All photos Liz Hampton/Catalyst
“Get lower, ladies!” Cuteney Cutthroat shouted across the court. Instantly, twenty-some fish-netted knees bent to bring their derby girl selves closer to their skates and centers of gravity. As they streaked by the near side of the court, Cutthroat recounted the story of the Sarasota Roller Girls (SRG) over the past two years.
Founded in 2009, the SRG has transformed itself from an outcrop of the Bradentucky Bombers to their own, thriving team. The kind of bumps they hit at the beginning were enough to tear any well-established team apart, but the Sarasota girls managed to stay together despite a substantial case of fraud and being “homeless” for months with no rink to practice on. For a while they found practice space on the basketball courts of New College of Florida, but have since moved to the Fruitville YMCA. On Sat., Feb. 5, the girls skated in their first bout of the season in a double header against the Tampa Bay Bruise Crew.
“We’re like, guerilla right now,” skater Tara Milich, who goes by Humiliatrixxx, said. “We’ve just got to keep moving through and helping each other out.”
Despite still being in survival mode, the team has managed to improve their skills and take on new skaters, introducing twelve- week “boot camps” for new skaters and adding “jam skating” practices to their schedule once a week. Jam skating is a kind of aerobic dance on classic roller skates that requires agility and balance and helps the girls with their footwork on the rink.
“We’ve become much more athletic,” New College Resident Director Jay Goodrich, or Vida Machine, commented after practice. “It was much more about skating and now it’s more about roller derby.”
Bombshell Birdie (Dianna Miller) is one of the newest girls out of boot camp and has been with the SRG for about a month. All of the girls must pass a skill test before they can begin hitting (brutality is a necessary part of roller derby) other girls during practice. New skaters are referred to as “fresh meat” in the derby world.
“I’m not fresh meat anymore — I passed my skill test!” she stated proudly. Another skater confirmed, “Yeah, you’re a skater now!” while taking off her skates and knee pads. “Yay! I’m a skater now!” Bombshell Birdie echoed.
Bombshell Birdie’s enthusiasm and pride for being a roller girl are shared with the team. The girls’ swagger is not only from the obstacles they have overcome, but also for their goals inmoving ahead. They hope to attract more skaters, have more consistent practices and skate in more bouts.
“Cohesion is something I’m huge on because you’ve got to have that chemistry,” Vida Machine said. The girls agree that the only way to get better and to achieve that flow is to get more skaters and more time together.
The sport is much more complicated than just hitting. As taken from the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) website: “A bout or game is composed of 60 minutes of play divided into two periods of thirty 30 minutes played between two teams […] A period is divided into multiple jams, which are races between the two teams to score points. There is no limit to the number of jams allowed in each period. A jam may last up to two minutes […] The Pivot is special subset of Blocker with the extra ability of receiving a star pass […] Prior to the start of a jam, Blockers line up behind the Pivots and ahead of the Jammers. They play a key role in determining the position of the pack and keeping the pack formed. Blockers never score points […] The Jammer’s role is to score points for her team […]A Jammer may pass her position to her team’s Pivot […] Jammers wear a helmet cover with two stars, one on each side […] Lead Jammer is a strategic position established on the Jammers’ initial pass through the pack during each jam. The Lead Jammer is the first Jammer to pass the foremost in-play Blocker legally and in bounds, having already passed all other Blockers legally and in bounds.”
Once the Jammer has passed all the blockers, she scores a point for her team unless she is immediately passed by the other team’s Jammer. As she is passing the Blockers, a jam occurs. Jams are where things start to get violent, and where real strategy comes into play. The Blockers have to decide whether they stay in the jam to block the other team’s Jammer from making it through, or if they skate ahead to let their own Jammer score. If the two Jammers reach the Blockers at the same time, things get even more exciting.
Because the game is so complicated, a lot rides on the team’s ability to work together and have good communication on the rink. A big step in developing confident playing is participating in bouts with other teams. The Sarasota Roller Girls had a bout against one sector of the three- tiered Tampa Bay Derby Darlins’ on Feb. 5 in Tampa. The competition was tough. The Tampa derby teams have the advantage of being big enough to host bouts against each other on a regular basis, but still the new born SRG skated fiercely against the Tampa Bay Bruise Crew and learned a lot in the process. Even with the ending score at 58 to 150 in favor of the Tampa Bay Bruise Crew, skater Pocahotass still led the team talk at the end with a message of being positive, communicating more on the rink and moving forward from this bout having learned more about what they can do to improve. Of course, there was that derby girl bite at the end from another skater in the room as one said, “just because they’re mean, doesn’t mean they’re good!”
The Sarasota Roller Girls are always happy to meet new and interested girls who might want to skate for them. If you’re interested in skating, hitting, fishnet tights and working hard, contact Cuteney Cutthroat via e-mail. Her address is email@example.com.