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Bruisin and cruisin with the one and only, Jacksonville RollerGirls

Most nationally recognized athletes get paid extraordinarily well to take hits, absorb bruises and mend the occasional broken bones of their sport. The Jacksonville RollerGirls, however, pay for the privilege. And they do it in mini-skirts.

The Jacksonville RollerGirls is the city’s first and only flat-track girls’ roller derby league. Founded in 2006 by a group of roller derby girls, the league owns and operates itself and consists of dedicated volunteer members and more than 70 skaters.

Their all-star team, the New Jax City Rollers, just got national recognition and are scheduled to have their season opener at the UNF Arena in early 2011.

Going Pro
The league has three home teams — the Duval Derby Dames, River City Rat Pack and the First Coast Fatales — and one competitive team, the New Jax City Rollers, who travel and compete throughout the Southeast.

The three home teams contend at bouts mostly for fun and help educate newbies about core concepts and strengths of the game.

The New Jax City Rollers play against teams from other areas and many of them coach the other three teams.

Sharon Bell, aka “Sharon Beavers,” director of the league’s media and public relations, said the league recently received an apprenticeship with the Women’s Flat-Track Derby Apprenticeship League and come December, will be a nationally recognized team; allowing them to compete in national roller derby tournaments.

“It’s kind of like the NFL of roller derby,” Bell said.

They do what?
Roller derby is a full-contact sport that combines the high-speed aspect of NASCAR with the hard-hitting vigor of the NFL. Two teams compete against each other in two 30-minute halves broken into jams to make a game, called a bout.

Each team sends five players on to the track, one jammer — the only one who can score points — and four blockers, who play offense and defense simultaneously.

At the start the eight blockers form a pack, with the jammers close behind. When the whistle is blown the girls lurch into action as the jammers attempt to break through the pack, avoiding jousting hips, butts and shoulders.

Once the jammers have made it through they can start scoring, racking points each time they legally pass an opponent. Illegal maneuvers involve elbows, tripping, back-blocking and passing out of bounds; all of which can land skaters in the penalty box.

A jam ends when the lead jammer puts her hands on her hips of two minutes runs out on the clock. Thirty seconds later, they do it again.

A bone-crushing good time
At a typical roller derby bout, spectators can expect action-packed, sexy, raw entertainment and some serious bang for their buck, literally.

Fans can get up close and personal by sitting in the suicide seats. This is a 4-foot area of floor between two rows of caution tape in front of the normal seating and less than 10 feet from the track. When things get ugly for the RollerGirls, fans on the floor may just end up with a skater in their lap.

Rebecca McKinnon, a UNF English junior, has been to four bouts and has always sat in the suicide seats.

“You have to be ready to move very quickly, so you don’t get mashed,” she said. “If they fall, they’re definitely getting get hurt, but if they fall right there, you’re going to get hurt, too.”

Injuries are common in this violent sport. McKinnon said at three of the four bouts she’s attended, someone has gone to the hospital.

“The people that go to the hospital are always from the away team,” she said. “The Jacksonville RollerGirls never get hurt, that’s how good they are.”

A player from the Savannah Derby Devils, from Savannah, Ga., went to the hospital during the double-header bout Oct. 9 due to severe whiplash, RollerGirl Heather Bogess, aka “Ohemgee,” a UNF alumna and 10th grade history teacher said.

“It is aggressive,” she said. “I know some people say it’s fake, but it’s not. You get hit, you get hurt; I broke my elbow. You know, it happens.”

McKinnon said it is not a place for young children because there is a lot of cussing and advertising for beer.

“An announcer says things like, ‘That was a hard hit,’ which makes it feel like a real sport, which it is, and she says, ‘I’m on my third PBR, you guys need to get another one.’”

And while this may sound like total chaos, McKinnon said it’s not overly violent.

“They have a competition where they respect and care about each other, but are badasses,” she said.

In addition to $2 Pabst Blue Ribbons, a concession stand serves the standard hot dogs, nachos and chips, and fans are invited to join the RollerGirls at the after party, usually at a local bar or restaurant.

RollerGirlin’ ain’t easy
Bogess joined the league in March because it seemed like a more enjoyable way to exercise.

She initially thought of herself as a confident skater and that competing would not be a problem.

“I was wrong,” Bogess said. “It was much harder than I thought. But I love every second of it. I still hate running, but I love this.”

Bell said the general consensus that roller derbies are only hitting people is wrong, and the sport involves a considerable amount of strategy and is much more than brute strength.

New members are required to endure six weeks of training, geared toward teaching the rules of roller derby, as well as procedures and physical techniques.

“A six-week training helps get girls in shape so that they can avoid injuries,” Bell said. “We’ve seen broken ankles in the past. We’ve had some knee injuries, broken wrists, broken noses, but that’s just something that comes with the game.”

What’s in a name?
Trash Register, Gangster Bitch Barbie, Harpee and Meow Mix Yo Face Up are all members of the Jacksonville RollerGirls; even the referees have nicknames.

“Derby names are a tradition that was started to make the sport stand out,” Bell said.  “It’s fun for the fans and also fun for the skater to kind of have an alter ego.”

Sydney Hixon, a UNF communication sophomore and aka “Syd on your face,” joined the pack in April and said girls can pick their own derby name but that sometimes they are predestined.

“[Sharon Bell’s] name immediately became Sharon Beavers the first day of practice. She didn’t really have a choice,” Hixon said.

Say it with a charming southern drawl and the meaning becomes more apparent.

A soft side to the derby divas
Bell said she wants to break the stereotype some people have that roller derby girls are mean and too “rough.”

“We hit people, but it’s all in good fun,” she said.

In fact, roller derby girls do their part for the community.

For the past four years the league has raised money for the Susan G. Koman breast cancer foundation.

The league raised over $5,000 last year, and this year the pack plans to raise $6,000, Bell said.

“We are really focused on helping the community,” she said. “We want to be an asset to the community and get more people involved to come and see us.”

Girls 18 and over, who are interested in joining, are encouraged to attend practices.

“Any girl can come play,” Franklin said. “All shapes and all sizes. You don’t have to have a nice ass or nice rack to be on the team. All you need dedication and commitment.”

For more information, visit jacksonvillerollergirls.com.

Final score of game 1: First Coast Fatales: 77; River City Rat Pack: 40.
Final score of game 2: New Jax City Rollers: 193; Savannah Derby Devils: 88.

The Jacksonville RollerGirls breaks in their new $1,200 flat track — funded by the league — Oct. 8 at Jax Ice & Sports Plex. Having a portable track allowed them to play almost anywhere.


Their next home games is

Saturday, Nov. 21:
First Coast Fatales v. River City Rat Pack
Mandarin Skate Station, Jacksonville
Proceeds benefit the First Coast Crime Stoppers

$10 in advance or $12 the night of an event. Tickets can be purchased at Skate Bomb in Jacksonville Beach, online at brownpapertickets.com or from a derby girl.

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    awful waffleOct 13, 2010 at 9:08 am

    i’ve been involved in the wonderful sport of roller derby for two years now i’d like to add that our bouts are very family friendly and there are always plenty of children there.

    also, jacksonville rollergirls are more than happy to take men and women who may not want to skate. we are always in need of great volunteers as well as officials. we love our referees and non-skating officials/statisticians and invite everyone to come be apart of our nredy team! 🙂

    ~awful waffle, head nso
    unf alumni: ba poli sci ’04, master of public admin ’07