This is not your mother's roller derby. Uh, it was probably never your mother's roller derby.
But today, she just might get into it.
"Back in the ‘70s, it was sports entertainment, with fixed bouts," said Mitch Frerichs of Longview, who handles play-by-play for the Rose City Rollers, Portland's roller derby league.
"In this incarnation, it's pure sports-- no pre-determined outcomes."
A real estate appraiser in his day job, Frerichs volunteers for the derby gigs, including out-of-town bouts.
Like the skaters and referees, Frerichs has a derby name — Mike Chexx — and derby duds.
He wears suspenders holding up black gangsta pants with white stripes, a black tie with white polka dots, black-and-white wingtip shoes and a Charlie Chaplin hat.
In a recent bout between Portland and Seattle all-star teams, Chexx was all business.
In the dark, pregame rink at Portland's Expo Center, he passed out guidelines to commentators. "I hate written scripts, which is why this sucks," he said.
No, no, insisted his Seattle counterpart, Le Grand Morte. "We can be sure our cues are the same."
"You have fun, dude," Chexx said. "I trust you with it."
Le Grand Morte's wife, La Petite Morte, skates for Seattle's Rat City Rollers. Her team and Rose City's Wheels of Justice took turns warming up on the concentric ovals of the rink.
White letters spell their names on their tops. Wile E. Peyote, Sirius Mischief, Honey Hellfire, Lethal Lolita and Carmen Getsome flashed by in fishnets and crazy socks, tattoos and braids.
(Some of the funniest names can't be printed in a newspaper.)
Still raunchy and theatrical, skaters today are more athletic than the derby divas of the ‘60s.
The May 15 bout between Portland and Seattle packed the bleachers with more than 2,000 fans and gave Chexx plenty to howl about.
He and other commentators are as versed in penalties and patter as any basketball announcer.
"As long as you love this sport, there's so much to talk about," said Le Grand Morte, also known as Ethan Savaglio of Seattle. "They're incredible athletes. And roller derby is their sport — it's not a modification of a men's sport."
"When the action is going on, we try to keep with the pace of the bout," Chexx said. "If it's high-energy and frenetic, we'll be high-energy and frenetic. If it's dialed back, we'll be there."
Chexx and his wife, accountant Amy Parks, got talked into going to their first roller derby by Amy's Portland hairdresser, skater Viagra Falls.
Amy's now learning to skate, and "We've been fans ever since," said Chexx, who jumped at the chance to call bouts a year ago.
"I've always loved sports on the radio, and I debated" at Mark Morris High School and Lower Columbia College, which honed his skills at thinking and talking fast.
'Depends on the fall'
Fast it is.
Roller Derby is a streamlined sport in a small space, so it's easy to understand what's going on.
Twenty skaters per team suit up to play a bout, which has 30-minute halves. Play consists of 2-minute jams, with five skaters for each team on the rink: four blockers, one jammer.
When the first jammer of either team pulls ahead of the pack, a ref signals her as the lead jammer, and the crowd explodes.
Once the lead jammer passes all the blockers on the opposing team, she's eligible to score points: one per blocker every time she passes.
The jammer's speed and skill will control that jam.
She has the power to stop the action, a strategic move in response to penalties or other threats. Opposing blockers try to stop or slow her, her own blockers try to clear the way.
Elbows are off limits, but body slams are legal. Thus the game's legendary smackdowns.
Teams seem to include at least one monster player among their blockers; Rat City provided an explosive moment near the end of the Saturday bout when their towering blocker wiped out one of the Wheels of Justice.
She tumbled right back into play, but Rose City's F-Bomb took a fall that left her on crutches.
Chexx said the most common injuries are to legs and knees, and sometimes there's a back injury. "It depends on the fall."
Brutal bout, textbook hits
Roller derby's scene is familiar to any fan of pro sports.
When the play-by-play isn't shaking the hangar, rock music blares. A halftime show of syncopated a cappella drums was as deafening as it was thrilling.
Athletes and fans are a wildly diverse bunch, proud of their grass roots beginning, the fact that their sport is not corporate controlled, and the way it's grown beyond fixed fights.
Everybody gets off on the furious competition as well the bad-girl vibe.
Skaters bust out of day jobs as child psychiatrists, hairdressers and artists, practicing and training nightly and shedding stress in physical bouts -- to say nothing of the post-game parties.
In the stands, squeaky clean middle-aged tourists share metal bleachers with young families and derby regulars strutting their tats, tutus and trashy goth attire.
Portland's coach, "Rob Lobster," looks out of place in his suit, tie and tidy haircut but coaches with a vengeance. Saturday he got "quite excited," Chexx said, "as brutal a bout as that was. ...
"The hit Anya Heels put on Scratcher in the Eye was one of the biggest I've ever seen," Chexx added. "It was textbook. She got knocked into the next zip code."
Scratcher in the Eye concocted her name from a cult teen novel, and her number is 243. "Funny thing," Chexx said, "that's the number of pages in ‘Catcher in the Rye.' "
"Scratcher was back on her wheels quickly," Chexx said, and the Wheels of Justice got the decision of their dreams, winning 124-105.