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Q: I keep hearing local roller derby outfits being referred to as "leagues." What's the difference between a "league" and a "team"?

Like many elements of modern roller derby, the "local league" structure is something of an accident of history. When modern roller derby was reinvented in Austin starting in 2001, the organizers never imagined it would spread beyond their decidedly quirky home town, so they built a league structure with four teams to compete against each other. A couple years later, as derby spread to Phoenix, Tucson, Los Angeles and beyond, the idea of robust intercity competition still seemed far-fetched, so each local organization formed 3-5 teams, with the term "league" reserved for the overall local business structure.

By early 2005, modern roller derby had taken hold in over two dozen cities. While each of these early leagues primarily conducted bouts locally between its member teams, the drive toward intercity (or "interleague") competition was irresistible. Local leagues formed "all star" or "travel" teams, composed of top skaters from each of the league's component teams, to represent them in competition around the country.

Today, a few dozen of the best-established leagues still maintain the 3-5 local teams and 1 all star/travel team model. However, the vast majority of local "leagues" consist of only one or two teams. These "leagues" have either just an all star team playing teams from other cities or an A team/B team league model sending their A team all stars to another city along with their B team (typically made up of rookies) to learn against players of similar skill level.

Q: What is the WFTDA?

The Women's Flat Track Derby Association is modern roller derby's main governing body. Since its founding in 2005, the WFTDA has successfully fostered widespread intercity competition, developed a standard ruleset, set safety standards, and established a tournament structure which consistently features the world's highest level of competition in the sport.

Q: I want to see a bout in person. How can I find my local league?

The most comprehensive and frequently updated list is currently maintained by Cat O'Ninetails at www.derbyroster.com.

Q: I want to become a roller derby skater. Where do I start?

Find your local league, as above, then scout their website, MySpace, or Facebook page for information about tryouts, boot camps, or practice schedule. Don't worry if you haven't skated in years, or ever -- that was true for most of today's derby skaters before they found the sport. If derby is in your blood, and you're willing to put in the time, you can do it.

Q: I checked at www.derbyroster.com, but there doesn't seem to be a derby league near me.

Start one! Here's a universal truth: derby girls don't ask for permission. If you've discovered roller derby and immediately realized that it's something you have to do, get going. You'll find literally thousands who've come before you ready to provide support, advice, and guidance -- as long as you don't expect anyone to hand anything to you, and you're willing to do the research and put in the work.

Q: Is roller derby dangerous?

Like any contact sport, participants in modern roller derby may experience physical injury. Bumps, bruises, and scrapes are fairly universal, and many derby girls look on them as badges of honor. More serious injuries can include broken limbs and tailbones, separated shoulders, and ligament tears, particularly in the knees.

To minimize these risks, skaters practice injury-avoidance techniques like falling correctly, and work on strength and conditioning to ensure they're in good enough shape to take the beating. A typical roller derby practice session consists of less than 50% scrimmage activity, and focuses more on basic skills, strength, endurance, and safety.

Derby skaters also wear a protective equipment to prevent serious injury. Modern derby rulesets (and insurance providers) require skaters to wear helmets, mouth guards, elbow pads, wrist guards, and knee pads. Some skaters elect to wear additional protection, such as tailbone protectors or padded shorts.

For a little perspective, it's worth pointing out that cheerleading remains the most dangerous sport girls commonly engage in today.

Q: Why do the skaters use funny, fake names?

Modern derby skaters customarily adopt an alias, or "derby name." Initially meant to complement the over-the-top spectacle envisioned by the Austin revival's progenitors, the names have stuck even as modern roller derby quickly evolved toward pure competitive sport.

Why? It keeps the whimsy in the activity. It's a way of not taking oneself too seriously, even while taking the sport seriously. In a nutshell: it's fun! Really, if you have to ask, you probably aren't going to get it.

A handful of skaters have elected to skate under their legal name, rather than an alias, often out of a desire to further emphasize the modern sport's legitimacy. That may become a trend; it may not. The young sport of modern roller derby is still very much a work in progress, so only time will tell.

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