The traditionally all-female Memphis Roller Derby will now accept men into their growing grassroots league. While they won't compete in public bouts, guys will skate at open league practices and scrimmage weekly with league members.
The roller derby is looking to grow its membership and compete for national attention after a recent year-long restructuring period.
The Flyer spoke with Naudia Vanelli (who becomes Vanelli Ice when she straps on her skates) about the new male rec league and how the men's team could eventually take on a competitive life of its own. Vanelli joined Memphis Roller Derby in 2014 after refereeing for a team in South Bend, Indiana. — Joshua Cannon
Flyer: For those who don't know (I'm raising my hand), how is roller derby played?
Naudia Vanelli: Roller derby is played by two teams who field up to five players at a time. The game is broken up into two-minute "jams" of play. Each team has a scoring player, the jammer, and four blockers. It's the blocker's job to get their jammer through the pack and stop the opposing jammer from getting through. For each opposing blocker a jammer passes, he or she scores a point. It's a unique game in that players are playing both offense and defense at the same time.
Why did the league decide to include men?
The decision to include men was two-fold: We're working on growing our member base as a league after a year of restructuring, and we really want to provide a space where both women and men in the Mid-South can learn how to play roller derby in a safe, inclusive environment. This was something that the league as a whole voted on.
How many men is the Derby looking for?
As many as we can get. We're hoping that eventually we can start a men's league that will branch off from — but work closely with — Memphis Roller Derby.
Men will play as rec league skaters but not in public bouts. What does the rec league encompass?
Rec league could be classified as "derby lite." Players in our rec league can skate at all practices that are not closed to specific teams, and they can scrimmage weekly with the league. Active, team-placed players have to make minimum skate and service hours each month to be eligible to bout, but that's not something rec league skaters have to worry about. Not only is rec league for men, it's for women who want to learn how to play roller derby but can't make the time commitment that being an active skater requires.
What steps would it take to form a competitive men's team?
Memphis Roller Derby has traditionally been a women's league, and we're currently in our 10th season. There have been attempts made in the past to form a men's team in Memphis, but due to numbers, it never took off. Once we get enough men in our rec league and they get ready to compete, they can start scheduling bouts with other co-ed or men's teams.
Are there any pros and cons of forming a co-ed team or having men and women play together?
We had a co-ed mashup earlier this season with a team from Clarksville [the Red River Sirens], and the majority of our skaters had previously skated with men before we voted to allow men to join the league as rec skaters. The physicality of play between men and women is a little different, but the more different players we go up against, the more tools we have in our skater toolkits.