“We have a roller derby team in Charleston?”
“You’re going to cover roller derby?
“Is that even a sport?”

These are all comments and questions that I received after I told people at MUSC and around Charleston that I had worked out a partnership between MUSC Sports Medicine and the Lowcountry Highrollers. Marie Lockhart, whose derby name is Attackagawea, is a PhD student at MUSC who suffered a torn ACL during roller derby. Like most people, I did not know we had a roller derby team here, so naturally I asked about the team and the sport. Immediately I realized how successful the team and sport could be. Now that Marie is back skating after her surgery and rehab, she and I chatted to discuss the team, its recently concluded season, and its future.

Who are the Lowcountry Highrollers?
The team was created and had its first practice in April 2008, but the first bout did not take place until March 2009. They play teams from Greenville, Columbia, and Myrtle Beach, but there is no statewide affiliation between roller derby leagues. The Lowcountry Highrollers have applied to be an apprentice league for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. “If we do become a WFTDA league then we will be able to play in regional and national tournaments,” Lockhart states. “The other leagues in this state are not affiliated with us and as far as I know, they have not applied to be WFTDA apprentice leagues yet. We compete with other leagues as Lowcountry Highrollers All-Stars (A-team) and the Lowcountry Highrollers Bruisin’ Betties (B-team). These two teams travel and it is highly competitive to earn a spot on one of these teams because you are only allowed 14 players on a roster. With our intraleague (home) teams, The Holy City Heartbreakers and The Swamp Foxes, there is no travel and we have no limit on how many girls can be on a roster. This way of dividing our league allows everyone a chance to play.” Currently they have 35 players on the two intraleague teams, but with the 25 new girls added during recent tryouts, they will soon be adding a third intraleague team.

How are the bouts scored?
Each team has 5 skaters on the track at one time. Four are blockers and one is the jammer. Each team’s jammer starts around the track after the lead pack of blockers. The first jammer who passes through the pack legally is the lead jammer, meaning that she alone can call off a jam to end it. The team gets one point for each blocker of the opposing team passed by their jammer. From my personal experience, it seems complicated at first, but you figure it out quickly, and the announcers do a good job of explaining it as the bout goes on.

A typical bout – anything but ordinary
The bouts are truly events. At the last bout of the year recently, it was estimated that there were almost 2000 fans in attendance. In addition to the actual bout, there are many other attractions. We usually have a band playing before the events. In addition, we have had the Carolina Jam Skaters, which Marie describes as “breakdance on roller skates.” Other attractions have included Homespun Hoops and various martial arts demonstrations. “And we give a lot back to charities in the area,” Lockhart points out. “At each bout, raffles sales go to a different charity. This year we have donated to Habitat for Humanity – Women Build, Surfers Healing (a program that teaches autistic children to surf), and the Folly Beach Relief Fund.”

Is roller derby a real sport?
“We work really hard. We practice 3 or 4 days per week on skates and cross train 6 or 7 days per week. But we consider ourselves athletes. It’s hard to overcome the stigma of roller derby in the 1950’s to 1970’s with the staged fights. There’s nothing scripted here. We work hard and get injured like all athletes. It has definitely evolved into a serious competitive sport,” Lockhart argues.

Sarah Voges is an athletic trainer with MUSC Sports Medicine and serves as the athletic trainer for the Lowcountry Highrollers. “At first look at the team, they do not appear as traditional athletes would with their glitter, lace, short skirts and teased hair. I admit being new to the sport, so it was hard to think of roller derby as anything more than entertainment. But after you watch them in action, one quickly realizes how much endurance, power, skill and technique roller derby demands, just like any other sport,” Voges points out.

From my perspective, these skaters are definitely athletes, and yes, I would argue it is a sport. It involves tremendous strength and cardiovascular conditioning. And it involves serious contact between skaters and results in significant collisions, so the potential for injury is high. The skaters do a great job staying in shape to compete effectively and keep injuries to a minimum.

The 2011 season starts in April, with matches planned for McAlister Field House at The Citadel. Come check out roller derby and the Lowcountry Highrollers. Click here to view the team’s website. Also, please check out a recent article from The Catalyst about the Lowcountry Highrollers. I want to thank Brennan Phillips (aka Shutterpunk) for the photographs.