Roller derby league enjoys camaraderie, disproving stereotypes
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon/Region - posted Wed., May. 16, 2012
The women of the Hartford Area Roller Derby (HARD) invite you to leave your pre-conceived notions of what roller derby is at the door, and simply watch and be entertained. HARD's director of public relations (also a player), Stephanie “Poison” Ivers, is a 25-year-old software developer who graduated with a vocal degree from the University of Hartford, who says that roller derby’s reputation as a dangerous sport is exaggerated.
“There is some risk involved,” she said. “The more proficient you get at it, the less risk there is.”
The players must undergo training before they are allowed in a bout, and much emphasis is placed on safety. “You learn how to fall,” Ivers said. “You have to pass skill levels before you can even think of entering a bout or being part of a team.”
Passing skill level two is a rite of passage, as that is when a player gets their “derby name,” which is unique and entered in an online registry so that no other player in the world may use it.
The HARD league is just about a year old, and their first home bout is coming up on May 19 at Nomad's in South Windsor. The league currently has two teams – The Hartford Wailers and the Beat City Bedrocks.
Ivers said there has been something of a resurgence in the sport in the past few years, and it is being considered for the 2020 Olympics, but its newer incarnation is not like the ’70s version. “Back in the day, it was a lot of falsities, very much a WWE-style, people elbowing each other in the face, and things like that,” she said. “This is actually a legitimate women's full-contact sport, and there are a lot of rules. There are a lot of stigmas. A lot of people tend to think we are all big, butchy girls. If you look around at our team, we have a lot of tiny, younger girls.”
Roster members practice three nights a week, and non-roster members must come at least two nights a week. That is not just to ensure participation, but for the safety of all players.
“You have to be dedicated to this sport to do it,” Ivers said, “because you can get hurt if you don't have your skill level up to par. It's not like softball. You can get injured.”
HARD was founded by Danielle “Diesel N’ Gin” Paine, who was transplanted from Massachusetts and decided to form a league here. The league welcomes beginners as well as those who have been involved in roller derby, and currently has about 50 members from all over the state.
“Most of the people in the league could not skate at all when they started, or haven't been on skates since they were 12 years old,” Ivers said. “Most of us are pretty proficient now.”
The players are of a wide variety of ages, and include participants ranging from 21-year-old students to people like Sharon Frazier, a 45-year-old mother of six from Tolland, who is a nurse at Windham Hospital.
Frazier, a nationally recognized speed-skater on Ron-A-Roll's team, said she jumped at the chance when a team came to Vernon. “I had always liked roller derby,” she said. “I love the competitiveness and athleticism that is in this sport. It's really an amazing game and a lot of fun. Another benefit is that you stay in shape.”
Jill Luberto, whose derby name is “Paula Gee I'm Naughty,” said she started with another league when her younger sister was diagnosed with cancer. It was a form of therapy for her, but also a way to become involved with cancer awareness and fundraising. “We put on a charity bout for her, and she came and cheered me on,” Luberto said. “It was inspiring to me, because my sister was always very athletic, so for her to see me play a sport was really cool.”
Her sister passed away two years ago, but Luberto said she simply fell in love with the sport and then found HARD to be a great group to be a part of. “To find a group of really cool, awesome girls, who have become like my sisters, is why I continue to skate,” Luberto said.
“We're all brought together from different walks of life,” Ivers said. “It's the only place you can go where you can be hitting each other around and knocking each other down, and then we get off the track and everybody's all emotional and so excited that we just did that, that everybody starts crying out of happiness. It's kind of funny in that sense.”