Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Holy Rollers!

By Devin D. O'Leary

JANUARY 19, 1999:  God bless hicks. If it weren't for them we wouldn't have Moon Pies, demolition derby or Elvis. I suppose, given time, America's industrialized North could have invented professional wrestling--but do you think they could have come up with the steel cage match? Not likely. It takes the canned beer-fueled ingenuity of our rural Southern brothers to create such lowbrow wonders.

Leave it to The Nashville Network, then, to bring back that long-lost white trash wonder known as Roller Derby. Beginning on Jan. 15, lucky channel-surfing bubbas can break out the Pearl Light and the pork rinds and witness the resurrection of one of America's finest "sports entertainments."

Believe it or not, Roller Derby was invented way back in the throes of the Depression. Back in the '30s, poverty-stricken folks were starved for entertainment. Some enterprising yokel named Leo Seltzer gave them what they wanted by combining wrestling and rollerskating. Originally, the sport forbade contact between skaters, but the "smash and crash" style soon became a hit with audiences. Allegedly, famed writer Damon Runyon helped Seltzer draft the game's full contact rules. Roller Derby eventually hit its pinnacle of fame in the 1950s and '60s. The sport even sold out Madison Square Garden in the early '70s before grinding to a halt in 1973.

With the recent meteoric rise in the popularity of professional wrestling, one Jerry Seltzer--son our man of Leo Seltzer--decided it was time to bring back dad's wacky sport on wheels. Seltzer drafted six professional teams for his World Skating League and talked Universal Studios Florida into building him an arena. Jerry has fine-tuned Roller Derby by putting the teams on in-line skates and making the track bigger (now a whopping 120 feet by 65 feet). Aside from the cosmetic changes, the sport (now dubbed "RollerJam") is little altered.

Basically, two teams enter the race track-shaped rink in groups of five. The teams skate around the rink in packs. Eventually, one member of a pack (known as a "jammer") breaks free and attempts to pass members of the opposite team. He (or she) has 60 seconds to accomplish this task after breaking free from the pack. One point is awarded for each opposing team member passed. Opposing teamsters (known as "blockers") do anything they can to prevent points from being scored. Tripping, biting and kicking are not allowed. (Although, like wrestling, the referees seem to have their backs turned an awful lot of the time). There are six periods in each game. Teams are composed of both male and female members. Men and women alternate the periods.

Athletic competition aside, buxom babes and hulking dudes beating each other up seems to be the main thrust of it all. Although RollerJam has yet to hit the operatic heights of drama that pro wrestling achieves, it's still enough to stir the soul of any good cracker.

"RollerJam" shows every Friday on TNN.

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