Rockville roller derby team prepares for bout -- Gazette.Net







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Roller derby skates through history

Roller derby dates back to 1935, when the rules were a lot different.
James Vannurden, director of the National Museum of Roller Skating, helps preserve the history of the sport in Lincoln, Neb. Derby started as an endurance race in Chicago, Vannurden said. It was a 3,000-mile race completed by two-member teams of one man and one woman.
“The object was to skate that many miles in the shortest amount of time,” he said.
Skaters would take terms lapping a track during a 12-hour period. Only nine of the 12 teams participating finished the race, Vannurden said. And it took a month.
Two years later, in 1937, rules began to change to draw a bigger audience.
“They had spectators at this event, but how big of a draw is it going to be when you don’t get to see a winner for a month?” Vannurden said.
And so more members joined each team, and a bit of roughness was introduced.
During World War II, the derby rinks took a hit, losing men to battles overseas. And that is when women began to take over the sport.
“The big thing about roller derby was that women could play right alongside men,” Vannurden said. “That really interested the women.”
By the 1950s, and the dawn of the age of TV, the sport took off. Professional teams traveled and played in front of the camera and crowds.
But the sport ebbs and flows in popularity. After a slow period in the 1980s and 1990s, the sport hit a boom again in the 2000s.
The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the governing body of flat track derby founded in 2004, boasts a membership of about 200 leagues, said Juliana Gonzalez, director of the Texas-based association. About 900 leagues register worldwide.
Registration has shot through the roof; seven years ago, 30 teams signed up, Gonzalez said.
“There’s an enigma to it that nobody can put their finger on,” she said. “They don’t know why its taken off.”
Perhaps contact sports appeal to women because the opportunity did not exist when they were younger, Gonzalez said. Or maybe it’s the sense of community associated with the sport.
“It really becomes a way of life, not just a sport,” she said.
So, what’s with the wacky names players select for themselves?
The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association does not keep tabs on the names people choose, Gonzalez said. But it’s common among leagues.
“I think people use the name to find their identity,” Gonzalez said. “It’s sort of an alter-ego from their working life, their daily life and their family life.”
An official list of roller derby names is found at Hundreds upon hundreds of names are listed on the site. None are repeats.
“It’s a courtesy standard that you don’t take someone else’s name,” said Sandi Burtseva, who plays as Slaughter Lily on Rockville’s only roller derby team, the Black-Eyed Suzies.
Players poll family, coworkers, and friends to find a name. Burtseva said she selected Slaughter Lily because it combines a definite toughness with a certain amount of softness.


Video: Free State Roller Derby

Slaughter Lily learned how to fall first.

Hit the knee pads. Hit the elbow protectors. Hit the wrist guards. Never fall backward.

Because when cruising on eight wheels, surrounded by 10 women who want to take you out, knowing how to fall is just as important as knowing how to skate.

“Picture yourself over a really gross toilet,” said the Free State Roller Derby skater, of proper skating stance. “You’re getting as close as possible, but don’t want to sit all the way down.”

Crude? Maybe. But Slaughter Lily, or Sandi Burtseva, 27, of Bethesda, as she is known off the derby track, knows what she is doing; she plays on Rockville’s roller derby team, the Black-Eyed Suzies. And team members are looking forward to their first official bout this October, an event two years in the making for Montgomery County’s only roller derby team.

Roller derby is a fierce, full-contact women’s sport not for the faint of heart. The object of the 60-minute game is to score the most points by lapping opposing team members on an elliptical track. The jammer scores the points; the blockers play defense; and the pivot calls the shots from the back of the pack. The pivot and blockers try to prevent the opposing team’s jammer from breaking through the pack to lap and score — a job done by strong pushes with the shoulder. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the governing body for flat track derby, established rules stating no team can have more than 20 players.

Free State Roller Derby, which is not registered with the association, began in 2009 when Keightasoreass Rex — er, Kate Hendrickson — decided the Washington, D.C., area needed an accessible, affordable and flexible derby team for those new to the sport and veterans.

DC Rollergirls, a team out of the District, holds tryouts. And the Charm City Roller Girls does the same for its All Star team in Baltimore.

Hendrickson, 23, of Rockville, who played derby in college for the Palmetto State Rollergirls in South Carolina, emailed friends about starting a team in 2009. Three girls showed up and the team grew from there.

“It’s just really refreshing to take a chance on something and see progress,” she said. “It’s not easy to stand up on eight wheels and try to knock someone down.”

On the Track

About 20 women clad in helmets, knee pads, elbow pads and wrist guards whipped around a track Sunday in the back of Striders Fastpitch Academy in Rockville during an open practice. Some rocked colorful tattoos on their arms and calves; others sported torn leggings and short-shorts. It’s an eclectic crowd; lawyers, accountants, teachers and veterinarians participate.

The whistle blew and 40 knees hit the ground. Another tweet and the skaters carved Cs backward around the track.

The sport tends to attract a certain kind of woman — the tomboys, said Edie Kill, or Erin Meyers, 32, who has skated with the team for about three months.

“I think roller derby really draws a lot of girls that don’t like other girls,” said Meyers, of Frederick. “But once people get into derby, they say they’ve never had so many friends.”

Meyers has skated for three years, finding teams in whichever city she lives. But the small, tight-knit group in Rockville feels like home.

“This team accepts people of all skill levels,” she said. “It shouldn’t be a really restrictive sport just to those who are really skilled.”

Organizers of the Rockville team work hard to keep it accessible. Negotiable dues are capped at $30 per month, and the time commitment is less strict than for other nearby teams. The Black-Eyed Suzies practice twice a week, compared with the DC Rollergirls, who hold multiple weekly practices and require a training camp for newbies. The training camp consists of practices once or twice per week for 12 weeks.

The Black-Eyed Suzies have not participated in an official bout, but plan to skate against a northern Virginia team in the fall, Burtseva said.

They bouts are shows, really. Skaters wear their purple-and-teal uniforms and almost anything shiny such as fishnets, torn pantyhose and sparkly shorts, she said.

“When you have a bout, you give them something good to look at,” she said.

The events usually feature vendors, spectators and announcers.

The team is looking for a venue that suits the atmosphere of a competition. The fall-back plan is Rockville SportsPlex.

‘Like a badass’

Burtseva began her derby career clinging to her boyfriend as she hobbled on roller skates two years ago. After a bruised tailbone and pulled muscles, she skates with a cool collectiveness.

She understands what it is like for the new players taking a stab at what can seem like an intimidating sport.

Burtseva recalled a time when the team did the caterpillar drill. The women lined up and held the hips of the woman in front. The skater at the back of the line pushed the group forward to build strength. Burtseva was the third in line and tripped on her skates, taking the entire team down.

“But true to derby, everyone is super nice and nobody holds a grudge,” she said. “Because eventually, we’re all going to make each other fall.”

Such an attitude was almost as palpable as the humidity hanging in the air in the concrete room Sunday, as the team welcomed new skaters. Katie Fitzpatrick of Rockville stopped by to find out about the team.

“I’ve always wanted to be involved in derby,” she said. “It’s a good, powerful girls sport. You can be a girl and you can bleed and they aren’t separate.”

After moving from Michigan two weeks ago, Fitzpatrick said she wanted to participate in a social and physical sport. She found the opportunity here, after the team held a meet-and-greet Saturday at Austin Grill in Rockville.

A twisted ankle prevented her from skating, but she watched the four-hour practice anyway.

“I don’t think I’ve skated since in-line skating was the cool, new thing,” Fitzpatrick said.

But the whole being-a-girl-and-able-to-bleed bit rings true for members on the team.

How does participating in full-contact sport make Burtseva feel?

“Like a badass,” she said. “It doesn’t conform to those expectations people have of women. It allows me to expect more of myself.

“In a sense, we have something to prove and I’m glad I take part in proving that.”

And for some, like Hendrickson, it is fun to get dressed up and knock people around every once in a while.

“It’s my therapy,” Hendrickson said. “Cheap therapy.”

Get rolling

For more information about the Free State Roller Derby team visit or

More online

Go on the rink with the women of the Black-Eyed Suzies at

Get rolling

For more information about the Free State Roller Derby team visit or