Baltimore area moms tear up the rink in roller derby

rollermom 2By Hannah Anderson, Assistant Editor

At Du Burns Arena in Baltimore, a bunch of women are ready to battle it out in a bout of roller derby.

Music begins playing, and the announcer steps into the middle of the track. He is wearing a glittery gold suit jacket and black high-heeled boots, and he has long sideburns that give the impression he got lost on his way to a '70s disco. As he begins talking, a woman outside the track kneels down and hugs her young son.

"Are you ready to watch mommy play?" she asks him.

The encounter seems out of place in this arena full of spandex-clad women on roller skates and fans who may have had one too many beers. The back of the mom's shirt tells her name, "Smearin' Off Ice," and her number, 716. She is here to tear it up in the roller derby rink.

Flat track roller derby is a team contact sport played on roller skates, and Smearin' Off Ice, known at home as Erin Maher-Moran of Nottingham, plays for Baltimore's all-female roller derby league, Charm City Roller Girls (CCRG). The six-team league, which plays at Du Burns Arena in Baltimore, was created in 2005. Since then, it has grown from just a few founding members to more than 150 women, about 30 of which are moms.

For Mindy Goldman of Abingdon, aka "Ellie Vation," playing roller derby provides her with some much-needed grownup time after spending most of her day with her 2 ½-year-old son.

"Here, I get to watch my language a little less, and I get out of the toddler frame of mind where I'm watching Mickey Mouse and Elmo all the time," says the 30-year-old stay-at-home-mom and part time documentation specialist.


Stage names still big in roller derby

While roller derby has shifted away from the theatrics that made it popular in the 1960s and '70s, such as exaggerated falling, cursing and name-calling, some performance aspects of the game remain intact, such as the players' use of stage names.

Leslie Schnitzer, 29, a mother of three from Ft. Meade, says taking on her skater persona, "Quickshot Kitty," lets her act differently than she does at home.

"Kitty is more powerful. She's a strong woman, and doesn't put up with a lot of s*** and doesn't let people walk all over her. I'm still motherly and I take care of my teammates, but not to the same extent," says Schnitzer, who is a stay-at-home mom during the day and works in retail at night.

The basic rules of roller derby are as follows: a game, called a "bout," is divided into 2-minute-long shifts called "jams." At the beginning of a jam, four players from each team gather at the starting line, and one additional player from each team stands a little further back at a second starting line. The two players at the back are called jammers, and the eight players at the front are called blockers. When the whistle is blown, the pack of blockers skates quickly around the track, and the jammers from each team attempt to skate past the pack while one team's blockers use their hips, butts, and shoulders to block the opposing team's jammer from getting through. After breaking through the pack the first time, a jammer can score points by skating all the way around the track and maneuvering past the pack again.

CCRG is composed of four intra-league teams that bout only each other, and two interleague teams that bout other teams from around the country. Tonight's bout is a double-header with all four home teams. First, the Junkyard Dolls are taking on last year's home champions, the Night Terrors, followed by the Speed Regime duking it out with the Mobtown Mods.

The audience is an interesting mix of players' family members, many of whom have kids with them, and general fans of the sport, who are a little more rowdy. Goldman's No. 1 fan is here as well. Her son, nicknamed "Mini-vation" is wearing the shirt she made him that says "Little Terror" (a play on her team's name, Night Terrors).

After the announcer introduces the first two teams and explains the basics of the game for any newcomers, the 10 starting players line up on the track and the first jam begins. As the players skate quickly around the track, the blockers do all they can to keep the jammers from getting through. Pushing and tripping other players can take points away from the team, but that does not seem to stop anyone. They definitely don't look like moms out there hitting and shoving and doing the same things they tell their kids not to do. But for 26-year-old Jaclyn Kilheffer, a mother of two from Middle River whose skater name, "TwiBite," reflects her love of the Twilight trilogy, the violence is the best part of the sport.

"My favorite thing about it is it's a way for me to relieve stress from home and work," says Kilheffer, who works fulltime as an administrator at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. "I can come here and hit people and still be friends, so that's the fun of it."


Even the kids love roller derby

Some of the players' kids even inherited their moms' love of skating. Schnitzer's 14-year-old son used to speed skate when he was younger, and Aiyana Watson, of Baltimore, whose skater name is "CC Bang Bang," goes with her 13-year-old son to open skate sessions every Sunday night in Dundalk. But not all of the moms want their kids to follow in their footsteps. Jenny Wilkey, 36, known as "Miss'ippi Queen" on the track, says she would actually prefer for her two sons not to skate.

"It's terrible on the ankles and on the knees, and I'm hoping for soccer scholarships," she says with a laugh.

While the actual sport may not seem family-friendly, the league is very accommodating for families. At home bouts, there is an area beyond the track where kids who aren't interested in watching the game can hula hoop or play. Practices are held at different Baltimore-area skating rinks and encompass a variety of days and times to accommodate players' busy schedules. Schnitzer says the practice flexibility makes it easy to meet the attendance requirement, which is half of the practices leading up to a bout. The ability to choose between playing for a home team or a competitive team lets the moms control how involved they are.


Missing a maternal vibe

Although the physical, butt-bumping sport doesn't exactly give off a maternal vibe, all of the moms love derby for a variety of reasons.

Schnitzer, who got her start with roller derby when she helped create a league in Kansas a few years ago, says she began playing for CCRG after her family moved to Maryland two years ago. Her favorite thing about roller derby is the sense of camaraderie.

"Anywhere you go in the derby world, you have instant friends, instant family," she says. "These girls are my sisters now. They've already helped me through crazy tough times."

The instant friendship base also helped Wilkey when she and her two sons moved to Columbia from Mississippi in 2010. She says the large number of players in the league can be intimidating at first, but as long as you are friendly and somewhat outgoing, it is easy to meet people. Wilkey started playing for the Mississippi Roller Girls in 2006 before transferring to CCRG.

Goldman also emphasized the fitness benefits of the sport.

"The one thing I say to everybody is it is a great activity and a great weight loss plan because it's very physical, and it just keeps you moving," she says.

Back on the track, the bumping and pushing knocks a few players off their feet. As they sprawl out across the floor, their impact with the hard track is cringe worthy. At the speed they are moving, it is doubtful their knee and elbow pads do much to break the fall, yet they pop right back up and quickly get back into the game. Schnitzer says the pain is worth it.

"I like pain, so it works out well," she says. "It's so fast-paced and so different and tough. I like the toughness a lot. I like to be able to say, 'Yeah, I play roller derby.'"


If you want to play

 

 

 

Charm City Roller Girl's season runs from January to October, and the league holds tryouts several times a year for women interested in playing roller derby. After passing tryouts, players enter the league as "freshmeat" skaters and begin learning blocking and other intermediate skills needed to scrimmage with the league. After they master those skills, they are allowed to practice with the other players and learn advanced bouting skills and strategy. Then, when they are deemed ready to play, they are drafted by a home team and can also participate in the B league travel team, Female Trouble. While any league member can join Female Trouble, players have to try out separately for the other, more competitive interleague team, CCRG All Stars. Visit the league's website, charmcityrollergirls.com, to learn more about what it takes to be a roller girl.

Photo by Michael Goldman, One Rock Studio