Skates spin over the flat concrete track, the sound harmonizing with driving rock and roll and shouts of warning.
Two jammers, who score points by passing opponents’ blockers, weave their way through the crowd of players, slipping by until one jammer gets slammed out of bounds. The other, Sheryl Crowbar, reaches out to grab the hand of teammate Quick Sandy, who whips her forward for her sprint around the oval track.
More than 1,000 fans stand and cheer as Sandy approaches the rear of the pack again, trying to hide low behind her blockers.
Two opposing blockers ask a teammate, “Where is she?” Suddenly, Crowbar swings around her blocker, Frances of Assassin, and between the two opponents.
Things happen fast after that. The nimble jammer decks a third blocker right, then cuts left as the last opponent lines up to ram Crowbar off the track. But she spins into a turning toe stop, and the blocker finds only air as she flies off the oval, sliding on her rear into a row of spectators—to their delight.
Still skating backwards, Crowbar raises both hands in victory as time runs out. The crowd goes wild.
This is just a few minutes of action shown on tape at www.BostonDerbyDames.com.
Roller derby is back, and local women are playing a big part in its resurgence. Although the current incarnation has many similarities to its flamboyant predecessors of the 1960s and 70s, this is not your mother’s roller derby. For one thing, this is real.
“When people think roller derby is still fake, I hate that,” said Jenna “Jennasaurus Wrecks” Catanzano, 23, who recently moved to JP and works in “civilian life” as a receptionist. “I train four times a week busting my ass. We really deserve to get recognized as an official sport.”
A cheerleader when she was in high school, she admits she was “really shy” and not into sports then. Catanzano will be a two-year veteran of the Boston Derby Dames League this January.
“I had just moved to Boston with friends and was looking for something to do.,” she said. “I saw a show about roller derby on the A&E channel, so I Googled it and found out a new league started here. I sent an e-mail and showed up with skates. There was no tryout then.
“But the league has really grown and now [making a team] is very competitive,” said Catanzano, who has already broken her tailbone and sprained a knee.
“The first time I took a hit it was awful. I was thrown across the gym. But when I gave my first hit back I had such an adrenalin rush and a feeling of accomplishment.
“In the beginning my family thought I was crazy. They gave me three months. Now it’s awesome when they come to watch,” she said.
“It’s very exciting to be part of a grassroots effort like the league,” said Leigh “Triple Deck-Her” Kempinski, 33, a 10-year JP resident who works as a business analyst for Aquent.
Although Kempinski said she was very athletic growing up, “I never envisioned playing a physical sport like roller derby. But it’s shown me I can do things I never thought I could. To hear the crowd and know my fans are behind me is amazing.”
Launched in May 2005, The Boston Derby Dames is the first and only female skater-owned-and-operated roller derby league in Boston.
It fields three teams, the Cosmonaughties, Nutcrackers and Wicked Pissahs, plus a traveling all-star team, the Boston Massacre, which plays all-star teams from some of the other 30 registered leagues around the country.
Players must be 21 or older and have health insurance.
Kempinski said the league draws over 1,000 spectators for their games, called “bouts,” played at the Shriners Auditorium in Wilmington, about 15 miles north of Boston.
Kempinski is also active in signing up JP sponsors, including the Milky Way, Ferris Wheels, Fat Ram’s Tattoo and Boomerangs in JP.
“Triple Deck-Her has done amazing work with promotion,” said Sandra “Quick Sandy” Enwright, 25, a project planning assistant for Community Builders who lives in Mission Hill.
A three-letter high school athlete, Enwright said it was “love at first sight” after seeing a co-worker play.
“My mom cried when I told her I joined the league in June of 2006, though she’s warmed up a bit. But my sister adores it and is considering becoming a referee,” she said.
“It’s incredible to see how the league has grown and gotten better,” she said.
“It really fulfills my competitive needs. Sometimes we get to compete at a national level. And I’m also part of a great community. If I couldn’t play I’d be lost.”
Catanzano added the league has taught her “to accept people who I might not have a lot in common with. We really relate to each other. I never thought I’d be such close friends with 50 other girls.”
“The league has a real sisterhood feel to it. Rivalries and friendships get extra hot,” said Becky “Sheryl Crowbar” Smith, 30, a JP resident for almost three years.
An avowed “jock through and through,” Smith played four years of college volleyball, along with track, swimming and gymnastics. She works as an environmental activist at Clean Water Action.
“When I put on those skates, I fell in love,” said Smith, who has taken to even using her derby name Crowbar in civilian life.
“It’s a bad-ass persona that’s fun to step into. Actually, most of us in the league just know each other’s derby names. We only use someone’s real name if we want to tease them, like, ‘Nice fall, Becky,’” she said.
Smith said her fiance, a Ph.D. molecular biologist she affectionately called Dr. Crowbar, appreciates her passion for the sport.
“He digs it. Even loses his voice sometimes cheering us on, although he probably would like to see me awake more often.
“When I was first learning how to skate he even let me practice blocking. Once I knocked him off the sidewalk and he nearly got hit by traffic,” she admitted.
Jacqueline “Full Metal Jacque” Genetti, 30, noted the league had only about 10 people when she joined.
“We were just having fun learning how to skate. But now the play is so competitive and organized. I didn’t have much athletic background, so it’s been a challenge to get as far as I’ve come,” said Genetti, a graphic artist for Whole Foods.
“The rooting fans are fun to watch, but the best part is the dance party afterwards,” she went on to say. “Everyone at the bouts is invited and there’s no charge, except for drinks.”
The most avid fans are the members of the league’s Roller Derby Wives’ Club, which includes Triple Deck-Her’s wife, Jennifer Robinson and soon, Dr. Crowbar.
“The club is so great. They provide fruit at bouts and food at the party. And the men are some of the Wives’ Club’s proudest members. They seem to really love it,” Kempinski said.
To buy tickets or get more information about upcoming bouts, visit www.BostonDerbyDames.com.