A League Of Their Own

In their inaugural season, the Charm City Roller Girls produce some bruises, some exercise and a camaraderie they didn't expect

September 27, 2006|By Christopher T. Assaf | Christopher T. Assaf,Sun Photographer

Betty Beatdown. Human Soup. Natalie Boh. Molly Melee.

The pseudonyms adopted by the 53 women of the Charm City Roller Girls might be whimsical, but the competition and action are genuine: Proof is in the bruises and injuries.

The women of the Baltimore roller derby league -- professionals, students, stay-at-home moms -- rolled it out on the hardwood at Putty Hill Skateland in northeast Baltimore County as they competed in the league's inaugural season. Starting in April, four teams -- the Junkyard Dolls, Speed Regime, Night Terrors and Mobtown Mods -- met once a month on a Sunday night. They came for competition and a workout and found some camaraderie, too.

Mercy Less, a league founder whose real name is Kristin Hendrick, was looking for a way to get fit, with a physical component.

"I love contact sports. I was a semi-pro boxer before I had my second daughter," said the Mobtown Mods member. "I was looking for another full-contact sport to get my heart rate up and lose the baby weight."

The skating, including preseason practice, has helped her lose 30 pounds since January.

Roller derby got its start in the Depression when a cinema-owner and publicist named Leo Seltzer combined walkathons, a more active competition he devised to replace dance marathons, with the growing fad of roller skating.

Professional roller derby grew in popularity with television's ascent in the 1950s and '60s. In 1972, more than 50,000 people packed Comiskey Park in Chicago to see the Los Angeles Thunderbirds jam against the Midwest Pioneers. Some blamed overexposure on TV and the rise of other sports for professional roller derby's demise.

The modern version of women's flat-track roller derby combines fast, hard-hitting action with skimpy costumes -- and a lot of attitude. It is without the overt dramatics and the theatrical fisticuffs of the TV version a generation ago.

Skaters come from a variety of backgrounds, and many show skin that is inked and have jewelry jutting from ears, noses and eyebrows.

Nothing is free for the skaters. They pay dues of $35 and another $35 for insurance. Equipment can cost $200. Skates alone can be $150. Throw in the two or three nights a week of practice, about six to 12 hours' worth, and none but the most dedicated stays with the pack.

The bouts consist of three 20-minute periods. Two teams of five players each compete in a "jam." Each team has three blockers, a pivot and a jammer. The jammers start after the pack gets 20 feet away, with the pace set by the pivots, and try to push and fight their way to the front to be "lead jammer" so they can call off the jam at any time. If no one becomes lead jammer, the jam lasts two minutes.

Every time a jammer makes her way through the pack, running a gauntlet that results in body blows and falls, she scores points for each blocker she passes while in-bounds. Players can be penalized and ejected for unsportsmanlike play and fouls.

"I absolutely love it," said the Junkyard Dolls' Annabell Lechter (known outside the rink as Jenn Rolling), who started competing in June. "It's one of the first times in my life with a great group of girls. We love each other on and off the floor. They're like my second family. I plan on doing this until I can't."

Word of mouth helped bring in the new troops at the start. There's now a waiting list for "skater tots." Tryouts will be held Oct. 21 at Skateland for, as the participants say, "fresh meat." Interleague play with teams from other cities starts in November when the Charm City Roller Girls host the Dominion Derby Girls of Virginia.

In the local league's first championship this month, the underdog Night Terrors upset the undefeated Speed Regime, 57-55.

"You totally want to beat the undefeated team -- they had to have a loss. What better way [for them] to go down? Fighting like crazy, losing the championship by two points," said the Night Terrors' Mibbs Breakin-Ribs, otherwise known as Brandy Carter.

"I came midseason, and I had no idea it was so exciting," said Carter, holding a trophy and adjusting one of the oddly dainty tiaras the champions received. "I live for this stuff."


To see a multimedia slideshow on this feature, go to baltimoresun.com/rollerderby.

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