ON A ROLL
A squadron of local women is strapping on quad-skates and getting ready to "jam."
VIDEO: Queen City Roller Girls at practice
Jan. 28, 2007
By KEVIN PURDY
To those who have never seen it, roller derby can look like hockey, just without a puck, goalies or nets.
Actually, it’s more like football without the ball, and the defensive line is on wheels.
No, the best way to describe it is a roller skating party that turns suddenly violent for two minutes at a time.
It doesn’t really matter what sport you compare it to. Most of the roughly 40 Queen City Roller Girls who show up at North Tonawanda’s Rainbow Roller Rink two times a week are looking for something you can’t get in the world of mainstream women’s sports.
Like, for instance, the chance to knock a jammer off their skates and hear your team mates scream, “Yeah, Tara!” — as in Sheer Tara, #138.
When she’s without wheels, Tara is Shannon Smith, a North Tonawanda resident, worker at the University at Buffalo’s Research Foundation and a library science student.
She heard about the Queen City Roller Girls through “a friend of a friend at a party,” but once she learned the details of what roller derby was, she wanted in.
“I’d never played a sport before, but from going to punk shows, I was used to getting knocked around,” Smith said. “It’s exercise, it’s really fun and it’s something besides computers all day.”
Smith, like almost all of the women across the country taking part in roller derby’s grassroots revival, is too young to remember the International Roller Skating League’s televised matches of the 1970s, let alone the ’50s and late ’60s heyday of the Seltzer family’s actual Roller Derby enterprise.
Until last year, in fact, the only appearances roller derby made in popular culture were re-runs of IRSL matches on ESPN’s “Cheap Seats” parody show, or the little-noticed 2002 remake of the roller derby/science fiction flick “Rollerball.”
What really got women like Debra Hughes and Ilsa Magnussen — a.k.a. Sissy Fit and Flo Torious — interested in starting their own league was the A&E reality show “Rollergirls,” centering on an Austin-based all-female league. Through a big of Web searching, they found Roberta Schwartz, or Sweet Pea, who had experience in a Madison, Wisc.-based league.
The Queen City team started out as the three founders attending open skates, passing out fliers and leaving MySpace notes to gauge interest in April. By August, Hughes said, membership was up to 30 women.
“I think female sports is kind of underrepresented here,” Hughes said. “We thought this would be a fun way to get girls together who weren’t necessarily athletic, who want to join a community of women and exercise at the same time.”
Since launching in mid-2004, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association now consists of 30 leagues in cities around the country, with the Queen City league hoping to join soon. The online user-edited encyclopedia Wikipedia lists more than 130 leagues in the U.S.
Buffalo’s own league hopes to start actual matches amongst its three teams — the Devil Dollies, Suicidal Saucies and Nickel City Knockouts — in February. They’re still casually recruiting for new members, and a successful season could lead to a competitive traveling team.
Stacy Ryan, known as Sissy Sparkles to her teammates, was on the sidelines during a recent practice night at the Rainbow Roller Rink with a braced knee, the result of a bad fall.
None of the women have been seriously injured, but Ryan and others at practice said tender ankles and bruises were just a minor price to pay for the chance to put on pads, inhabit a different name and feel the force of momentum in a more personal way.
“I’d come to work early on with a bruise or something, and people would say, jokingly, ‘Trouble at home?’ ” Ryan said. “Now, it’s just, ‘Oh, right, roller derby’ ... It’s fun to hear that.”
Some of the more unique names contestants in the Queen City Roller Girls have assigned themselves:
- Lease A Hearse
- Mexicali Bruise
- Sugar and Spikes
- Kiki KonKussion
- Kelly KAPOW-ski
- Nadia DamBusiness
- Ambulance ChaseHer
Taken from the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s standardized rules
- The Track: An oval-shaped track marked off on a flat surface, about 88 feet long, 53 feet wide and a skating lane about 14 feet wide.
- The Teams: No more than 14 women that have demonstrated basic skating skills, with five women from each time in the rink at any time.
- The Bouts: One match consists of three 20-minute periods. with a number of 2-minute “jams” within them.
- What’s happening: Three of the women from each team form up in inverted triangles as “blockers.” One “pivot” from each team skates just in front of their blockers, serving as a last line of defense. All together, the six blockers and two pivots form “the pack.”
One skater from each team serves as a “jammer,” whose goal is to pass through or around the pack as many times as possible within the two-minute jam.
- Blocking and scoring: Blockers and pivots can use their hips, shoulders and torso to impede a jammer or other blockers, but not their elbows. Jammers earn points by passing blockers and pivots without going out of bounds or committing penalties.