No need to be in a jam when watching

Sometimes people come to watch roller derby and have no idea what's happening. This does not keep them from enjoying it -- chaos can be entertaining -- but here are some basics that will help unlock the mystery of who wins the national title.

It's a bout: It's not a game or a match but an old-time-sounding bout. Each team has five players in tricked-out quad roller skates on the floor for each two-minute jam. The two with the stars on their helmets are called jammers, and they are the only ones who can score points. There are two 30-minute halves.

On a flat track: The modern version of roller derby is on a flat track, mostly for reasons of convenience. There are two horizontal lines on the track. The eight blockers, or the pack, line up behind the pivot line, and the two jammers behind the jam line. There are two whistles -- the first starts the pack and the second starts the jammers. The jammer who gets through the pack first is called lead jammer.

Playing the hits: This is where it gets interesting. Roller derby is a full-contact sport, but it's completely different from the scripted "action" of the old banked-track coed leagues. Fake elbows to the face have been replaced by a legal contact area from chest to knee. Hitting with the elbows, hands or forearms is a penalty. Elbows to the face are still a job hazard, however.

Scoring points: Here's where it gets a smidge complicated. The jammer who makes it through the pack first is called the lead jammer. Each jammer gets a point for each opponent she passes on each subsequent pass through the pack. Stay with me, here. The lead jammer has the ability to call off the jam, keeping the other jammer from scoring points.

Easy part: The team with the most points wins!

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