Roller derby's fast, furious
THE TEAMS LINE UP to start a recent roller derby match at Cal Skate in Rohnert Park.
Honey Badger, Ms. Kitty MaulHER, Atomic BombChelle - on the roller derby track, you can be anyone.
In their daily lives, they are nurses, students, real estate agents. "Amazingly enough, we have a lot of special education teachers," said Jen "Mama Martini" Martini.
But in their spare time, they pull out the fishnets, slap on some hot pants and lace up their skates for the track.
"It's really kind of a free-for-all of your personality," Martini said. "It's nice to have an alter-ego to put on when you play."
Martini should know. Very few people would suspect the doting mother who home-schools her four children, spends three nights a week shoving other players around the track as a blocker for the Cinderollas in the newly formed Resurrection Roller Girls league.
"When you're a mom, you have to be a mom; and when you're a wife, you're a wife. In roller derby, you are whoever you want," she said.
Martini was convinced to go and see what roller derby was all about after some prodding from her husband. "I think he wanted me to get some aggression out in a healthy way," she laughed.
Every Monday night, the league hosts Roller Girl Basic Training at Cal Skate, which anyone who wants to get an introduction to the game can attend. For $10, the evening includes skates, padding and basic instructions on how to skate, stop and fall.
"I hadn't skated since I was a kid ... But I really surprised myself that first night," Martini said. Soon she was hooked, not only on the catharsis she felt slamming into her opponents, but also by the sense of camaraderie she found with other players.
"These people really become your family, it's a special kind of bond," she said.
The term roller derby was coined in a 1922 Chicago Tribune article and a phenomenon was born. Leo Seltzer, father of Sonoma resident Jerry Seltzer, is credited with creating the first derby league in Chicago in 1935. Jerry Seltzer assumed ownership of the league in 1959 and helped bring the sport to prominence as a dogged promoter.
"We sold out the Cow Palace and Madison Square Garden," Jerry Seltzer said. "It's not really the underground sport it once was, it's really out there now."
The sport reached the height of its popularity in the '60s and '70s, when it became infamous for its violent collisions as players pushed, pulled and tripped each other while jockeying for position. Today, the sport is trying to move away from that brutal image - most leagues have rules outlawing the most egregious acts such as choking, shoving players from behind and pulling hair.
"It's really becoming more of a strategic game than a violent game," Martini said, admitting some level of violence is an integral part of the sport. "Somebody's bruised every night."
It will always remain a full contact sport, and that's just how the players prefer it. "It's really fun, you can crash into people," said Paige "Paige Turner" O'Keefe, a 14-year-old Sonoma resident who plays with the Fallin' Angels, the junior team of the Resurrection Roller Girls league.
The general rules are pretty basic. Each team has 14 players on the track at a time, which includes 13 blockers and one jammer, who wear a star insignia on their helmets. The blockers from both teams form a pack at the front, while the jammers start a few yards back. When the whistle blows, jammers attempt to make their way through the blockers, getting a point for every member of the opposing team they pass.
About 50 women from age 18 to 45 make up the Resurrection Roller Girls. The league is comprised of two teams: The Cinderollas, who typically compete at away games and the Combustin' Betties, who compete in the home games at Cal Skate in Rohnert Park.
The league grew out of a significant shake-up in the local roller derby scene. While the Sonoma County Roller Derby had long controlled the local league, not all the players were satisfied with its management. In February, 37 players walked away, forming the Resurrection Roller Girls, a completely player-owned league.
"We weren't comfortable with how things were run," said Martini, who serves as secretary on the Resurrection Roller Girls governing board. Martini explained that each player serves on a committee, from publicity to merchandising, making for a more collaborative effort.
During each bout, as a game is called, fans pour out to support their favorite players. The league plays flat-track roller derby as opposed to the banked tracks sometimes seen in movies. The Resurrection Roller Girls donate 10 percent of their proceeds from tickets and merchandising to a Sonoma charity, such as the Sonoma County Humane Society's Mobile Adoption Unit.
"We really want the community to know we're here for them," Martini said.
The league is growing quickly, with a full schedule of bouts playing other teams around the state set for next year's season, which runs February through October.
Find out more about the Resurrection Roller Girls at resurrectionrollergirls.org.