For The Independent
Ten women surround the black strip taped to the rink’s hardwood floor. Each woman wears a T-shirt — five in black, five in white.
In front of the line, four women stand shoulder to shoulder and another four behind them do the same. The remaining two stand behind the line and wear stars on their helmets.
Balancing on the wheels of their 1970s-style quad skates, each leans forward and listens to a crowd of more than 150 family and friends crowding the rink’s edge, shouting and cheering.
On the left end of the rink, the announcer says, “Lead jammer for the white team, Artoo; lead jammer for the black team, Double Portion.”
The whistle blows and the jammers, who wear the stars, lunge forward, Double Portion trying to break the white team’s line, Artoo trying to break the black team’s line. Throwing her hips into a skater twice her size, sending her to the floor, Artoo breaks ahead of the pack, pushing her long legs away from her body, picking up speed.
“Come on Artoo! Keep going!” a spectator screams.
After a minute and a half of jostling, checking, falling and skating, the race ends and another group of competitors lines up.
To many in the Tri State, this sounds like a scene from Ellen Page’s 2009 film “Whip It.” However, this is far from a Hollywood studio fantasy about roller derby. This is the Jewel City Rollergirls second anniversary scrimmage at Skateland in Altizer near Huntington.
While Oregon movie theater owner Leo Seltzer invented the sport as Depression-era entertainment, the current trend in all-female flat track roller derby teams orginated in the early 2000s, in Austin, Texas. Today, more than 150 teams are members of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.
Melissa “Double Portion” Lundy, captain and founder of the Jewel City Rollergirls, began her roller derby career in 2009, skating with the Jaded Misfits of Bluefield, W.Va. Lundy moved to Huntington in 2010, where she skated for Chemical Valley of Charleston. She started the Jewel City Rollergirls in February 2011.
Lundy said the team is part of a nationwide trend.
“The sport has changed a lot and it’s growing,” she said. “Huntington means a lot to us, so we want to represent it in the sport.”
In 2011, Lundy approached Skateland owner Barry Shock about using his rink for practices. Shock said he wished they could use his facility for more than practice.
“They’re great girls and they work hard,” Shock said. “I just wish the rink was big enough to host a bout. We don’t have the seating or the room for them to host another team.”
The team has 19 skaters, ranging in age from 19 to 35. Lundy said women join roller derby for different reasons.
“Some of the girls join for exercise, others for something to do,” Lundy said. “I know between the derby’s skating and insanity, I dropped quite a bit of weight.”
Sara “Rat Race” Lane joined after finding a flier for the team outside a Huntington coffee shop. Lane said she wanted to be a derby skater since watching TNN’s “RollerJam” program in the late 1990s.
“I remember watching that and thinking, ‘Wow, that looks cool,’” Lane said. “Now, I like the grassroots community aspect of it. It’s accessible for anyone. All you got to do is skate, jump and fall.”
Like any sport, roller derby has numerous rules and regulations. The object of the game is for a “jammer” to break the opposing team’s defensive line. After skating a lap, the “jammer” scores a point for each opposing skater she passes. The round, called a “jam,” lasts for either two minutes or until the first “jammer” to break through the line calls it off. The sport requires stamina, strength and agility.
Getting in shape
Lundy said one of the main challenges for the Jewel City Rollergirls is conditioning skaters.
“Some of the girls have never played a sport before, so they’re afraid they can’t do it,” Lundy said. “Some of them can’t even skate when they join.”
Caitlin “Artoo” Dalzell joined the team in 2011. Dalzell said roller derby’s physical challenge lies more in the skating, rather than the physical contact.
“Honestly doing cardio is the worst of it,” Dalzell said. “The way we push out skating puts a lot of strain on our knees.”
The Jewel City Rollergirls 2013 season runs from March to November, making it the team’s longest schedule. They will make nine appearances in West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky. More information about their schedule can be found on jewelcityrollergirls.com.