Give blood, play roller derby

October 19, 2011

Three times per week, a fluctuating group of women lace up their skates, put on their helmets and assume alter-egos tough enough to allow otherwise reasonable people to risk physical injury.

Southern Delaware Roller Girls practice Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays at Milford Skating Center on Park Avenue in Milford. With guidance from nearby derby leagues, we hope to have our first bout, or competitive public match, sometime next year.

I joined the league without any experience in roller derby.  In fact, I had not put roller skates on my feel in more than 10 years.  But I put reason (and some maturity) aside and assumed the nickname “Karabull.”

Early on I decided if I was putting myself in a position where other full-grown adults bashed into me on wheels, I couldn’t be afraid to fall.  As soon as the fear of falling was gone, the decision to take risks came naturally.

As a team, we are not quite ready to go up against leagues in Salisbury, Elkton and Wilmington, who are far more experienced and skilled than most of the girls on SDRG.  But as it stands, I am fairly comfortable on skates, and each practice I work to hone my skills.  For being a person who was never inclined toward competitive sports, I feel I’ve come a long way since the first practice.


The team

Former SDRG President Jessica “Bloody Gorejess” Farley masterminded the league last April.

While attending a Salisbury Roller Girls bout in March, Farley met Angel “Princess Slaya” Mangini, a fellow Sussex County resident interested in the sport.  Both women wanted to play, but the closest leagues were in Salisbury, Md., or Wilmington.

Farley told Mangini she wanted to start a league in Sussex County; Mangini jumped on board.

At a well-attended first practice, I met Angie “Gore Lee Girl” Colone, who has evolved into SDRG’s head coach.  Practices have since dwindled in population.

In the beginning, standing up on skates was a challenge.  Six months later, the team has many of the skills we need to start scrimmaging and eventually bouting against neighboring teams in a public arena.


The sport

Roller Derby began as an endurance challenge in 1935 has evolved into the team sport that is played today.  Throughout the 1950s, '60s and '70s, televised competitions catapulted roller derby into the national spotlight.  The sport gained notoriety as a violent endeavor until it died out in the 1980s and '90s.

Roller derby saw a resurgence in the early 2000s, starting in Austin, Texas, and spreading across the country.  In its second incarnation, derby focused on the grassroots nature of leagues, and the sport became an athletic and social outlet for women.

In 2004, a group of all-female leagues formed the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, a governing body that sets rules, legitimizes leagues and certifies referees.   Though no prior experience is necessary, players have to be 18 or older.  A long list of penalties keeps the glorification of gore to a minimum, but derby is not without its original aggressive edge.

Attending bouts for nearby leagues in Salisbury and Wilmington, the Southern Delaware Roller Girls have watched as players broke collarbones and shattered kneecaps.  A few have already suffered injuries of their own during practice.

Camp plays a large role in modern women’s roller derby.  Theatrical names and costumes add to the appeal of the sport for players and audiences alike.  Each of the players take on an alter ego when they step onto the rink.

Unlike most athletic teams, whose uniforms are streamlined and identical, roller derby teams jazz-up their uniforms with tutus, ripped fishnet stockings and lamé hot pants.  Everyone wears protective gear, including safety helmets.  But what other sport encourages its players to adorn their helmets with stickers displaying messages like, “Give blood.  Play roller derby?”