Fast and structured, #roller derby has come a long way from its 1970s incarnation
Mayhem on wheels, with pre-determined outcomes and a reputation as pro wrestling’s cousin.
For people of a certain age, the mere mention of roller derby conjures up images from UHF television in the early to mid-1970s. Maybe even Raquel Welch starring in the 1972 film “Kansas City Bomber.”
All Stephanie Burrell can do is laugh and shake her head. The Lancaster resident is an eight-year veteran of the Dutchland Derby Rollers organization, which bears zero resemblance to the sport’s previous incarnation.
“People say, ‘Do you throw a lot of elbows? Do you clothesline people?’” Burrell said. “They’re surprised when I say I’ve never clotheslined anyone.
“I get it, because that’s what I thought of, too, about roller derby before I saw what it was all about. People say, ‘Have you ever gotten flung over the rail?’ I have to tell them there is no rail and no high-banked track.”
The Rollers are members of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, which features 329 teams and 84 apprentice franchises worldwide. Dutchland operates out of the Overlook Activities Center in Manheim Township. The gym floor will host its fifth roller derby event of the 2015 season Saturday night.
“It’s not just an entertainment thing,” said Ephrata’s Stacey Sockel, now in her third season with the Rollers. “It’s a sport and it’s real. I think some people believe it’s like roller derby used to be, what they saw on TV at some point in their lives.
“It’s fast-paced and there are rules. I can’t elbow someone in the face. I can’t hit them from behind. I can’t just do whatever I want out there. It’s like hockey or football. It’s full-contact, but it’s not a free-for-all. There is structure.”
Burrell and Sockel are among the nearly 40 women who make up the Rollers’ three-tiered roster. The A-level team is known as the All-Stars. The B-level team is the Blitz. The C-level team is known as the Crush. New players breaking into the sport are trained in what’s known as the “Skater Tots” program.
All of the players pay to participate, and devote hours each week practicing their skills, both individually and as a team. The women — ranging in age from 18 to 50 — have day jobs, and some have children.
Dutchland’s roster includes a biomedical researcher, accountant, pharmacy technician, dermatology office worker, makeup artist, full-time student and singer/songwriter, among other professions.
They all share a passion for a sport some people are unaware exists today in Lancaster County.
“I didn’t even know roller derby was a thing anymore,” said Bonnie Carrow, a Millersville University junior from Hockessin, Delaware, and member of the Rollers’ All-Stars team. “I was talking to someone in one of my classes the other day and they were like, ‘There’s a ball in your sport, right?’ They had no idea what it’s all about.”
Dutchland’s athletes combine the physical ability it takes to skate on four wheels with a desire to perform for the crowd and leave their daytime lives behind.
Nearly all the players compete in over-the-top make-up and go by performance names.
Burrell is known as “Marie Antoithreat.” Sockel goes by “Dunna Vetta,” a Pennsylvania Dutch slang term for thunder and lightning. Carrow is “Genghis Bon.”
“It’s nice you get to have an alter ego,” Burrell said. “By day I’m Stephanie, makeup artist, but at night I’m ‘Marie Antoithreat’ and get to do all those things I can’t do as me, who’s quiet and shy.”
With teams throughout the region in York, Harrisburg, Hanover, Reading and in the Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore metro areas, there’s plenty of nearby competition. And that suits the participants just fine.
“I have a derby-themed tattoo on my back and sometimes people from work will see it,” Burrell said. “They ask me, ‘Are you really violent?’ I don’t associate derby with violence now.
“Back in the ‘70s, it was all about the violence. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still competitive, and I’d definitely call it an aggressive sport, but it’s not violent. Afterward, we’re talking with the other team, going to an after-party with them. We have a great time.”
Competition aside, Saturday’s event is another opportunity for the Rollers to help explain what their passion is all about.
“It’s a good way to experience something new in Lancaster County and learn about a fast-growing sport,” said Samantha Rodgers of Lititz. The fourth-year player known as “White Winged Shove’ is also on the team’s board of directors.
She stressed the Rollers’ commitment to community outreach and various charitable efforts, which have included Special Olympics Lancaster County, the Race Against Racism, the American Heart Association, Girls on the Run and Domestic Violence Services of Lancaster County.
“It’s family-friendly, where kids under 10 always get in free,” Rodgers said. “It’s nice to see a group of women come together working as a team, and we always give a part of our proceeds from each home event to our charity partners.”
If You Go
• What: #Dutchland Rollers roller derby home event
• When: 6 p.m. Saturday (doors open at 5:30 p.m.)
• Where: Overlook Activities Center, Manheim Township
• Who’s playing: Dutchland Derby Rollers All-Stars vs. Garden State Rollergirls (A level); Dutchland Derby Rollers Blitz vs. Wilkes-Barre Roller Radicals (B level).
• Ticket info: Tickets are $12 and $15; free admission for kids 10 and younger; military personnel get $4 off by showing a valid ID card; students get $2 off by showing a valid ID card.
• Online: DutchlandRollers.com
Flat-track Roller Derby 101
• The event features two 30-minute halves. Each half is comprised of two-minute jams.
• Only the player designated as the jammer (with a star on her helmet) scores points for the team. The other four players per team on the track at a given time are blockers.
• A point is awarded for each opposing player the jammer passes during the jam.
• Penalties are whistled by officials, and like hockey, teams must skate shorthanded while infractions are served.
• The team with the most points at the conclusion of the second half wins the game.