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Rolling with the punches: Assault City Roller Derby calls Syracuse home

The Assault City Roller Derby held a scrimmage in their "bunker" at Great Northern Mall, Jan. 7.

The Assault City Roller Derby held a scrimmage in their "bunker" at Great Northern Mall, Jan. 7. Photo by Amanda Seef.

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Justine "P.F. Bangs" Pruss, of Rochester, was a part of the pack at the scrimmage on Saturday, Jan. 7.

— 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.”

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