Roller derby began as an all-women’s sport but with its rebirth in 2001 in Texas, programs also included men’s teams, and Englewood resident Josh Souz signed up when he learned about Ground Control, the Denver Roller Derby men’s team.
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Souz and other members of the men’s team took part in the Denver Roller Derby July 12 practice and scrimmage at the Glitterdome in Denver, where the male skaters scrimmaged with the women.
“I have been roller skating most of my life. I was on the rink at a Skate City when I was asked to become a member of the men’s roller derby team and a roller hockey team on the same night,” Souz said. “I hadn’t been in an organized sport for a while, I had played roller hockey, so I decided to figure out what roller derby was all about. That was almost seven years ago and I am still with it.”
The scrimmage was a series of matches called jams. Each team sends five players out onto the flat oval-shaped track, four blockers and a jammer. When the starting whistle blows, the blockers focus on keeping the other team’s jammer from breaking free while opening a route for their jammer to race around the track and score points by passing opponents.
When a jammer got out of the pack during the jams at the scrimmage, her teammates set up to slow the pack while her opponents set up to keep her from passing them. Blocks were physical, often sending one or more players to the track surface. But the players quickly got up and returned to the battle.
Often one member of the men’s team joined the group when a jam was called. It seemed no one payed attention to whether the opponent was a man or a woman and frequently it was a man who got knocked to the skating surface.
“It is always intense out there on the track,” the Englewood man said during a break in the action. “We don’t have a lot of skaters on the men’s team so we scrimmage with the women. The contact is physical and everyone skates hard.”
Souz uses his skating skills and speed as a jammer for the team. He said the most fun for him is when he circles the track and his blockers set things up for him so he can zip through the pack and score points by passing the opposing players.
The 32-year-old said roller derby is fun and his biggest challenge when he joined the sport was learning to use the quad-wheel skates instead of in-line skates.
“I had been using in-line skates almost all my life,” he said. “The only time I had four wheels per skate was when I was a little kid. It took some time getting used to the difference in the skates but it was part of the fun of being a roller derby skater.”
All roller derby athletes are amateurs with full-time jobs to make a living. Souz is a member of a military family and grew up in a number of different places. He has lived in Englewood for more than two years and works in an information technology position as a site liability engineer.
Roller derby was popular in the 1940s and 1950s when the competition was on a banked track. The modern version on a flat track was reborn in 2001 in Texas. It grew nationally and internationally to where there are more than 1,200 leagues around the world. An entry on the internet stated that flat track roller derby is being considered to be added to the list of sports at the 2020 summer Olympics.
A game is divided into two 30-minute periods. Jams can run the full two minutes or be cut off by the lead jammer. Usually there are about 20 jams per half.
Denver Roller Derby’s largest program is for women, but there is also a men’s team plus a youth program for skaters under 18.
The Denver A level team, called the Mile High Club, is currently ranked seventh among the world’s A-level teams.
The program also has a second-level team, the Bruising Altitude, and a C-level team called the Standbys. The B and C teams travel to compete in tournaments around the country. The men’s team, Ground Control, competes nationally and currently is ranked 18th.
In additional to traveling to tournaments, Denver Roller Derby has a local league with four teams that compete from January to April.
All individuals involved in roller derby are amateur athletes. Each player provides his or her own equipment which at least includes a helmet, knee pads and elbow pads. Traditional four-wheels-per-boot skates are used in roller derby. In-line skates are not allowed.
Denver Roller Derby athletes pay a $50 monthly membership fee. The money is used to cover the cost of renting space for games and practices, paying officials and other charges associated with the team. When a team travels, each player is responsible for his or her own expenses.
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