These Wheels Are on
|Kimmie Kazie greeting the
Welcome to the insane world
of the resurgent Roller Derby leagues. It was my privilege
to attend the Rock and Roller Derby extravaganza, featuring
the Penn Jersey She-Devils this past Saturday in South Philly.
The day would include several live bands and a roller derby
I realized that I may need some things to
cover this event so I contacted the editor of Defining Moment,
el Commandante, and left my list of requirements. “I’ll
need two fifths of vodka, 4 liters of tonic water with quinine,
4 limes... sliced, a case of beer, a carton of cigarettes
non-mentholated and some sort of digital device to record
my thoughts. I’ll also need some staff to make some
sort of sense of this situation.” I intoned into his
voice mail. Several hours later everything was confirmed and
obtained and we were ready to set out for the event. I disembarked
with a staff of 4: a photographer, a technical advisor (for
the newly purchased digital recorder), a Roller Derby consultant
and myself. The afternoon was wearing on and we had limited
time to get to the event. We needed several hours if we wanted
|Violence is not mandatory...
The event took place at the New Alhambra Arena
in South Philadelphia. An unusual venue, yet fairly well suited
for the mixture of rock and roll and roller derby. There was
a small fenced in area, designated for alcoholic beverages
and only beer from a keg was provided. Those who sorely needed
a drink were caged and on display. The interior was also non
smoking. Already, my nerves were on edge, because to truly
cover something like this you need to feel completely at ease.
I quickly found myself backstage, exploring the bands’
staging area and managed to right myself with some rum and
whiskey. Throughout the day I had slowly come to grips with
the digital recorder’s strange, new technology.
In the dimly lit, warehouse-like interior,
bands played on and a few stragglers congregated here and
there. The skaters would occasionally skate in and cruise
through reminding us why we were there, eyeing the crowd and
conversing amongst themselves. My anticipation grew, I had
no idea what to expect and the prospects of the day seemed
to bode well. It was roughly 5 PM and the exhibition was set
|Dirty Gert post bout.
The Penn Jersey She-Devils are an amateur
roller derby team with roots in Philadelphia and New Jersey.
The head coaches are Judy “the Polish Ace” Sowinski
and Skip “Arnold” Schoen, both accomplished roller
derby legends themselves. The girls exude a certain level
of punk rock cool, most covered in ink and wearing short skirts
with fishnets and stockings. Do not be fooled, these women
are vicious competitors and warriors, they are not to be taken
lightly. They all have their team names: Candy Kaboom, Dirty
Gert, Havoc, Metal Momma… meant to warn as much as entertain.
I find the genuine enthusiasm and love for the game held by
the girls to be refreshing, they are in this for themselves
and for each other and the need for competition. These bouts
are REAL and so is the blood and broken bones. My pulse quickens
as I realize the time is nearing for the “exhibition”
bout. Unfortunately, it is a luck of the draw match, splitting
the team in half. They will be competing against their own
teammates and their thirst for mayhem will surely be tempered
by the fact that their next big bout is less than a month
away and any injuries will prove to be a large impediment.
|Metal Momma and Candy Kaboom
pre-bout game faces.
I rounded up my crew and we headed over to
the exhibition “arena”, a make shift roller rink
spray painted onto the black top. There were several sets
of bleachers set up under the overpass, and little to nothing
setup for safety. We smoked strong cigarettes and waited.
The sky was overcast and the air was hot and sticky, not your
typical August day. We found seats on the bleachers as our
photographer scouted the area trying to get some shots of
the skaters warming up, but the looming darkness of the overpass
proved to be too much. The exhibition was commentated by bullhorn
and as the Philadelphia sirens screamed in the background
the overall vibes were starting to feel apocalyptic on this
sweaty summer afternoon.
||player trying to stop the
jammer from lapping and scoring points
||player trying to lap the other team and
||special blocker leading the pack and
setting the pace of the action
||act of pushing or pull your teammate
to increase speed
|| the checkered road rash created when
hitting the ground wearing fishnets
The teams were decided by pulling names out
of a hat, and once that was settled, I quickly placed money
on the bout. I knew little to nothing of the rules or the
meaning of roller derby, but I had a hunch about the team
in black and nothing got you interested in something more
than money on the line. The exhibition started at a stagger
stop pace, but was soon in full swing. As the wheels rolled
round and round the flat macadam rink, I started to understand,
at least for the moment, the rules of the game.
In the game there are two types of players:
blockers and jammers. The blockers stay in a pack and control
the pace of the game. Each round, one member of the competing
teams is designated the jammer. Their goal is to come up from
behind and cut through the pack, they receive points every
time they do this. I was told the penalty rules are fairly
simple: “No Hands”. You cannot push or pull anyone
not on your team. Whipping, the act of grabbing your fellow
teammate and whipping them past you to increase their speed,
is the exception. As for any other rules I’m sure that
I left out, I plead ignorance.
brucha, Havoc, Kitty Coroner , Sugar and Spite, and Cherry
Bomber sit down to field our questions.
At this point the action was in full swing,
the girls skated hard and took many risks that day. This was
not a standard roller rink, but rough asphalt. Hitting the
ground at the speeds they travel would feel like landing on
a belt sander. The skaters have scores of “battle”
wounds and emphasize that this is REAL. One of the score girls
has her arm in a cast, due to a prior injury during a bout.
Road rash burns, broken wrists and tailbones, and numerous
scars are par for the course in the world of amateur roller
derby, yet another testament to the perseverance and drive
these women possess. The crowd was warming up to the match
and the girls started to get more and more aggressive. The
play moves fast, and is easy to get into… the crowd
was definitely engrossed in the action unfolding in front
of them. Every couple of laps or so, a player would carom
off onto the sidelines or trip up over the relentless grind
of the other girls’ skates. At one point a small scuffle
broke out, attesting to the spirit of winning engrained in
the skaters. As the bout continued I started to notice the
different styles of play… some jammers would force their
way through the pack where as others would use their superior
speed. It was the time old struggle between force and finesse.
We smoked cigarettes and sipped whiskey enjoying the progress
of the exhibition. It was clear I had placed the smart money
on the black team… it was now only a matter of time.
Black took the lead and never let go. It was an easy victory.
I collected my money and went on to conduct
more interviews post bout. The skaters are easy going and
forthcoming in their interviews, a stark contrast to the vicious
competitors you see on the track. I had been awakened to a
sport I never knew I liked. My preconceptions of roller derby
were far from accurate… I had underestimated the quality
and integrity of the sport, a possibly fatal error when dealing
with any one of these athletes. I saw the camaraderie and
dedication and the passion of the women that made this thing
what it was… not only was I several dollars richer and
entertained, I was inspired.
A special thanks to the Penn Jersey She-Devils for
a fucking awesome afternoon and their willingness to put up
with me for the photos and interviews.
The She-Devils’ website is http://www.shedevilsrollerderby.com.
Their next bout is Sunday, September 24, 2006 at:
Cornwell's Skating Center
2350 Bristol Pike
Bensalem, PA 19020
Extra Special thanks to my fearless
crew: Pete, Dave, Bill, and Molly.
August 29, 2006