Roller Derby-Twin Cities Style

Aidan Hofstedt, Writer

Many people have never heard of roller derby. If they have, they likely have images of scripted WWE-style shows performed on a banked track. However, modern roller derby is very different. It is a legitimate sport, and takes place on a flat track. It is also unique in that it is mainly played by women and gender-nonconforming people, although men’s organizations do exist. It got its start in 2003 in Austin, Texas, and quickly grew across the country. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) was founded in 2005 to codify and regulate the sport. Still, the sport has evolved since then. Skaters no longer wear skirts, rules have been clarified, and the sport has grown as far as Europe and Australia. The only remnant of its kitsch past is the use of fake names by skaters, which many believe to be an integral part of the sport’s culture.

Roller derby is a real, full-contact sport in which two teams of five players skate around a track attempting to score points. Matches, referred to as “bouts,” consist of two 30-minute halves. These are organized into shorter periods called “jams.” The player with the star on their helmet is the jammer. They are the only one who can score points. They do that by lapping the skaters on the opposing team (you do not get a point for lapping the other jammer).  One point is awarded for each skater lapped, as well as any skaters in the penalty box.  The point is awarded when the jammer’s hips have passed the hips of an opposing skater. The skaters with normal helmets are called blockers. Blockers try to simultaneously play offense and defense. The player with the stripe on their helmet is the pivot. The pivot leads the blockers and is the only person who can receive a “star pass” from the jammer, which is done when the jammer takes the helmet cover off their helmet and hands it to the pivot. (After the star is passed, the original jammer cannot get the star back.) iThe first jammer to clear the pack (the group of blockers and the pivot) at the start of a jam is the “lead jammer.” The lead jammer can end the jam at any time. When not called off, a jam lasts 2 minutes.

The Twin Cities are home to multiple roller derby leagues, the most notable of which is Minnesota Roller Derby (MNRD). Founded in 2004 at Cheap Skate Roller Center in Coon Rapids, MNRD now plays home bouts at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in downtown St. Paul, right next door to the Xcel Energy Center. They are a founding member of the WFTDA. MNRD practices year-round and consists of four “home teams” – Bodies of Water, Maul Rats, Roller Vortex, and Wednesday Warnings – who play against each other between October and March. After the home season finishes, skaters undergo a tryout process to select WFTDA-chartered “A” and “B” teams that compete against other leagues. They partake in sanctioned bouts that count toward the WFTDA rankings, which will be used to select teams participating in WFTDA Regional Championships in 2024.

MNRD was very successful before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, regularly drawing over 2,000 people to home bouts. The All-Stars were regulars at the WFTDA Playoffs and Championships, with the 2015 International WFTDA Championships even taking place in St. Paul. The All-Stars were still ranked 39th in the world in March 2020, when roller derby – along with the rest of the world – was put on hold. According to skater Whoopsie Daisy, the league had plans to travel to Chicago to face the archrival Windy City Rollers, but had to cancel those plans with the start of the pandemic. The WFTDA, unconcerned about TV revenue (the organization had a deal with ESPN2 to broadcast its championship game, but that was it), implemented COVID guidelines that limited play to keep skater safety at the forefront. However, it was difficult for skaters to stay engaged throughout the pandemic. In the second year of lockdown, only around 10 skaters were active, meeting over Zoom and having limited-contact practices. MNRD returned to play its first post-shutdown bouts in the spring of 2022 in front of smaller crowds than usual. It had two makeshift home teams play each other in April, then put together teams to face Madison Roller Derby in exhibition bouts in May. The league fully returned this past season with rebranded and reshuffled home teams. It played its first full home team season since 2019-20, with the Wednesday Warnings defeating the Bodies of Water in the championship bout. Crowds quickly returned to near pre-pandemic levels. 

In April, the All-Stars returned to sanctioned play in a newly regionalized WFTDA. Previously, the WFTDA had ranked leagues in one worldwide ranking, but shifted to a regional format at the start of 2023 because of the sport’s growth in other parts of the world, most notably in Europe. Championships now take place every 2 years (as opposed to every year), and consist of Regional Championships, followed by Global Championships taking the best teams from each region. MNRD is placed in the North America Northeast region, where the All-Stars are ranked 5th. B-teams are now also eligible for these rankings, and Minnesota’s B-team, “Minnesota Nice,” is ranked 19th in that same region. Rankings, though skewed due to imbalanced schedules, are available at The teams have competed in multiple bouts since the start of 2023, and neither one has lost yet this year. They hosted Detroit Roller Derby in late April, where the All-Stars won 172-141, while Minnesota Nice defeated Detroit’s B-team twice, 194-159 and 153-138. The teams then traveled to Pittsburgh in mid-May, where Minnesota Nice beat host Steel City Roller Derby’s Steel Beamers 387-74 before defeating State College Area Roller Derby 367-98. The All-Stars beat Steel City’s A-team 302-127 before going to Columbus, Ohio, where they beat Canada’s Team Ontario 147-112.

The All-Stars have more bouts coming up this summer, with a trip to Chicago in June to face Windy City, as well as Ann Arbor Roller Derby. They will also visit Kitchener, Ontario, in August. MNRD will also play a rare home tournament in August, with the Have a Nice Day Tournament taking place on August 11-13 at Hasse Arena in Lakeville. There, Minnesota Nice will face crosstown rivals North Star Roller Derby, as well as both A and B teams taking on Madison Roller Derby. They have invited other leagues as well, and plan on a 6-team, 10-game tournament. The home schedule in St. Paul has yet to be released, but will have one bout a month between October and April at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium.


Note: In roller derby, the term “league” refers to a single organization with 1 or more chartered teams, and which may or may not include home teams. It does not refer to a larger overseeing body like the WFTDA.