Hidden gems: The Delaware Diamonds are the roller derby league you need to know about
Managing Mosaic Editor
The second I walked through the doors of the Christiana Skating Center, I instantly became aware that I was, by far, the least cool person in the room.
Before me were 10 or so individuals, gracefully rollerskating with precision and concentration. They wove in front of and behind cones; I almost couldn’t keep track of their leg movements. By contrast, I tripped on the curb after my Uber driver dropped me off by the rink.
Any sense of intimidation I had instantly dissipated as Amanda Givens, a member of the Diamond State Roller Derby League, who is in charge of public relations, skated from across the rink to meet me. Givens explained that while her biological name is Amanda, on the rink she goes by the roller derby nickname of “Ricrochet,” a reference to her love of crocheting.
For Givens, who joined the team in May of this year, skating has always been a central part of her life. She has been skating since she was two years old, and joined the Diamond State Roller Derby league as a way to skate regularly.
“I didn’t love derby at first,” Givens says. “I loved skating. I found derby because I wanted to skate more. It took me being really comfortable with my team and my abilities to love it.”
The appeal of derby lies in its position as a contact sport and also in its accessibility to women. The sport began decades ago, as a traditionally women’s sport. In its earliest days, roller derby was noticeably more dangerous than it is today, and had less rules. Punching, tripping and elbowing were all allowed, leading to many derby teams disbanding because of the risk of injury.
Additionally, the tradition of having roller derby nicknames also began. According to Givens, they emerged as a way for women to have an alternative persona on the rink.
“Back then, women were supposed to be dainty and proper,” Givens says. “Then, they started doing roller derby and they became somebody else. [They] got to be somebody different.”
However, the spirit of roller derby persisted and eventually a formal organization was created: the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, or WFTDA. New rules were created and positions were simplified.
Now, a roller derby game is played by two opposing teams. According to Givens, each team is composed of four Blockers and one Jammer. The goal of the game is to score points by having the Jammer get through all the Blockers on the opposing team. Working as a team, the Blockers have to assist their own Jammer, while also preventing the other Jammer from coming through. Jammers wear stars on their helmet to identify themselves as the players that score points.
In spite of the sport being primarily composed of women and certain tournaments only allowing women to compete, many leagues, including the Delaware Diamonds, are now coed. There is even a league for men and male-identifying players, called MRDA or Men’s Roller Derby Association.
One of the male players on the Delaware Diamonds is Ryan Rice, who also goes by his roller derby name of Johnny Applespeed, or Apples for short. He plays as a Blocker and also helps benchcoach the team during their off-season. When he initially learned of roller derby through his coworkers, he was not aware that the Delaware Diamonds were a coed team. However, a conversation with his girlfriend convinced him to join, and Rice says that he “fell in love with the team right away.”
“I don’t ever want to come in and be that pushy guy coming into their sport,” Rice says. “It’s always my priority to be a part of the team. I learned right away that the fact that I’m a guy doesn’t matter.”
Rice and other skaters have noticed that aside from being a fun and physically challenging sport, roller derby has also provided them with a solid group of friends; some skaters even refer to their team as their “family.”
For Erin Pudlow (or Tinkerhell, as she is called by her team members), being on the roller derby team is time that she can spend for herself. As a teacher and a mom, Pudlow says that she went through a “quarter-life crisis” searching for an activity that was just for her.
“You carve out this friend time,” Pudlow says. “I know a lot of adults don’t seem to be able to carve out time for friendship in that way. [It’s important] to have friends that are all working together for the same physical goal and have personal interests.”
Similarly, Rice reflects on his experience with the Delaware Diamonds as one characterized by camaraderie and loyalty.
“We can play a game against each other and be totally competitive and then by the end of the night we’re having drinks together,” Rice says. “There’s people on this team that if I were in trouble, they would be the first person I would call.”