One of the best kept secrets in local sports in my area, and maybe in yours, too, is the revival of roller derby. No, not the sports entertainment-inspired atrocity of the late 90's that we talked about last time, but rather the real thing.
Over the course of the last decade, roller derby made an inroad in upstate New York. However, it's not a co-ed sport, like it was, at least not here. Instead, all-female leagues have been forming, and New York's Capital Region is home to two teams. One, the Troy Hellions, as I've documented in the past, plays their home games in Rotterdam, due mostly to financial issues, as it appears team management cannot afford to pay the rent on a venue in their home city. They ain't alone. A semi-pro football team, the Troy Fighting Irish, used to share Picken Field with Troy High, but even after the field was renovated in 2011, the Fighting Irish still haven't returned home, continuing to play their home games in Schenectady. Since they play in the summer, I'm guessing that the Hellions and Fighting Irish opted to remain out of town rather than risk fighting a losing battle for attendance against the NY-Penn League's Tri-City Valleycats.
The Albany All-Stars' schedule this season started in October, and their last home game will be at the end of May. Their average attendance is in the neighborhood of 500 fans per game. I don't know about the Hellions' attendance. Last night, I finally ventured to the venerable Washington Avenue Armory to see the All-Stars play. I had a good time, which would've been even better had the home team won.
If you've never seen roller derby, here's a quick primer.
The games, at least here, are contested in 2 30 minute halves, broken down into several "jams", which are meant to go a maximum of 2 minutes each, but the "lead jammer" on either team can call off the jam at any time, which allows 30 seconds for the teams to realign to start the next "jam". The play is fast and intense, and the scores can get ridiculously high in a hurry. Remember the NBA All-Star Game two weeks ago? The high scoring in that game happens maybe just that one night a year. It's the norm in roller derby. Last night, the All-Stars entertained the Finger Lakes Lunachicks, who enjoyed the hospitality so much, they won the game, 187-169. I am not sure, but I believe the visitors brought some fans of their own up with them. If you know Finger Lakes only for the race track, you'd be in for a shock.
The All-Stars also give back to the community. A 50/50 raffle last night was for the benefit of a local non-profit organization. Four more such entities will be the beneficiaries of raffles at the team's remaining four home games. Sure, the crowds are sparse in comparison to the other local sports attractions this time of year, but everyone has fun. Being that these are all female teams, that gives the guys plenty of incentive to hold their attention.
So what's missing? Press coverage. Each of the area's teams (Hellions, All-Stars) got token coverage when they started, but then the press disappeared. The All-Stars rented a kiosk at last fall's Larkfest in Albany, part of their community outreach. Even with a pair of on-track announcers describing the action and getting in sponsor plugs as they go, Time Warner Cable can't be bothered to even offer space on one of their public access channels to carry games. It'd be a win-win for both sides if they did, since the public access channels aren't exactly must-see TV, even in the middle of the night. The tickets are comparable to, say, college hockey, and it's not a strain on the budget. The next game is a Sunday matinee 3 weeks from today, and ye scribe figures to be a return customer.