy and rugby-like aggression. It’s also a great spectacle to take in with a beer. Fans can be just as rabid as the competitors and the stands often look like a mix between pep rally and all out riot.
Having left behind the gimmick fights and the congestion of the small track, the Windy City Rollers compete not only with one another, but with other leagues across the country in all-star tournaments. Though the Windy City Rollers have yet to capture a national title, they have seen significant success, losing in the championship round to New York City’s Gotham Girls.
The league currently skates its regular season on Saturday nights at the UIC Pavilion, with each night featuring two matches. Tickets go for $20-$35, though the league does offer child, student and senior discount. Tickets are also available at windycityrollers.com