Let us praise the Maine Roller Derby girls. They built a nice thing for themselves since first organizing in March 2006, and they did it through hard, grass-roots work. A few years ago (around the time that massage-therapy school was the rage), the roller girls were ubiquitous, constantly fundraising, contesting bouts, double-fisting beers in some Portland bar while trying to recruit your sister or girlfriend to their cause. They zipped into the local zeitgeist on polyurethane wheels but, unlike the strange, transient allure of massage-therapy school, which faded quicker than this winter, the roller girls have remained with us.
However, they find themselves at a crossroads. Brianne "Breezy" Seekins, a derby pillar, recently assessed the state of their union. According to her, the organization that started in 2006 is strong, drawing crowds more than double the size of those watching other, similar leagues, but skater turnover is having an inevitable effect. Breezy explains, "The general lifespan of a derby skater, at least what I heard, was five years at a the max. How long can you commit that kind of time, and how long can you play such a physical, competitive sport?" With their league entering its fifth year, some of the derby's founders have hung up their skates, including Vexatious D and Killer Quick, although the Mom Bomb, Punchy O'Guts, and Lois Blow, to name a few, roll ever onward. Breezy expects more exits. "We've seen some skaters leave, and I suspect after the fall some more will. That's why it's important stick with the new recruits," she says.
"Our rosters are not as robust as we'd like, but we have a spring season planned," she continues. The first bout is April 25, against Harrisburg. Currently, there are 30 new girls augmenting the 15 who remain from the Old Guard. "We're hoping that some (of the recruits) will be ready by spring. Three girls just moved up to scrimmage-eligible, so they can be drafted up to the Calamity Janes (the MRD equivalent of junior varsity) at any time. We have assessments coming up, so it's possible that more girls might get added to the scrimmage-eligible list," Breezy says. To be declared scrimmage-eligible new recruits must meet "WFTDA (Women's Flat Track Derby Association) requirements. There are a couple levels. First you have to be contact-eligible. You have to be safe. You have to be fast enough to keep up with the pack. You have to do a bunch of falls appropriately. You have to hit and whip appropriately. You have to be able to jump. It's a big-picture assessment."
Why should we care? According to Breezy, the most important benefit of the derby is not always apparent to those who can't see past the silly derby names, or the fishnet stockings that some girls wear. "Effectively, we are changing the way that people look at women. Traditionally, men are taught to be physically aggressive and taught to resolve conflict through violence. Women are generally taught to be passive-aggressive, so in playing roller derby, a very aggressive sport, that's very different." Those who can't get past the costumes are grossly oversimplifying. "We're playing this physical sport, and yes, we're sexy, but we're also smart, we're also funny, we're also creative." That's why, despite the changing face of the derby, Breezy isn't worried. "I have faith that it will carry on. The newbies have the right attitude. They're sportswomen. They're energetic; they're athletic," she says.
Rick Wormwood can be reached at email@example.com.