They skate hard, hit hard and fall hard, and if you think the full contact sport of roller derby is a relic, think again.
Not only is roller derby alive and well in St. Pete; but because doing it on a flat track is too tame for the members of the Deadly Rival Roller Derby Team, they do it on the only banked track in Florida and one of only ten in the U.S.
With team names like Princess Slaya, Suzie B.Catastrophe, Ice Box and Murder Ride, the women who play at the Slayground in St. Pete, have extremely varied backgrounds.
Loren Yancey is the director of operations for Tampa Bay Food Trucks. The Treasure Island resident was a semi-professional dancer in New York before moving here.
“I started researching them a year before I started,” says Slaya, their designated PR person. She was worried about injuries, “but I missed being part of a team; I missed the camaraderie.”
A little over a year ago, she participated in one of their monthly recruitment nights where potential players use loaner gear to see if the sport is for them. She liked it, took the name Princess Slaya and became fresh meat–a rookie.
It took her about six weeks to get through fresh meat training and into advanced fresh meat, another six months to get to the league, and another few months before she was ready to bout–play a game.
Ice Box is a cosmetologist and pre-school teacher from Clearwater. She saw a bout promoted on Facebook. It was on St. Patrick’s Day in 2016. “And I joined two days later,” says the former street rollerblader.
Susie Perez from St. Pete is a pharmacy tech by day, a religious educator on Sundays, a student working on her RN and in her spare time she is Suzie B. Catastrophe. She says her best friend sent her “Whip It,” the 2009 movie about roller derby, and she was hooked.
“I started in Tampa with a flat track team 10 years ago then I moved to Deadly Rival when it was still a flat track team.”
The banked track is courtesy of what she calls the “wizardry of Murder,” Tricia Carney-Wells aka Murder Ride and owner of the league. “She worked hard to find the banked track for us.” Murder purchased it from Reno Nevada and paid to have it moved. Today they call it the BLT, the biggest little track that came from the biggest little city in the world.
Despite her name, Murder Ride has a contagious giggle. She started on a flat track about 13 years ago in Tampa. When it became too difficult to make practices there, the litigation paralegal from St. Pete started Deadly Rival here.
“When I did it, I said I intended to bring a banked track here because nobody had one. Four years later I found the track…and then the space.”
She won’t say what the track cost her, “But it was expensive, and…it was expensive getting it here.”
The desire to play on the only banked track in the region prompts players to drive from as far away as Daytona, Orlando and Ocala.
For a bout, each team has five players skating simultaneously on the track counterclockwise. One skater is the designated scorer called the jammer. She wears a “panty,” a helmet cover with a star. The other four are blockers; one blocker may be designated the pivot identified by a stripped panty. Pivots are blockers allowed to become a jammer in the course of play.
A whistle commences the jam which is 60 seconds or less. When a jammer makes it past the opposing team once, each additional pass is a point. Blockers use body contact, changing positions, and other tactics to assist their jammer while hindering the opposing team’s jammer. The bouts consists of four, 15 minute quarters with a 15 minute halftime break. After the game the team heads to The Wheelhouse bar and restaurant on Central Avenue for an after party.
Players have to practice a certain amount time between bouts in order to play. There are designated practice nights Monday through Thursday and Saturday mornings based on the level of the player. Players are encouraged to practice beyond their designated period. Murder says their injury rate is fairly low and attributes that to getting enough practice.
They have a travel team that plays away games against other banked track leagues.
On a cool night in late February, Deadly Rival players qualified and available to bout are divided into two teams of 11 players each. Shortly after the doors open at 5:30 p.m. there is a party atmos- phere as players, volunteers, families and fans file into the facility. Some of the massive rolling side doors are open and a band plays in the corner. Beer and wine is complementary (tips appreciated) thanks to sponsors like Florida Orange Groves Winery. Herring’s Catch food truck has a variety of fried shrimp and chick- en, and “DRRD-Y Girl merchandise is for sale.
Tickets for the bouts are $15 for adults, $8 for kids, and fans may opt to put out $40 for one of four “VIP” seats.
Ticket sales helps with expenses like track maintenance and members pay dues. “We’re not a nonprofit,” explains Slaya, “but we raise money to keep us afloat because we’re a bootstrap operation.”
The players begin to warm-up at 6:30 and, after singing the National Anthem, the bout begins at 7 p.m.
Cheryl Mitchell (Kitten’s Got Claws) is the oldest on the team at 56. They have three more play- ers in their 50s and the youngest is 19. Mr. Kitten, the travel team coach and a trainer, is one of the referees for the bout.
“It’s an amazing experience,” says Mr. Kitten, “it’s a lot of fun to play, to watch, to coach and to ref.”
They are not the only family at the track. RoJo (aka Revolver) is a skater and a ref, her daughter, Sirena Sprocket, skates; her brother, who goes by Charleston Chew and teaches free swing dance at Sundial, often entertains at half time, and her husband is a volunteer for every bout. Ro Jo says, “It’s a family affair.”
When the team is not practicing, playing a bout, or holding down their day jobs, they support a number of local charities including CASA, Clothes To Kids and several animal rescue organizations.
They play to win on the track, but there is fellowship everywhere. “That’s another great thing about our league,” says Slaya, “is the camaraderie, not only being involved in the community, but the friendships that we have, and how amazing these women are off the track.” Their next bout is Apr. 28 against South Side Roller Derby from Houston.
For more information go to www.deadlyrivalrollerderby.com.