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Roller derby heats up

[photoshelter-gallery g_id=”G0000xUvfK2aoC.4″ g_name=”Duke-City-Roller-Derby-06-20-2015″ width=”600″ f_fullscreen=”t” bgtrans=”t” pho_credit=”iptc” twoup=”f” f_bbar=”t” f_bbarbig=”f” fsvis=”f” f_show_caption=”t” crop=”f” f_enable_embed_btn=”t” f_htmllinks=”t” f_l=”t” f_send_to_friend_btn=”f” f_show_slidenum=”t” f_topbar=”f” f_show_watermark=”t” img_title=”casc” linkdest=”c” trans=”xfade” target=”_self” tbs=”5000″ f_link=”t” f_smooth=”f” f_mtrx=”t” f_ap=”t” f_up=”f” height=”400″ btype=”old” bcolor=”#CCCCCC” ]It’s 102 degrees in the shade at the Heights Community Center. The cement track is sweltering. A crowd of nearly 200 sits silently under umbrellas. Combatants on four-wheel roller skates sporting eccentric derby names like Bampf, Seam Slayer, Ivy A. Nightmare and Meep Meep jockey into position at a starting line marked on an elliptical track about half the size of a basketball court.

Then a whistle blows. In one instant the crowd is screaming, the skaters are battling, music blasts through the speakers, and the heat is all but forgotten.

Welcome to the rock ‘n’ roll atmosphere at a match put on by Duke City Roller Derby, an organization of females from ages 10 to 40 playing a still obscure game. It’s not televised on a large scale like it was 30 years ago, and things have changed anyway.

Back then, it was highly scripted, complete with heroes and villains, its image that of pro wrestling’s less popular cousin.

What has been retained is a competition mixing the high speeds of racing on wheels with the physicality of football, a sport easy to pick up but difficult to master.

“I love the diversity of the group,” said Vanessa Valadez-Anderson, DCRD’s public relations director – and a player, aka Beat the Brat. “We have teachers, personal trainers, midwives, we even had two preachers’ daughters. We have nonreligious people and very religious people. We are all united through our love of the sport.”

The Duke City Roller Derby is an emerging sports league in Albuquerque. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The Duke City Roller Derby is an emerging sports league in Albuquerque. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Roller derby is experiencing a nationwide resurgence. Nearly every major city now supports a roller derby league with hot spots of interest popping up from Portland, Ore., to Los Angeles, Chicago to Philadelphia. The annual National Roller Derby Championship gains larger and larger crowds every year.

Leigh Featherstone, president of DCRD, a league that now includes an All-Star team, three “Home Teams” (adult non-travel teams) and a junior team, has only been with DCRD for a year.

“When I moved to New Mexico a year ago, I knew one person who lived in the state,” she said. “When I joined DCRD, I found a whole group people with whom I share a love of roller derby. I have a team, and I value each and every one of the many people who give time, money and love to this fantastic organization.”

Featherstone said the non-profit DCRD’s 2014 operating budget was $17,000, but an increase in membership will mean income and expenditures will rise this year. What keeps the skates rolling, she said, is a committed management team of players and volunteers as well as active local sponsors, who pony up anywhere from $250 to $3,000 to be a part of the experience.

DCRD also sells merchandise, such as T-shirts and bumper stickers at its events and on its website, dukecityderby.com.

“All of our members are required to lend a hand in managing the business through committee work, and participating in both PR and fundraising events,” Featherstone said.

The brand of roller derby DCRD embraces is “flat track,” which is trendy because it is cheaper. “A banked track can cost nearly $40,000 and that is minus the cost of storing it and the labor involved in putting it up and taking it down for each event.” said Valadez-Anderson. “Flat track derby is much more sensible. It can be played virtually anywhere.”

The show at a Duke City Roller Derby match tries to walk the line between rebellious and family-friendly, given that the gathering of spectators includes children. Tattoo parlors are prominent sponsors, and the teams will often shout mottos with salty language while in their huddles.

The basic rules of roller derby: Each team uses five skaters at a time. Four from each team are used for offense and defense.

Mayhem on the hot track at Heights Park in Albuquerque. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Mayhem on the hot track at Heights Park in Albuquerque. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The fifth skater, called the jammer, is used to score points. The object of the four defensive/offensive players is to open up space on the track for their jammer and close space to block the opposing jammer.

After the whistle blows, the skaters begin to play what is known as a “jam,” which lasts for two minutes or until the lead jammer “calls the jam,” ending it early.

Jammers score points by passing the other skaters and crossing the scoring line. A common defensive ploy is for one team’s jammer to knock the other’s off the track.

Penalties are a common occurrence for a variety of infractions such as tripping, using your hands to block and fighting. A player receiving a penalty must leave the track and go to the penalty box for 30 seconds. If a jammer is placed in the penalty box, then only the opposing team can score. This state is called a “power jam.”

The June 20 event began with a scrimmage of the league’s Junior (ages 9-18) team, the Marionettes, many of whom aspire to keep going in the sport.

“I think roller derby fills a gap in girls’ sports that encourages both physical contact and teamwork,” Marionettes coach Lyndsay Trader, aka Mitzi Massacre, said.

From left, Leigh Featherstone, Seam Slayer and Swearin Marie are members of the Muñecas Muertas roller derby team based in Albuquerque. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

From left, Leigh Featherstone, Seam Slayer and Swearin Marie are members of the Muñecas Muertas roller derby team based in Albuquerque. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Then the Duke City Roller Derby All-Star team, known as the Muñecas Muertas, faced their Las Cruces rivals, The Sucias of Cross Roads City Roller Derby. The Muertas jumped to a quick 27-0 lead on the heels of their jammer, Kat D’Orazio, known as Jerk of All Skates.

But things have a way of turning fast in Roller Derby. By halftime the Muertas clung to a 69-56 lead.

The second half was even more intense as the Sucias shot ahead early. The heat climbed. Bloody noses and road rash began to appear between the smiling faces and tattoos, and after two 30 minute halves the Sucias claimed a 137-94 victory.

Much of DCRD’s new membership has been gained from not only word of mouth and social media, but its community outreach programs.

“So far this year, we’ve installed smoke detectors as part of a Red Cross program; a number of members also volunteered at ‘Girls’ Night Out,’ a Ronald McDonald House fundraiser,” Featherstone said. The club also recently partnered with the Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico to bring more awareness to its mission and services.

DCRD maintains a constant presence at community events like Comic Con, the Pride Parade and the Twinkle Lights Parade. They also hold fundraisers. DCRD will be holding a Pancake Breakfast today at Applebee’s on Lomas and Eubank (tickets available at the door and online at holdmyticket.com).

The Duke City Roller Derby is an emerging sports league in Albuquerque. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The Duke City Roller Derby is an emerging sports league in Albuquerque. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Some of the new players, like Featherstone and Kristen Aranda, come to DCRD after just moving to town.

“I didn’t know a thing about the sport, but a friend mentioned that there is a league here in Albuquerque,” said Aranda, who came from Texas and is known on the track as Betty Oop. “I went to one of the newbie practices and was hooked the first day. I knew I would stick with it. … They are people that I might not normally meet and they have become some of my best friends.”

DCRD offers beginners practices every Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Heights Community Center. Loaner gear is “stinky but available,” according to league announcers. The next local Duke City Roller Derby Event will be held on Aug. 22 at Heights Community Center and will showcase the league’s two new home teams, the Doomsdames and the Disco Brawlers.

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