Slamming, Jamming Sisters

Women's Roller-skating Teams Back In Vogue


Her name is Ruby Wreckingball, and if you're on roller skates, cruising around a gritty, sweaty Wallingford rink on Tuesday and Thursday nights, she has one aim: to take you down, leaving you in the dust.

Wreckingball, known publicly as Jess Reiter, has the skills. She can ``jam,'' or sprint through a pack of other tattooed roller girls; ``block'' by heading off her opponent with a jab from the shoulder; and ``grab,'' moving past the others with a grasp of the waist and a quick, rolling sideward shift.

During a recent practice at Wheel World, Reiter coached from the sidelines as her young pack of roller derby proteges paid their dues with repeated spills.

"You got it; you got it; you got it,'' Reiter yelled as 30 women of all shapes and sizes practiced hairpin turns and often crashed into a wall.

Reiter, dressed in a hot-pink miniskirt and black CT Roller Girls T-shirt, said she spends a lot of time coaching, trying to get the nascent roller-derby league up and rolling. She can't wait for the actual matches.

"Roller skating and beating the crap out of each other -- what more could you want than that?'' asked Reiter, who took over as head of the league in the winter. ``You can bring aggression to the track and, when you're done, hang out with each other. It's a unique sort of sisterhood.''

It's a sisterhood with a growing popularity. In a few short months, CT Roller Girls, one of several new leagues across the country, has tripled in size from 11 to 30 people a night. Women from all over the Northeast, including southern Massachusetts and Westchester County in New York, converge in Wallingford in short skirts, fishnet pantyhose and bad-ass gear to strap on a pair of skates for a roll around the rink that includes body slams.

"I really like the concept of beating up on your friends and going out for a drink after,'' said Jenn Sarrel, a 37-year-old hairdresser from Woodbridge. "It's stress release without a doubt.''

The sport appeared to have reached its peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when "bouts'' of dueling women drew audiences of up to 30,000 people and network attention. After its demise in 1973, most promoters seemed content to let it skate into its good night.

With a new legion of women looking for ways to express themselves and have fun, Roller Derby has coasted back into the mainstream with a vengeance, thanks in part to the A&E TV show "Rollergirls.'' The Women's Flat Track Derby Association boasts about 30 leagues across the country.

As required by the WFTDA, all of the leagues follow the governing philosophy of "by the skaters, for the skaters.'' Individuals in each league act as its owners, managers and operators, undertaking all tasks from setting rules to scheduling bouts to building promotional websites, many of which feature menacing photographs of tough women.

Many of the women arrive at practice in the most punk-esque of outfits and all choose a roller derby alias, a moniker -- often a play on words or a famous name in history -- that conveys toughness, wittiness and intelligence.

"The image of a Roller Girl plays into this sexy Bettie Page attitude. What guy wouldn't want to see cute girls in short skirts, being aggressive and skating?'' said Jessica "Darla Damage'' Hudgins. "But it's not just an eye-candy sport.''

Other CT Roller Girls say boredom with the gym ritual brought them to the Wallingford Roller World. Still others say it's the good old-fashioned desire for human combat. But a large majority of the women say that a big draw has to do with nostalgia for the roller-skating rinks of childhood.

Reminiscence certainly brought Reiter to Roller Derby. She had heard about the sport from a few friends in the Las Vegas Sin City League, but shopping in a Goodwill store one day last year, she came across a pair of roller skates her size.

"When I was a little girl in junior high, I used to skate all the time, so I said, `Hey, I'll get these skates and skate around outside. It might be fun','' Reiter said. ``Then I saw an ad on myspace.com about putting together a roller derby league and figured it was fate.''

At first, Ruby Wreckingball felt content to roll around, relive adolescence and learn her moves. But she soon became the league's co-founder, then became the CT Roller Girls diva-in-charge when other co-founder, Jenna ``May Jorpayne'' Keller, had to temporarily leave.

Today's roller derby affords many opportunities for bodily damage. Two teams compete, or "bout,'' by racing around a flat track, earning points when a "jammer'' -- or designated scorer -- from another team laps the opposing team's ``blockers'' who act as both offensive and defensive linemen, attempting to prevent the jammer from scoring while paving the way for their own jammer. It gets a bit brutal.

"It's a matter of knowing how to take care of yourself. Epsom salt baths and ice packs help,'' Hudgins said. ``We also have a number of massage therapists on the team.''

Reiter is determined to keep roller derby out of the hands of promoters, so the teams remain democratic and equal in ownership. With personalities such as Scarlet O' Hurtya, Jenghis Khan and Demanda Beatin, she admits that it can be a bit daunting.

"We have almost 40 different people together. Everyone has a different idea, a different vision and different motivations,'' Reiter said. "My job is to unify them under the CT Roller Girls; it could be a full-time job.''

The CT Roller Girls League hopes to divide into teams and begin bouting by the summer, possibly competing with teams from their sister league to the south, the Gotham Girls Roller Derby.

"We're young professionals, business slaves at work. This is a completely other role,'' Hudgins said. "I mean, how many softball leagues can you join?''