Roller derby is like rugby on roller skates. It’s a sport that mainly women play. They push and jostle. They dish it out, but they can also take it. Sounds untamed, but it’s great fun. One thing counts above all in this contact sport, as a visit to the Rhein-Neckar Delta Quads in Mannheim proves: the joy of taking part.
There is nothing but a mad dash in the beginning. A crowd of ten players on roller skates is pushing, shoving and jostling until the player nicknamed SplinterBelle manages to wriggle free with a spin. Two small, quick steps on the stoppers of her roller skates and she has escaped the pandemonium. She picks up momentum and her strides get longer. SplinterBelle glides over the track, once in a circle, until she has the tumult in front of her again, where her competitor is still stuck in the block formed by Rhonda Housekick and Hannahbelle Lecter, who stand shoulder to shoulder and won’t let her through. SplinterBelle slows down a bit, crouches slightly and skates into the crowd with force, spinning as she goes.
Does it all sound a bit confusing? It is! At least if you’re watching roller derby for the first time. But that doesn’t matter because the atmosphere during the Spring Clean Scrimmage is just rousing. The event hosted by the Rhein-Neckar Delta Quads takes place in the hockey hall of the TSV Mannheim sports club. Roller derby players from all over Germany skate here, warming up for the new season. Nicole Ulitzka, aka Nicky Knox, the Delta Quads’ announcer, stands at the sidelines of the field—all decked out, as always. This time she is dressed up as Elvis wearing a white costume with colourful glittering sequins, golden sunglasses and fake sideburns. She explains over the loudspeakers what’s going on to inform those who don’t understand what is happening on the track.
“Go-go-go-go!” she now cheers the players on. Next to her on the sidelines, Alisa Herm, aka Carrie Headshot, the Delta Quads’ coach, excitedly waves a high-vis waistcoat and calls out to SplinterBelle: “Call it! Call it!” Then there are three shrill whistle sounds and the match round—the jam—is over. The player has collected six points, one for each opponent she laps. The audience cheers and the British rock band Blur sounds from the speakers: “Woo-hoo.”
The Rhein-Neckar Delta Quads have been in Mannheim since 2013.
Jennifer Moss, aka Rhonda Housekick, is one of the co-founders.
Elena Bruckner, however, is a newbie.
Both appreciate the atmosphere and open-mindedness the sport offers.
Roller derby was initially created by women and for women but is open to everybody.
A fast-paced discipline.
Watching is fun, even if you don’t understand the rules right away.
“This is not a discipline for the faint of heart,” says Rhonda Housekick after the match, when she has shoes on her feet again and is called Jennifer Moss. And by that she means: not elitist or pompous, but down-to-earth—despite the skates on your feet. Roller derby is one thing above all: open to everyone who wants to do it. “It doesn’t matter how old, tall, fat or thin you are, and whether you are in great shape or on roller skates for the first time ever,” adds Elena Bruckner, who has only recently joined the Delta Quads. “And most importantly, the sport doesn’t take itself too seriously.” Elena is a newbie and doesn’t have a derby name yet, but already some ideas for her new identity on four wheels, as she assures us. After all, the right fight name is as much a part of the sport as the bruises.
This is not a discipline for the faint of heart,
Jennifer Moss alias „Rhonda Housekick“
Jennifer Moss is co-founder of the Rhein-Neckar Delta Quads, the Mannheim roller derby team. However, she never stood on roller skates until she was in her thirties. “Maybe once as a kid, but no more than that.” She went to Austin on business for a conference in 2011. The capital of Texas is considered the birthplace of modern roller derby, and the Texas Rollergirls is considered one of the best teams in the world. It was there that roller-skating evolved from a show race to a demanding discipline with an 80-page rulebook in the early 2000s. How to push, shove and block is strictly defined. Players who don’t comply are sent to the penalty box.
A friend told Jennifer about the Texas Rollergirls and wanted to take her to a match. But she didn’t have time and missed it. But later she met a player in Florida and was thrilled by what she told her. “It somehow felt as if the universe was trying to tell me something,” she says today. She bought roller skates and proudly posted a picture of them on Twitter although she had never been to a match, didn’t know the rules and didn’t even know if she could move on the skates at all. “Someone replied that there was actually a team in Karlsruhe.” A little while later, she was on the track in Karlsruhe for the first time—and has been known in the scene as Rhonda Housekick ever since.
She and four other players eventually founded the Delta Quads, a division of the Mannheim Inline Sportclub (ISC) in 2013. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the team played in the second national league. But then, training was not possible for a long time due to lockdowns and contact restrictions. Some players dropped out or moved away. The team shrank and is now slowly getting back on track. For a long time, they had trained in the ice stadium at Friedrichspark, which is now about to be torn down. So, they are skating around in the hall of the Mannheim TSV at Luisenpark until the ISC’s new hall in Käfertal has been completed. They train here every Sunday. Anyone who feels like skating with them can drop in. “Just don’t be afraid of bruises,” Elena is quick to add.
Roller derby is a full-contact sport for women and is rooted in the feminist punk movement of the Riot Grrrls in the US. It is touted as a women’s sport, but it actually includes women, lesbians, intersex, non-binary, transgender and agender people. However, men are by no means excluded. They participate in training sessions and act as referees during the matches. And there are also men’s and mixed teams in the meantime. But gender stereotypes are not of importance here anyway. The rainbow flag is present everywhere at the Mannheim scrimmage: on knee pads, tracksuits, buttons and flags. “Roller derby is a very inclusive sport,” Jennifer says. “You can be who you are. People feel safe here”—especially because there is a suitable position for every body stature, fitness level and age.
Jennifer, when she is Rhonda Housekick, prefers to be a blocker. “Roller derby is a very tactical sport; and for me it mainly takes place in the pack. As a jammer, I would feel like I don’t really get to play at all.” Two teams with five players each compete against each other on a flat track. The goal is to collect as many points as possible, which is the jammer’s job. She tries to wriggle out of the pack, skate a lap and get past the opposing blockers one more time. One point is awarded for each time she laps a skater. A match lasts twice 30 minutes and one unit of play—a jam—a maximum of two minutes. Then the teams exchange positions internally, because, in the long run, no one can stand the strain of the match playing in one and the same position all the time.
The audience is as colourful as the players. All ages and die-hard fans as well as roller derby newcomers are represented. The spectators speak English, Hindi, Polish and Palatinate dialect. They suddenly find themselves in the middle of a competition, too. While the match is still going on, announcer Nicky Knox asks them to dance. The right-side dances while Pretty Woman is playing, the other prefers Eye of the Tiger. An actual dance-off to trashy anthems. The players get bitten by the bug, so to speak and start a polonaise on skates between two jams until Nicky Knox yells into the mic: “Hey, this is a sporting event!” But, as we’ve learnt, it’s not to be taken too seriously.
Anyone who wants to join the skaters can always come along on Sundays from 7 pm for a trial session. Register at email@example.com and the Delta Quads will organise equipment in the right size for you to borrow.
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