Pioneer Valley Roller Derby season heats up

04/21/11 – Smith Sophian

A strange crowd gathered in Easthampton two weeks ago. The crowd was diverse in appearance and ages, and the youngest ones ran around excitedly. Teenagers held poster board signs with numbers on them. Some snacked, while others stood tensely, waiting for the event to start.It was the first bout of the roller derby season at the Williston Northampton School’s hockey rink and people were stoked to see Western Mass Destruction play the Ithaca Sufferjets.

Pioneer Valley Roller Derby, founded in 2005, is the roller derby league of western Massachusetts. The league was co-founded by two current players, Pink Panzer and Bazooka Joe, despite the fact that neither of them knew how to skate, play or organize a league. It has since grown to four teams: Western Mass Destruction, the Florence Fightin’ Gals, Quabbin Missile Crisis and the very first men’s roller derby league to ever exist, The Dirty Dozen. “Pioneer Valley Roller Derby isn’t just an amateur derby club – we’re a family” proclaims the league Web site.

Dana Elliot ’13 is a new league member who first heard about roller derby from her hairdresser in her hometown of Chicago. After joining the league in November she said, “I haven’t looked back.”

“Pioneer Valley has a really great program for teaching skaters,” said Elliot. “Every few months, we have a fresh meat night, where we welcome anyone who wants to come and learn about roller derby and the league. From there, there is a 3-level program with certain skills you need to demonstrate at each level. After you pass all the level tests, you become a rostered player.”

Though Elliot has not yet played in a bout, her enthusiasm for derby seems almost contagious. “Roller derby really appealed to me because it’s such a DIY sport,” she said, echoing the sentiments that surrounded the founding of the Pioneer Valley league. “Everyone who plays derby recognizes other players as a family, basically. The game is also incredibly addictive.”

For those unfamiliar with the rules of derby, here is a basic explanation: there are two teams of five players, each made up of four blockers and one jammer. The jammers stand behind the blockers. At the first bell, the blockers take off. The second bell signals the jammers. The jammers must get past the blockers and skate around the rest of the track and then attempt to pass the blockers again. For members of the opposing team that a jammer passes, their team gets one point. The bouts are two 30-minute halves. Oh, and there is a lot of falling and many, many penalties.

“The downside of derby,” said Elliot, “is it kind of becomes your life. During bouting seasons, there’s something happening every weekend, practices happen at least twice a week and we participate in a lot of events in the Valley.”

Elliot has yet to decide on a derby name. “All my friends have been put to the task of coming up with ideas,” she said. “There is a master roster of all derby names that are taken around the world, so it can be really hard to come up with a creative name that no one has taken yet. There are a crazy amount of really good names. A few that I really love in PVRD are Velawesome Raptor, Jurasskick Park and JD Slaminjure – her name is actually JD.”

Pioneer Valley Roller Derby will be playing bouts in and out of the valley all summer and their next home bout is May 7, at Northampton High School, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door. PVRD will also host a flea market fundraiser on April 23 on the American Legion in Hadley.

More information and the 2011 season schedule can be found at


Reprinted with permission of the Sophian.