By Emma Cooper ‘20
On Saturday, April 6, Pioneer Valley Roller Derby (PVRD) opened its 13th annual season with a doubleheader at their home rink in Florence, Massachusetts. First, Western Mass Destruction faced off against Hurt of the Commonwealth, shortly followed by a game between United Front and Monadnock Roller Derby.
Western Mass Destruction, PVRD’s Women’s Travel A-Team, and United Front, PVRD’s All-Gender No-Gender Team, were the host teams. Hurt of the Commonwealth is a team from Worcester, Massachusetts (whose name is a play on words acknowledging Worcester’s place as the “Heart of the Commonwealth”) and Monadnock Roller Derby is part of a roller derby league from New Hampshire.
Roller derby is played while skating counter- clockwise around a track. At any given time, there can be up to five players from each team on the track, including one jammer (the point scorer, designated by a star on their helmet) and a “pack” of four blockers (who try to prevent the opposing jammer from scoring). One blocker from the pack serves as a pivot, a special blocker who can become the jammer upon being passed the star helmet cover. Members of Western Mass Destruction switched off between each of the positions throughout the game.
Mount Holyoke student Lila Oren-Dahan ’20 (known as “Dreadga Allie Poe” in the derby world) is a member of Western Mass Destruction and played in the game on Saturday. A long-time participant in the sport, Oren-Dahan has been playing roller derby since her first year of high school. While playing as the jammer, Oren-Dahan, “Bella LeBrawl” and “Foxygen” contributed significantly to the team’s score.
“In higher-level derby, people tend to specialize in roles,” explained Oren-Dahan. “And they’re very much trained as jammers, as pivots, as blockers. Our league doesn’t do specialization, we really believe people should be able to do everything.” Oren-Dahan personally believes that this is a great practice that allows for contingencies, like players getting injured or sick and being unable to play, moving out of town, or quitting the sport. Additionally, it’s simply more fun. “Ultimately, this is not a professional sport,” she said. “Nobody gets paid to do this.”
Western Mass Destruction pulled ahead 43-2 fairly quickly in the first twenty minutes of the game, especially during the time in which three members of Hurt of the Commonwealth — including the team’s jammer — were sent to the box for penalties. By the end of the first half, Western Mass Destruction had scored 150 points while Hurt of the Commonwealth put 30 points on the scoreboard.
After hearing about the game from Oren-Dahan, Rachel Yousman ’19 decided to show up and support her friend. “This was my first time at a roller derby game,” she said. “I loved cheering on Lila [Oren- Dahan] and getting to see her in one of her many elements, but I also loved just being in the space and being part of the energy of the spectators,” said Yousman. “After the game, two little girls and their mom came up to Lila to ask for her autograph, which was so heartwarming.”
The game ultimately ended in favor of Western Mass Destruction, with a final score of 299-64. Though the disparity between each team’s points may seem drastic, it’s not uncommon for a game of roller derby. Due to the fast-paced nature of the game, teams are able to quickly rack up points in a short amount of time. “A game within a hundred points could mean that it was close for the majority of the game until the last twenty minutes, and then one team really pulled ahead,” explained Oren-Dahan.
Oren-Dahan’s favorite aspects of roller derby are “the strategy and the community around the game,” which she claims are incredibly special. In particular, she said the fact that offense and defense are essentially simultaneous requires players to think about “how you position yourself so you are helpful in both ways,” and “the different tricks and skills you can learn to better reach that point.”
Especially as a 20-year-old college student who otherwise might not have been able to interact with people outside of Mount Holyoke very often, Oren- Dahan said that roller derby allows her to make connections with adults in the surrounding community. Yousman also appreciated the sense of community and the enthusiasm she perceived in the sport. “I was honestly really surprised to see so many people, both players and spectators, wearing the colors of their pride flags and decked out in other personalized flair, like elaborate makeup and patterned and colorful gear,” she said.
A typical PVRD season goes from April to early or mid-September. While there will be no more home games for the rest of the semester, members of the Mount Holyoke community can catch a game during the summer or during the next academic year on Sept. 7 or 14. For those who want to try out something new, or continue with the sport of roller derby, PVRD welcomes adults of all skill levels to join a team.