Rock 'n Roll: Skaters bring roller derby fun, action to MidcoastMore than 30 women of all ages, backgrounds show interest in area's new sport
Rockland — There have been rumblings around the Midcoast in recent months. While those rumblings may not have been experienced by many far and wide, they most certainly have been felt under the feet — more specifically, the wheels — of area women working their way around the small gymnasium floor at the Lincoln Street Center.
A group of enthusiastic women of all ages have gathered in the former Rockland High School and Rockland District Middle School gym since February and are hoping to be the leaders of a new craze to hit the area: namely being members of a roller derby team.
While the game has changed over the years, roller derby is a down and dirty, rough sport that has gone international with more than 600 women's leagues in more than 20 countries. Now there is a Midcoast club.
In short, the game revolves around two teams skating around an oval flat-track. Points are earned when the scoring player, the 'jammer', of a team, laps members of the opposing team. The rest of the team tries to prevent the opposing jammer from passing. Making body contact with an opponent is not only allowed, it is encouraged and a key element of the game.
There are no choreographed moves, predetermined fights, or fancy acts. Now, the sport has complex rules, strenuous requirements and a national governing body.
And the local players like it that way.
“One of the big reasons we are doing this is because we love it,” said Rock Coast Roller Jen Munson. “It’s so much fun and the group of women that are gathered come from all walks of life [and] are all different ages.”
Munson is the chairperson of the Rock Coast Rollers' governing committee and part of a derby team that includes an assorted group of women from across the Midcoast, from Lincolnville, to Cushing, to Friendship to Rockland — and beyond.
Popular new activity
The team started this winter when a group of 60 women showed up in hopes of participating in roller derby around Rockland. At the time, the closest derby team was in Portland. Since February, committees have been formed, practices scheduled, and hours of hours of work have been put in.
For the Rockland-based team that is currently 34 members strong, diversity is key. Women of all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds pile into the roughly 64-foot by 40-foot gym twice a week to practice. Some of the women are young, some older, some have a conservative appearance and some are covered in tattoos and piercings. The game shows no profiling or favoritism. All players have the potential to contribute and be members of something larger than themselves.
“I’m 40 [years old] and there are girls on the team who are [age] 18 so it's this broad expanse age-wise,” Munson said. “There are teachers, bakers, sailors [and] gardeners. Every walk of life is here. For me, it's a group of women that I never would have known otherwise other than doing roller derby.”
Munson, like all derby players, also has a unique derby name, which cannot be used by any other player across the nation. Hers is "Sookie Stacked." A derby name is important to the players and, according to them, they obsessed over the right one.
Picking a personal derby name might have been the easiest part of the process. Roller derby is not easy. It is a contact sport and there is no doubt about it.
But the skaters are protected with helmets, knee and elbow pads and wrist wraps, which come in handy when one falls and tries to cushion that fall with an outstretched hand.
Shevawn "Mistress of the Knife" Innes has been on four other roller derby teams before the Rock Coast Rollers. She started skating with Detroit when they hit the scene and has been skating 19 years. As the only woman on the team with prior significant derby experience, Innes knows the sport.
“It is a very endurance-oriented, very athletic sport which requires a tremendous amount of strength and agility,” she said. “It’s not a staged frou-frou carnival-type of scene. It’s a real sport.”
That is one of the reasons the players like it. There are not many other competitive leagues out there for women, and certainly not one like this.
“I think it is a very empowering sport too because it is so physical and it is such an aggressive sport,” said Munson, who has only played church softball in high school. “So this is a new experience for me and it’s so awakening.”
Fun athletic outlet
Adina "Schrödinger’s Catfight" Baseler has been a long-time athlete, especially in soccer, However, after her knees couldn’t take that rigorous sport any longer, she picked up roller derby.
“For me it kind of took over my other sports,” said Baseler. “It’s just a wonderful sport. I still feel the burn and you can play all out just like I would as a [midfielder] on the soccer field.”
“What we all have in common is we are just looking for that athletic outlet,” Baseler said. “There is not much opportunity for women to find that.”
Roller derby requires a lot of physical endurance, toughness, and training. In fact, even though they have been working at it for months, the women on the Midcoast team cannot even play in bouts yet.
In order to bout, teams have to be approved by the national governing body, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. In order to be approved, they have to pass a four- to five-page skills test that assesses both safety and ability. The team hopes to pass the test in the fall.
Currently, the women are training. They are working on basic skills like falling, hitting correctly, and skate agility during in and outside of practice. According to Munson, a good number of the women are probably doing 10 hours of practice a week.
“There is a lot of work, there are a lot of skills and you have to have a lot of control over what you are doing, said Leila "Scarina" Percy, head of the training committee. “When we start getting into learning the game there is a lot of physical contact, but there are strict rules with it so there is not going to be hurting people. Well, we are going to try not to hurt people.”
Quite a hit
Even though hitting has to be regulated, injury isn't uncommon in derby. According to Innes, players can come home with uncomfortably large bruises, pulled muscles, or knee injuries if they are not careful. Maybe even if they are.
Although roller derby has a rough and rugged exterior, one of the most important things that draws the players is the camaraderie they have with the women on the team.
Looking at posters from old roller derby teams fans might think the roller derby culture is all about dyed hair, tattoos, and a punk outlook. According to the players, that is just a stereotype.
However, Innes said there was definitely a derby culture, but it has little to do with appearance.
“It’s about strong women coming together and doing things in their community and it’s a big family,” she said. “There are mothers and aunts and teachers and lawyers and I mean any kind of profession. Women that do all sorts of stuff that come together and are athletic and do community projects. It’s everyone.”
Community is a key ideal for the derby players. Not just in the sense of the players themselves, but the fans and place they live, too.
“We are a community centered organization,” said Melyssa "Ana Venger" Knight. “We love where we live and we really want to help out where we can.”
Knight said the team wants to export its camaraderie to the Midcoast community. She said eventually the athletes want the Rockland-based team to be the Midcoast's team.
The Rollers have already made a good start by helping out with charity events in the community. Eventually, when they start hosting bouts, proceeds from ticket sales will go toward the bout "sponsor" such as the Red Cross or a women’s shelter.
The community is on board as well.
“The enthusiasm is amazing,” Munson said. “Every business we talk to, all the individuals we talk to, they are all like, ‘Roller derby in Rockland? That’s awesome!' ”
The players have much to look forward to. They hope that after they are approved by WFTDA they can play and eventually host meets. However, in order to do that they need a space.
Currently the Lincoln Street center works for practice, but is not large enough to host a bout. In order to do that they need a 115-foot by 80-foot rink at least, where the community could skate as well.
Until then, the team keeps plugging along and enjoying what they have, with hopes to expand for the future.
“We have found so much camaraderie in this together, learning this new, difficult thing together,” Munson said. “We are all really excited about working in the community and working with the community and building something great that can have an impact on Rockland and the greater Midcoast. I mean, we love where we live and we love roller derby.”
For more information on roller derby, the team, or the national league, or to view more photos and a video of the Rollers, visit the links below.
Also, while the Rock Coast Rollers are not looking for new players at this time, they are interested in referees, coaches, score keepers, and medical support volunteers. Contact the team for more information.
Village NetMedia Sports Reporter Frederick Freudenberger can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email at email@example.com.