Back on track
SF Bay Bombers put roller derby in the spotlight as they battle at the fairgrounds Saturday
Donning roller skates, the SF Bay Bombers will fly around the banked track with a vengeance in a battle over San Diego Firebirds Saturday at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. As the team dukes it out for the win, they're also fighting for a comeback.
The new generation of Bombers hopes to see a resurgence of interest in the sport. While recent games have had good turnouts, general manager Jim Fitzpatrick thinks going beyond the word-of-mouth publicity will bring in new fans.
The co-ed teams are comprised of 10 members, but only five can be on the track at a time. The game has two halves, and with each half there are four alternating 10-minute periods for women and men.
At the start of a game, the teams start in position called the pack, which is comprised of two blockers, two jammers and a pivot man. In order to score a point, the team must "jam." During this time, jammers have 60 seconds to go from the rear of the pack and pass a member of the opposing team all while evading blockers. Each person passed is a point scored. All this, is done on skates around a banked, or angled, track.
The game is physical, with some skaters flying through and over the rails. Fitzpatrick said the skaters make it look easy, but it proves challenging even for the toughest athletes.
In the past, Channel 20 would feature games on TV. Fitzpatrick remembered watching it as a kid and seeing the team near his Sunset district neighborhood in San Francisco. He started with the minor league team in 1978 and then made the team in 1980. When injuries put a halt to competing, he was a referee in the league.
Then 21 years ago, roller derby went off the air and the sport lost its momentum in the Bay Area.
"I've been waiting for a long time," Fitzpatrick said.
The timing seems right as Channel 20 KOFY was brought back Oct. 8. Fitzpatrick and a team member recently hosted "Retro Night" and are working on a Thanksgiving special show.
As for athlete interest, there are several willing and able competitors ready to get back in the action. With exhibition games at the county fair this past summer, Saturday's game marks the second time the team has come to Pleasanton.
Makani Roy was born and raised in Hawaii, where the sport was very popular. It wasn't until moving here years later that a friend skating with the Bombers encouraged him to come to a training day. He picked up with the team in 2001 and has been with them ever since.
"We have a really great team of talented skaters," he said. "I really look forward to having the East Bay community come out and support us."
So far he's been impressed with the comeback and hopes the interest continues.
"We've gotten more and more fans attending," he said. "We're doing really well and hope it continues with the younger generation taking part in the sport. It will keep on rolling."
For anyone who is unfamiliar or even unsure about the sport, Fitzpatrick encourages them to come out Saturday and see what it's all about. He brought his daughter's Girl Scout troop to a game last season and the girls had no prior knowledge of the sport.
"They walked in with bored looks on their faces and then their eyes got wide," he said. "They lost their voices and all got hooked."
He said the same thing usually happens for any new group taking in all the action.
Historically, having started during the Great Depression, the sport has had its popularity during war or bad economic times. Fitzpatrick said now, in a time of war and economic uncertainty.
"They come and get their emotions and aggressions out," he said.
Doors open at 7 p.m. with game time at 8 p.m. in the expo center at the county fairgrounds, located at 4501 Pleasanton Ave. VIP tickets are $20, while tickets for adults are $10 and children are $5. Parking is $8.
To learn more about the team, visit www.arsdbombers.com.