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Roller Derby players travel far and wide for love of the sport

Roller Derby has come a long way since its outrageous ways of the 80’s, when the sport felt like pro wrestling on skates. The action back then included clotheslines, piledrives, over-the-top characters, scripted dramas, and in one case, an alligator pit in the middle of the oval.

“It’s definitely much more of a real competitive athletic sport now than it is about the spectacle,’” says Matt Theriot, co-founder of the New Orleans Brass, the state’s only male Roller Derby team.   Think more “football on skates,” he adds. “But the contact is more constrained. You’re contacting with your shoulders and your hips to keep things civil enough.”

Like football, however, Roller Derby can be violent. “Even just within legal contact, shoulders and hips, you can have people speeding on the outside of the track and taking a huge hit and they’ll just go flying,” says Theriot. “Or if you’re backwards, everything on the front part of your body is legal contact zone, so you have a lot of control backwards but you’re also a big target so you’ll see some people getting blown up when they’re facing backwards.”

Also like football, injuries do happen, including a couple broken bones, according to Theriot. “There’s definitely understood risk, inherent risk when you’re playing the game, as with any contact sport.”

Each team has five players on the track at one time. “Four are the blockers and one is the jammer,” Theriot says. “The jammer is kind of like the ball or the running back, and every time they lap an opposing player, they score a point. So those are the very basics of the game.”

The Brass competes against teams from all over the United States, from New York to Florida to Minnesota. They’re completely self-funded, Theriot says. “It’s just for the love of the sport. There are some very high level skaters on some really high ranked teams that have sponsorships, but generally speaking nobody’s doing it for the money.”

And as the only men’s team in the state, the Brass has players that come from as far away as Mobile and Pensacola every week just to get to the New Orleans East warehouse where the team practices on Sundays.

Theriot became intrigued with Roller Derby while hanging out with friends involved with women’s Roller Derby in town. “I was just helping out, then I started doing the paperwork while they were playing, and just watching it, and it was just so entertaining and looked like so much fun,” says Theriot.

So about three years ago, he and a friend started the Brass. “It took us a while to gain enough people to play, but we did,” Theriot says, “and it’s been a lot of fun.”

The team is looking for a few more players, and surprisingly, you don’t even need to know how to skate – or even have skates. “We’ve trained people who literally have never skated before,” Theriot says, although some sort of athletic experience is helpful.

“One of the biggest barriers to getting in is getting skates and getting gear and stuff like that,” he adds. “Luckily we have a ton of extra stuff, so we usually can help people get geared up for trying it out.”

Their next bout is against Houston on May 27th at the Human Performance Center at UNO. Check out the team’s Facebook page for an extended schedule. And if you’re interested in joining the team, email info.nolabrassrd@gmail.com.

Brian Friedman writes about New Orleans for NolaVie.