Jan 16, 2012 Amanda Seef Uncategorized
Throw away any idea you may have brewing about roller derby — it’s not just girls on skates, and it’s not for the faint of heart.
“If you’re crying at every practice, it’s like, ‘Really?’ There’s knitting club for that,” said Deb “Crush” Perry, of Syracuse. She is the co-captain of the Assault Squad, a team of the Assault City Roller Derby. The league is set in Central New York, with a name that works off Syracuse’s notoriety as the “salt city.” The Assault Squad is joined by the “b” team, the Battery Brigade.
“You have to have a sense of mental toughness,” said Rebecca Howden, known as Morticia D. Kay while on the skates. “It’s not an environment for the weak. We’re all badass, but in our own way.”
The sport is one of Syracuse’s only contact sports for women — Syracuse University has a women’s hockey team, and there are a number of rugby opportunities throughout the region.
“I say roller derby is kind of a mixture between track and hockey and football,” said co-captain Deb “Crush” Perry, of Syracuse.
“If you’re crying at every practice, it’s like, ‘Really?’ There’s knitting club for that.”
— Deb “Crush” Perry
The sport operates in a traditional rink fashion, with four skaters, or blockers, forming the pack. They play offense and defense in the bouts, working to keep the other team’s jammer, a sprinting skater, from passing the other players. They also pave the way for their team’s jammer to get through the pack. One point is awarded for each member of the pack that the jammer can pass. No elbows can be thrown, no punching or kicking. Hip-checks and shoulder-checks are fair game.
“You get bumps and bruises,” Howden said. “Some Velcro burn, a fat lip. There’s not a lot of sports for women who are full-contact,” Howden said. “It’s a very powerful sport for us women to have.”
Roller derby has been seen as one of the more “tough” sports to be involved in, but Assault City is working to keep the sport just that — a sport.
“I want to skate to be a skater, not to be a fishnet skater,” Perry said. Many televised derby bouts have girls dressed in skimpy outfits and outlandish costumes while skating.
“We’re trying to get it more athletic and less stripper-esque,” Howden said. “It’s going from cutesy and fishnet-like to we’re athletes and we want to be respected as athletes.”
Both warn the sport isn’t for the faint of heart, and not for the mentally or physically weak.
“Derby is family,” Perry said. “When I joined, my friends were like ‘Oh, that’s perfect.’ I’m not afraid to get hurt, and I’m not afraid to hurt people, either.”
Women must pass the skills test before becoming an official member of the team. They practice and workout regularly, like it’s a full-time job.
“Derby, derby, derby,” Howden said. “Eat, sleep, derby to become a lean, mean, derby machine.”
Each derby girl gets their own, unique official name once they pass the skills test. Until then, it’s less-tough names, like Lily or Rose. Post-skills test, it’s names like Crush, or PokeHer I. Out. No two derby girls across the world have the same skater name.
The team of 24 girls practices in a space rented by their not-for-profit, Syracuse Roller Revolution, in Great Northern Mall in Clay. When the league started, it was a privately-held company, but the girls recently made the switch to non-profit status. That move, they said, was a hard one.
“We, as skaters, had to start from nothing,” Perry said. “Every tile, I feel, is a piece of my life. To know that not one person can take this away, that means I can sleep at night.”
The team has been practicing in the mall space for about a year, acting as nomads for the years before that. Their space floor is covered with tiles, the walls protected by mattresses and pads.
“This may not look like much to you, but I cherish everything in here,” Howden said. “You see that stain on the wall? I love that.”
Their not-for-profit raises money to keep their team afloat, and donates to myriad charities across Central New York. The CNY SPCA, Schriners, Golisano Children’s Hospital, Rescue Mission and benefit walks are a small sample of community activities and organizations the group has given to. Their fundraising events double as recruiting events, where they just finished their first round of recruiting for the year. They will be holding another recruit event in March in their “bunker” at Great Northern Mall.
“We are definitely diverse,” Perry said. “We have people of all attitudes, all shapes and sizes.”
“We’re trying to get it more athletic and less stripper-esque. It’s going from cutesy and fishnet-like to we’re athletes and we want to be respected as athletes.”
— Rebecca “Morticia D. Kay” Howden
“We [Perry and Howden] are more rough around the edges,” Howden added. “But there are other girls who are quiet and nice.”
While the sport provides an outlet, Perry and Howden agree the bond between team members is nothing short of family.
“If you like being part of something where there’s a strong group of women who trust and believe in each other, and believe in hitting, roller derby would be perfect for you,” Perry said.