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Hell on Wheels: Roller Derby hits Fresno
The Smog City Rollers haven't scheduled their first bout yet, but they're already the talk of the town. Packed practices, a waiting list to join, and reporters swarming all over: there must be something interesting about short skirts on wheels.
Roller Derby is making a comeback across the country. There are 30 leagues in the two-year-old Women's Flat Track Derby Association, a governing body that sets rules and holds a national competition. The new all-female leagues have less in common with 1970's teams like the San Francisco Bay Bombers, and more in common with 1990's bands like Bikini Kill.
Couched in a "grass roots, punk rock, do it yourself" ethos, the Smog City Rollers is Fresno's Roller Derby league, comprised of two teams (the girls still need to vote on team names; Beauty School Dropouts and Farmer's Daughters are strong contenders). A key component in the Roller Derby resurgence is the clever nomenclature.
Jenn Balint, aka Goodie Two Bruise, is the manager of the league and main instigator. "I'm not like a good skater but I watched it on TV and thought, how cool."
At the league's third practice, about 20 girls sit on benches at Cal Skate in Clovis, trying on their tan rental skates with orange wheels. Two Bruise, 25, estimates she spends about eight hours a day organizing the league: making phone calls, sending emails, using the Internet. The response to the league has been so good the Smog City Rollers have had to create a waiting list for people who want to skate on a team.
Roller Derby as a sport debuted in Chicago in 1935. The first derby was less contact sport, more endurance marathon. By the middle of the century, it had turned into a competitive game with well-known teams and TV airtime. By the 1980's Roller Derby had fallen out of fashion. And there it stayed, until like leggings, some hip girls came along and made it cool again.
"We're not looking for professional skaters," Two Bruise explained. "I want to be a blocker, all I want to do is beat girls up."
A blocker is a position that "blocks" members of the opposing team and assists the jammer in making it through the pack. Two teams of skaters, comprised of blockers, jammers, and pivots (a special kind of blocker), skate around the rink for a series of two-minute jams. During that time, each time a jammer passes a member of the opposing team, she earns a point.
"Every person that you pass you get a point. The jammer is like a ball," Chrysti Anderson, aka Cinco de Mayhem, explains. Cinco, 26, is a little tired this practice: a special ed preschool teacher, she spent all day on a zoo field trip with her class.
Girls aren't allowed to swing elbows, trip skaters on purpose, or hit skaters in the head. If they do, a referee will call a penalty. Five excited boys skate around the rink with the girls, training to be refs. But that doesn't mean it can't get ugly.
"Everyone in my office has sports-related injuries," begins Kim Schoelen, aka Queen Amikillya. "And I figure it's my turn. See my bruise? I'm so proud." A large pink and purple bruise occupies a good chunk of her knee.
During a weaving drill, Tambra Coones, aka Mommy Murder, takes a tumble. Murder, 26 (who is mommy to a 3 and a half year old daughter), shakes it off. "I know I'm gonna have a big ol' bruise. Probably going to be falling a lot."
Mark Harmon, who is a friend of Two Bruise and a potential coach, puts the girls through their drills. "We're learning as we go. We're talking to girls from other teams, having them write down what they do at practice."
The Smog City Rollers hope to have their first bout by the end of the summer. They've already secured one sponsor, RKT Construction, and hope to find a downtown warehouse space in which to practice.
"Everybody here has such heart and that's what's awesome," said Two Brusie. "Can't teach that."
The Smog City Rollers will hold a benefit show at the Starline Friday, May 12th. Performing are the Stillettos, Sore Thumbs, Americas Dirty Thirtys, and other special guests. Tickets are $6, and all proceeds go to the league. Show starts at 8:30pm.