ROANOKE VALLEY – Thinking of girls hanging out at skating rinks seems more like a flashback from the late seventies, but thinking that way about the Star City Roller Girls would be a mistake.
The team, made up of women who range in age from their 20’s to their 40’s, is flat track roller derby team. Though not a member of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), which started in 2004, the Star City Roller Girls do play by their rules.
Siobhan Haynes, aka “Maureen O’Havoc,” began the team in August 2006. Haynes read about roller derby in Bust magazine and then got onto Myspace to learn more. What she found was that there were only two teams in Virginia at the time: the River City Roller Girls in Richmond and Dominion Derby in VA Beach. So, she started putting up flyers to see if there was enough interest.
At that first open skate they had five girls show up. Now the team has approximately 18 members and just recently began hosting another “Fresh Meat Boot Camp” for prospective future members. Though most of the women on the team are in their mid-30’s and from the punk scene, they have women from all walks of life – from nurses to stay at home moms, to therapists, to Army reservists, to office managers, and more.
Team members often know each other by their derby names before they get to know each other’s real names. There is the coach and trainer, Emily Winters, aka “Massacre Marie” from Roanoke; Dana Averill, aka “Devious Dee” from Cave Spring; Katie Jones, aka “Daisy Claymore” from Salem; Amber Carr, aka “Go Ram Reabar” from Vinton; Kristi Emmons, aka “Femedusa” from Roanoke; Anya Work, aka “Reginia Spanktor” from Roanoke; Emily Mourey, aka “Molly Hatchetwound” from Roanoke; Dreama Secrest, aka “Ms. B. Haven” from Boones Mill; Ashley Dodd, aka “Frances Hammer” from Roanoke; and Jackie Moore, aka “All Jacked Up” from Roanoke. The team also has a referee who practices and travels with them, Jay Vora, aka “Frodown”, as well as a ref in training, Adam Sixbey.
According to the team’s website, www.starcityrollergirls.com, roller derby has quite a long history. Dating back at least to the 1920s, when the sport consisted of multi-day skate races that focused more on endurance than physical contact. The modern version started to take shape in 1935, when Chicago promoter Leo Seltzer and sportswriter Damon Runyon emphasized the physical contact aspect of the sport.
Roller derby remained popular for several decades, getting heavy airplay on both radio and television. The sport was focused around nationally popular stars like Ann Calvello and Joanie Weston, but in many ways it more closely resembled professional wrestling – with planned “spots” and pre-determined outcomes – than it does today’s roller derby.
The new wave of roller derby leagues started only in the last several years, sparked largely by the formation of an all-female league in Texas in 2001. Amateur enthusiasts with a DIY (do it yourself!) ethic from around the world responded and started forming teams.
It is an expensive sport to play, with skates costing $150 – $200, pads needing to be purchased, and monthly dues of $35. Each player must also pay $50 a year to USARS insurance, a liability insurance which the team is required to have for every player.
Since the sport is a physical sport, with players getting knocked down and physically moved around, injuries can range from nasty bruises to broken fingers, broken tailbones, and more. The team makes a significant point of teaching prospective members how to skate properly so that safety is their primary concern. “You skate in a position that is very similar to squatting,” explained Nadean Carson aka “Bomb Shelley” recently, “as opposed to how most people skate standing up” when they’re skating at a rink for fun.
They also routinely teach and remind players how to fall, since that is an inevitability of the sport. “Fall small” yelled Carson, who lives in Roanoke County, to members who were practicing out on the rink. “You want to fall onto your knees because that’s where you’ve got your pads,” she explained “rather than falling onto your butt. You don’t want anything that can be tripped on or over.”
For those not familiar with the sport, each roller derby team has five members on the track at a time. Four are packed together on a line, with the other team member behind them. That team member, who wears a star on her helmet, is known as a jammer. The four remaining members are further divided: one is known as the pivot and wears a stripe on her helmet, she is considered the brains of the pack; the other three are blockers, known as B1, B2, and B3 and are the team’s hard hitters.
When the whistle blows the “jam” begins, and both participating team’s jammers attempt to make it through the pack in front of them and around the track. The first one to do this becomes the lead jammer. For every girl the lead jammer then passes as she goes around the track, her team earns a point. The lead jammer also has the ability to call off the jam, which otherwise lasts for two minutes, at any time she wishes. This can be done as both an offensive and defensive strategy.
Bouts last for an hour, and are divided up into two 30 minute periods, which are further divided up into the two minute jams. In between jams skaters are allowed 30 seconds to rest before the next jam begins. After the first 30 minute period there is a 15 minute break before the second period begins.
In order to block the other team’s jammer, or to give your team’s jammer room to move through, hits are allowed. Legal hits are allowed at the hip, shoulder, and thigh. It is illegal to hit with your elbow or forearm and players are not allowed to hit other players on the knees, back, head or face. Penalties are divided into two categories: major and minor. A major penalty results in the player being immediately sent to the penalty box for one minute. Once a player gets four minor penalties they too are sent to the penalty box for a minute.
The Star City Roller Girls play from February to November, and have bouts every month, both home and away. In the Summer months they try to have bouts twice a month, also both home and away. Practices are held twice a week: on Wednesdays from 7 – 9pm and then on Sundays from 10am – 1pm. If they’re holding Fresh Meat Boot Camp then that occurs on Sundays from 9 – 11am for 12 weeks, with usual practices taking place afterwards from 11am – 1pm.
For more information you can visit their website at www.starcityrollergirls.com.
Story by Carrie E. Cox