By Lily Mihelich | Photography by Steven Spoerl
If you’ve ever been to a roller derby bout, you know it’s exciting, fast-paced and requires a lot of skating skill. This year, Madison Roller Derby is celebrating its 20th anniversary as the city’s premier league, and after a hiatus from March 2020-December 2022, derby team members are excited to return to the track for their first full home season back.
“I’ve gotten to meet and play with a dizzying diversity of humans through derby, traveled to places I’d never have gone and challenged myself and grown in ways that I never thought possible,” says Emily Mills, also known as Hammer Abby on the team.
What is Roller Derby?
The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) is the international governing body for the sport of women’s flat track roller derby. Teams compete in games made up of two 30-minute halfs, sometimes called bouts. Five players on each roller derby team skate counterclockwise around an oval track and face off in “jams,” which are roughly two-minute-long segments. One member of each team, known as the jammer, must dodge blockers from the opposing team. Jammers gain a point each time they pass a blocker. Teams are decked out in protective gear and colorful team uniforms, and players typically have clever nicknames.
Madison’s League Was a Trailblazer
Modern roller derby commenced in Austin, Texas in 2000. The skating phenomenon found its way to Madison four years later when founders Crackerjack and Pam Demonium founded the Mad Rollin’ Dolls. The league hosted their first exhibition bout in November 2004, and their official debut bout in January 2005. In 2016, organization became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The Mad Rollin’ Dolls team was renamed to the Madison Roller Derby in 2018.
As the fifth league established amongst the hundreds of WFTDA members now across the globe, Madison’s roller derby team was on the forefront of roller derby’s growth. Madison Roller Derby’s website touts that it was also one of the founding members of WFDTA.
In summer 2024, the league will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its founding, and the 2023-2024 season is their 19th season of home team play. Madison Roller Derby is also fundraising for a new space.
Madison Roller Derby Bouts Will Take Place in a New Venue
The league’s first events were held at Fast Forward Skate center, which was recently demolished to make way for an affordable housing complex. After being displaced, the Madison Roller Derby moved its bouts to the Alliant Energy Center, where their second event of the season will take place on Jan. 20, 2024.
Anyone Can Get Involved With Madison Roller Derby
Madison Roller Derby is host to four home teams: the Reservoir Dolls, the Vaudeville Vixens, the Quad Squad and the Unholy Rollers. Its travel teams, Team Unicorn and the all-star Dairyland Dolls, travel statewide, regionally and even internationally to compete against other WFTDA member leagues.
Anyone can try roller derby with the team. Beginners can enroll in trial sessions, and if qualified, can be drafted into one of the local or high-performing travel teams. Non-skaters can volunteer or learn to referee.
“There’s a place for just about everyone and anyone to find a home within roller derby. Regardless of whether you’ve ever played a sport before, regardless of body type or background or identity, roller derby takes all kinds,” says Mills.