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Roller derby is back. Since the turn of the century, the sport that rolled into obscurity in the 1970s has had more than 200 leagues pop up across the United States with a new generation of women ready to clench their teeth into mouth guards and use their shoulders as battering rams to subdue their opponents.
Ohio’s newest league, the Northeast Ohio Rock ’n’ Roller Girls, recently displayed their talents to a crowd of more than 300 fans at North Canton Skate Center in March, their first public bout since forming the league last May. The event also raised more than $2,200
for Until the Violence Stops, which addresses safety and violence issues in women’s lives.
Donned in fishnet stockings, knee socks, tank tops and devoid of ordinary names in favor of pseudonyms like Brown Eyed Bomber, Lotta Moxie, Sweet Demise, Taking Names and Teeny Houdini, the NEO Rock ’n’ Roller girls lace up their skates and prepare to battle. For participants, the bumps, bruises and occasional broken bones are part of what being a derby girl is all about.
“I’ve been taken out and I’ve seen other girls taken out,” says Lisa “Lily N’ Raged” Sullivan. “I’ve never broken anything, but a couple of girls have and one girl is recovering. I don’t know how you do this, but she broke her arm at the bicep level, midway between her shoulder and elbow. Another girl did the same type of thing but on her lower leg and had to get a plate put in.” Sullivan says the injuries aren’t a result of the physical play and contact, but are a result of how the players fall, which is why Falling drills are used in practice to minimize injury.
But the girls don’t get paid to leave their blood, sweat and tears on the track. “In fact, we pay to do it,” says Sullivan. The two-team league is operated by the skaters and much of the proceeds go into putting on the next event. A lot of expenses go into a roller derby show, such as renting the facility, printing programs and hiring halftime acts.
So why do these Rock ’n’ Roller Girls pay to compete and possibly get hurt? “For the love of the game,” coach Brian Phillips says.
To be able to compete in the bouts, each girl must provide her own equipment: the right speed skates, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist pads and a helmet. To add to their expenses, each girl must have health insurance for every bout. These rules are required by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association as part of the process to become a sanctioned league.
The Skate Toward Sanction
Although the NEO Rock ’n’ Roller Girls are not yet sanctioned by the WFTDA, they hope to be soon. “We all have that goal in mind,” Sullivan says. “As long as you follow their rules and do what they ask of you, it’s not hard to be sanctioned.”
In order to become sanctioned by the WFTDA, each girl must have a minimum skills requirement, the equipment has to be properly maintained and
a record of any charity functions must be kept along with evidence of media coverage the league has received
and letters of recommendation from leagues that are closest to the league’s proximity.
In the NEO Rock ’n’ Roller Girls case, the closest team is the Burning River Roller Girls. Sullivan says the two leagues have scrimmaged, and the Burning River Girls have been really supportive. “They come down here and teach us a lesson,” she says.
“Without them, the league wouldn’t have been up as fast as it has,” Phillips adds.
Sullivan may say the road to a sanction is easy, but the girls work hard to keep the league running. While referees and others contribute, “every job has to be done by a skater of the league — so what you see out on the track is just one piece of what’s going on, but in the background, everybody has a job to help make the league run smoothly and keep it going,” Sullivan explains.
Want to become a NEO Rock ’n’ Roller Girl? The league is still seeking skaters, referees, sponsors and volunteers. Skaters must be 18 years of age, have health insurance and attend at least two weekly practices. For more details, visit www.neorocknrollergirls.com.