BABES ON WHEELS - BlueStone Press
March 26, 2019

BABES ON WHEELS

The ladies of Derby are here to save your mind, body and soul

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Do you find yourself tiring of touchdowns? Perhaps the swoosh of the basketball sailing through the net is leaving you shrugging your shoulders? Is the crack of the baseball connecting with the bat making you think less of the seemingly endless innings and more about what’s for dinner? Tired of spending roughly a million dollars to see a live event where you still need binoculars to see the action? Roller Derby is here to save you from your sporting doldrums.

The sport dates back to the 1920s and took a circuitous path to becoming the Roller Derby we see today. What started as a term to simply describe roller skating races, the sport got a significant boost when, in the 1930s, a man named Leo Seltzer introduced a more physical element (think football on wheels), dubbed it Transcontinental Roller Derby, and took it on the road. Over the next 30 years the sport would continue to evolve to encompass not simply every-man-for-himself-style racing but two teams competing against one another. Along the way, Selzer formed a Roller Derby foundation and eventually passed the business on to his son, Jerry Selzer, in the 1960s. Unfortunately, it seems that Jerry didn’t have his father’s touch, and despite the introduction of franchising to the sport, the business folded in 1973.

The sport made sporadic jabs at revival throughout the 1980s, with some pretty creative promotional gimmicks, like placing skating tracks around alligator pits. And we do have the 1980s to thank for the decidedly theatrical component of the sport, however it wasn’t until the early 2000s in Austin, Texas, that a group women took up the sport, named their team the Texas Rollergirls, and started what would become a female-led revolution on four wheels.

New leagues formed like wildfire, and by 2010 there were 450 roller derby teams worldwide. This time around, it wasn’t one man overseeing it all; instead, the power was given to the people, and each team formed as their own company and self-governed. If there was any doubt that women’s roller derby had arrived the 2009 film “Whip It” – a heartwarming story starring Ellen Page, about a young female misfit who finds a community in roller derby – hit the big screen and made it official. Derby was here to stay, and it was tougher, sexier and more empowering than anyone could have imagined.

The rules of the game are simple. The bout is broken up into two 30-minute periods that contain units of play called “jams,” which last up to two minutes, with 30-second rest periods between each jam. Five skaters at a time from both teams compete: one “jammer” (the scoring player, designated by a star on their helmet) and four “blockers,” whose job it is to protect the jammer as she attempts to score. She gets one point for every blocker from the opposing team that she is able to pass each lap during the jam. And while players may not use their heads, elbows, forearms, knees, legs or feet to block, the skaters get creative, and make no mistake – this is a FULL-CONTACT sport, with a heavy dose of glittery, gritty, theatrical glamor that the entire crowd can’t help but respond to.

When the Mid-Hudson Misfits hit the rink at Skatetime 209 in Accord, it’s hard not to get swept up in the sport. It’s thrilling seeing a group of fierce, bedazzled and clearly super-close women glide onto the rink. With roller derby names like Jane Bondage, Mirakle Whip, Kell on Wheels and Leggs, they seem at once impossibly cool and terrifying. Formed in February 2012, the Mid-Hudson Misfits was formed with a mission, Amberly Jane Campbell (or “Jane Bondage” on the rink) says, to offer “a sort of safe haven for all women of all different backgrounds and walks of life.” Campbell is living proof that the mission statement is alive and going strong.

“I started in 2010 to help me while I was taking care of my terminally ill mother, so when I say that roller derby saved my life, I mean it,” Campbell said. “The camaraderie with the girls, the athleticism (for someone who was never an athlete), and the rush – it’s like an organized mosh pit on skates, and it makes me feel like a superhero!”

Her teammate Jenna Ferguson (“Leggs”) echoes a similar sense of finding a haven in the sport. “Roller derby saved my soul. There’s so much life and excitement in roller derby that you have to just go experience it for yourself, and you instantly get about 12 new friends just by showing up!”

The team practices weekly and plays between six and seven bouts a season in addition to scrimmages and special events. At every single bout (game) the team plays raises money for a different cause. In the past six years, the team has raised over $7,000 for local causes including St. Baldrick’s Children’s Cancer Research, Catskill Animal Sanctuary, the Youth Economic Group, the Safe Schools Round Table of the Hudson Valley, Mountain Haven Animal Rescue, and Habitat for Humanity. For their most recent game, “Nightmare Before Jingle Jam,” the Mid-Hudson Misfits collected 130 toys for Ulster County Marine Corps Toys for Tots.

Reading this and feeling intrigued but nervous? Lee Richards (“WreckIt Raccoon”) is reassuring.

“Roller derby has a special sort of magic that can bring out the athleticism in someone who never thought they had it in themselves,” Richards says. “It sort of tricks you into being more self-aware, whether it’s empowering you to nurture your mental hygiene or learning how to love your body and the amazing things you never knew it could do! Roller derby is for everyone, whether you want to skate or prefer not to, you will always have a place here.” That even includes the younger generation. Richards also serves the board of the Mid-Hudson Mischiefs, the team for youth ages 9-17. Says Richards, “Our Mischiefs started from a few empowered athletes-to-be and have now grown into a self-sufficient, self-governing amazing group of skaters with so much ahead of them!”

Young or old(er), Kellie Myers (“Kell on Wheels”) promises, “Roller derby brings together nontraditional athletes and people from different walks of life to create an inclusive, empowering and eye-opening environment. Those who feel marginalized or outcast can find a new home or family while learning something new, exercising and having SO MUCH FUN!”

To get involved, simply show up at practice, which resumes Jan. 8 and continues every Tuesday from 7-10 p.m. and every Saturday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at Skatetime in Accord, or visit their web page, http://midhudsonmisfits.com/wp/.

 

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