Doing the derby

Roller derby teams are on a roll in Waynesville
By Rachel Robles, Lifestyles editor | Aug 12, 2014
Photo by: Donated ROLLER DERBY DIVAS — The Junior Girls team is pictured practicing at Smoky Mountain Sk8way. This team is for girls ages 11-17.

Roller derby is quickly becoming the hot ticket in Haywood County.

Robert and JoLynn Bryant, the owners of Smoky Mountain Sk8way in Waynesville, started the Balsam Mountain Roller Girls, Haywood County’s first adult women’s roller derby team, in 2011.

“My husband and I realized quickly that running a skating rink in a rural mountain town would have its challenges,” said JoLynn Bryant. “We would have to keep new and exciting events coming, as well as foster a sport. We researched several roller sports and determined roller derby was something we could make happen now and build for the future.”

In 2012, they added the Junior Girls team, and in 2013, they expanded the roller rink to accommodate an official roller derby sized rink. Since then, the league has grown to over 50 skaters and a total of five teams.

The Women’s team, for ages 18 and older, practice from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Sundays; the Coed team, for men and women ages 18 and older, practices from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays; and the Junior Girls team, for girls ages 11-17, the Coed Junior team, for girls and boys ages 11-17, and the Minis team, for girls and boys ages 4-10, all practice from 6 to 8 p.m. on Mondays.

One of the major appeals is that roller derby is for everyone.

“I am most proud of roller derby for being an all-inclusive sport,” said Bryant. “It doesn't matter what size you are, what type of clothes you wear, what religion you are, what socioeconomic status you hold, etc. Roller derby loves and mentors everyone."

The Bryants have three children who all participate.

“I have a 4-year old daughter in the Minis, a 13-year old daughter in the Junior Girls and a 20-year old son who plays on the same Coed team I do,” said Bryant. “ I cannot tell you how fun it is to be a part of a competitive sport with my children.”

What is roller derby?

Roller derby is a full contact competitive sport conducted on four-wheeled skates and is played on a flat oval flat track. Each team consists of a maximum of 14 players and teams skate in a counter clockwise direction. Games are called bouts and consist of 60 minutes of play divided into periods that are subdivided into 2-minute jams. Jams consist of five players from each team. These five players fill in the pivot position, three blocker positions and one jammer position.

Pivots are skaters in the front of the pack with stripes on their helmets. They set the pace for the pack and are the last line of defense to prevent the opposing jammer to score.

Jammers are the point scorers and are positioned at the back of the pack; they are indentified by the star on their helmets. The jammer who breaks out of the pack first without penalties is the "lead" jammer. They score one point for each opposing skater they pass. The lead jammer can call off the jam at any time by placing her hands on her hips.

Blockers line up behind the pivot and in front of the jammer. They play both offense and defense. It is their job to prevent the opposing jammer from scoring while assisting their jammer successfully through the pack.

Playing the game

Due to the full-contact nature of roller derby, safety is always a priority.

“One of the first things we teach new skaters is how to fall,” said Bryant. “It's inevitable that you will fall, so we pad you up correctly and then show you how to fall correctly. We practice falls and stops repeatedly.”

All skaters wear protective gear that consists of a helmet, elbow pads, kneepads, wrist guards and a mouth guard. New skaters are provided safety gear until they purchase their own.

All teams play according to level and skill ability — Level one skaters only practice positional blocking; level two skaters can have light contact like leaning; and level three is full contact. Skaters must pass all skills tests before they are put in for contact.

“Roller skating and roller derby consists of small skill sets, so once you've learned how to balance on skates, you can immediately start learning new ‘tricks,’” said Byrant. “It's fun because you can learn a new skill almost every practice, which makes for a successful cycle of practice bringing payoff. It makes you want to keep learning.”

The teams have bouts every month to six weeks with a fundraising event in between. Bouts usually last two to three hours, and everyone generally has a lot of fun.

“It's an action-packed sport that is not only fun for the skaters, but for the audience too,” said Bryant. “It appeals to all age groups and genders. It's all encompassing, healthy and family friendly. What's not to like?”

And, of course, it’s hard to talk about roller derby without talking about the fun names players pick for themselves.

“The skaters pick their own names, and many times their teammates help,” said Bryant. “There is a national roller derby name registry online and we recommend that all skaters check to see their name is unique. An unspoken derby rule is that we are not supposed to use anyone else’s name without permission.”

All are welcome to join the team. There is a place for everyone, even those who don’t know how to skate. Those interested can be a skater, referee, non-skating official (NSO) or a volunteer. Smoky Mountain Sk8way provides temporary skates and gear for new players. Skaters are required to pay $40 per month, which includes a free monthly skating pass, to be on the team, $65 for insurance and must buy their own gear and skates. The team is willing to teach anyone interested to skate, play roller derby, referee or keep score.

For more information about the team, visit To learn more about Smoky Mountain Sk8way, visit, or call Bryant at 246-9124.