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The fast pace of roller derby

Members of the Devil’s Night Dames practice derby jams at the Canfield Arena in Dearborn Heights. PHOTO/SHELBY TANKERSLEY

BY SHELBY TANKERSLEY
OU News Bureau

Picture this: roller skaters speed around a rink. A wall of opponents tries to block their path, forcing the skaters to push and shove their way through that pack.

This is called a jam, the main event at the roller derby.

“It’s a real sport,” said Michelle Thomas, known as Swift Justice on the D-Funk team at the Detroit Roller Derby. “It’s not fake at all. This is a real contact sport.”

Roller Derby got its start in 1935 and was originally a coed sport, according to the National Museum of Roller Skating. Roller Derby was exactly that: a derby. The players would simply race around the track.

The ’70s welcomed the Roller Derby jams instead of simply racing. With the rise of television, players embraced showmanship and turned the sport into what it is today, according to Roller Derby Resource. Though it is not scripted like it was then, the format has stayed the same.

Detroit’s program features four teams that play from November to March. When the season ends, some of the girls play on travel teams from April to June.

Teams play with five players on the rink. One player is the team’s “jammer,” whose job is to try and skate the most laps. Those not jamming try to block the opposing team’s jammer from making it around the rink. The team that passes the most opposing players wins. With jams of about two minutes each, the entire game is played during two 30-minute halves.

To keep up with all this, the players have to be in good shape. The practices two days a week help, but many of them do other conditioning as well.

D-Funk teammates practice drills that include blocking, skating and scrimmaging. PHOTO/SHELBY TANKERSLEY

“It’s a super physical sport and we need a lot of endurance for practice,” said Dominique Bertollini, known as Ringer of the Devil’s Night Dames. “There’s also lots of bruises and leg soreness that you’re going to wake up with the next morning.”

She added that even though she loathes it, she goes running in order to stay in shape for games.

Bertollini will start playing her first adult games with the Devil’s Night Dames this month. She started in the Junior Roller Derby League and recently moved up since she is now 18 and, therefore, eligible for adult derby.

She started with her mom years ago and stuck with it. By day she is a high school student, but this is a big hobby. She loves it, and she’s ready for her first adult game.

“I have a playlist I listen to that is basically a bunch of explicit music,” Bertollini said. “A lot of ‘What am I doing?’ goes through my mind, but after the first jam I’m always fine.”

She said the crowd in junior derby can get pretty intense because people are watching their kids. But the adult derby has a loyal fan base of its own. Many family and friends come out to watch the games.

Thomas, on the other hand, is a seasoned veteran who has played for six years and doesn’t let herself get nervous.

“I don’t think about the game very much,” she said. “Up until the first jam, I’m trying to get my hair done and pick out my outfit for the game.”

Six years ago, Thomas was looking for a way to get into shape. She thought roller derby was interesting and gave it a try. Now, it’s part of her.

On Jan. 30, their two teams practiced together at the Canfield Arena in Dearborn Heights. They scrimmaged before playing each other later in the season. They split the court for the first half and came together at the end.

Though competitive, many said they play because they have a great time doing it. Lou Peters, the coach of the Devil’s Night Dames and also known as LouKou Mades, said it’s one of the most enjoyable things he does.

“It’s a lot of fun just to watch or be a part of,” he said. “It’s so entertaining; I think people just don’t know about it. You get to see some great action from some good teams.”

 

 

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Posted by on Feb 5 2017. Filed under Featured article, Wayne C.. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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