Just when your family is complaining there’s nothing left to do in Whatcom County that they haven’t done before, enter the Bellingham Roller Betties. The preseason games take place at the Lynden Skateway, and the regular season takes place in Bellingham at Whatcom Community College.
The upcoming games are March 31, April 21, May 12 and June 2 for the Championship.
I think a lot of people have heard of the Bellingham Roller Betties, our local roller derby team, but I don’t think everyone’s had a chance to experience a bout. (You really ought to change that.) The Bellingham Roller Betties are a part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, which is an international group that governs the sport of women’s roller derby.
For those who are not familiar with roller derby, each game of derby is called a bout. A bout is played between two teams, with five players for each lineup. The line up consists of one pivot (with a striped helmet), three blockers and a jammer (with a star on each side of the helmet.) The team in composed of 55-88 skaters split between four home teams. Each game is 60 minutes, broken into two 30-minute periods. Those are the basics, the rest of the details of the game will make more sense while you’re watching.
The regular roller derby season runs February through April, with championship bouts in May and June. Get the schedule here, and see you at the derby.
1) The basics of roller derby
My Roller Bettie friend Emily, derby name Law and Diss-Order, explained some of the basics to me.
A quick vocabulary lesson had me up to speed:
- Jammer: This is the skater, signified by a star on her helmet, whose job is to get around the track as many times as possible to score points.
- Blocker: Four blockers try to keep the opposite team’s jammer from getting around the track.
- Jam: The two-minute period in which the jammers try to get around the track. The Lead Jammer is the skater in front. A Power Jam takes place when one of the jammers is no longer on the track due to a penalty.
- Calling off the Jam: The lead jammer can decide to call off the jam if she has scored enough points to win the jam. Since skating all out for two minutes can be exhausting, this can be a helpful strategy for conserving energy over the length of the bout.
Penalties can be issued for skating out of bounds or “cutting the track” to get a better position. Use of elbows or headbutting will also garner skaters a penalty, as will blocking outside the designated “zone.” No blocks are allowed below the knees, to the back of the body or to the head.
Once you’ve got the basics down, you can sit back and cheer on the Betties as they take on teams from around the Puget Sound, along with inter-squad scrimmages. You’ll laugh at the silly derby names, like Luna Tick, Bertha Beatdown and Shreddy Bruisevelt, and gasp at the monumental pile-ups that inevitably happen.
These women are truly great skaters, and you may be equally amazed by how skilled they are while they avoid crashing into each other.
2) This really is a family-friendly event
You may have conjured up an image of some really rough, hard-drinking harlots out to smash each other into next Sunday, but that’s really not the case. Even though their tongue-in-cheek motto is “Breaking Hearts and Body Parts,” the Betties discourage profanity and derby rules keep the sport from being violent.
This sport has a huge focus on providing a family-friendly environment by making it welcoming of all ages. And, a lot of the Betties are also moms who want to bring their kids to the track. Lots of awesome dads and partners are there, too, watching the kids while mom skates. In 2017, they have even started a junior roller derby team in Whatcom County called the Subdued City Rollers, where every kid is welcome to join roller derby.
At the games, there are even activity tables for kids to play with crafts to keep busy. Last year, they even partnered with a local nonprofit Bellingham Girls Rock Camp and the young musicians got to perform at a Roller Betties bout.
I’ve seen toddlers and even infants (with ear protection) at the derby, and there are places to sit up close to the track where kids can see.
3) Where to watch a bout
These ladies are popular, and the turn out was greater than we expected! You can purchase tickets ahead of time to lessen your wait and ensure you get in before it’s sold out.
During the regular season, the bouts are played at the Whatcom Community College Pavillion Gym. Tickets for adults (13+) are $14, kids (age 8-12) are $6 and children 7 and under are FREE. You can get your tickets online at Brownpapertickets.com OR at either Community Co-op locations in Bellingham. During the off-season, you can also watch bouts at the Lynden Skateway from March until June.
It was wonderful seeing the community come out for these events, the Lynden Skateway was packed. It’s good to note that outside food and drinks aren’t allowed, so a snack first might be advisable, especially if you’re bringing kids. The best deal at the snack bar is a bowl of popcorn large enough to share among many little hungry roller derby fans. (Parents there is also a beer garden if you’re looking for an adult beverage.)
At the Whatcom Community College Pavillion bouts you can enjoy food trucks or the Mile Pie Club if you’re hungry.
After the Betties, you can find all sorts of good places to eat in Lynden, including two of my favorites just south of town, the Rusty Wagon and Infusion Cuisine.