Walk through Youngstown State University's Stambaugh Stadium on a Monday evening, and you'll hear the rumble of skate wheels on hardwood, the sharp tweets of a whistle, and probably a few four-letter words. The Little Steel Derby Girls are hard at work.
Lined up against the wall of Gym C, skaters are running drills for the newly formed flat track roller derby league. Manager Tiffany Griffith, currently laid up with an injured foot, blows the whistle to begin a new drill.
Griffith hopes to register her league with the Women's Flat Track Derby Association, and the girls are already hard at work honing their skate skills. Warmups, falling drills, 80-percent change-ups - near the end up practice, the girls look forward to an old-school game of Duck-Duck-Goose that requires sitting. After all the hard work, team member Amanda "Betty Bout-It" Sigler, of Warren, remarks that "after the first practice, I had to physically put my legs in the car."
Photo by Tony Nicholas
TOP ROW: Natalie “Knockout Natalie”?Clark.
CENTER: Amber “Brute Sixty-Six”?Stewart, Katie “Boa Constrictor”?Stambaugh, Marina “Jill Valenkill”?Crespo, Sarah “Pixxie Hazard”?Cragle, Mikenna “Olivia Rotten”?McClurg, Jesse Maravola, and Shannon “Shan-Wow” Grimaldi.
STANDING:?Amanda “Betty Bout-it”?Sigler, team manager Tiffany Griffith, Christina Yovick, Lisa “Nikki Sixxblade”?Vario, and Mandy “Hummiscide”?Tucker.
Bruises, broken bones and the dreaded "rink rash" are all risks of this physically demanding sport, but the rewards of friendship and glory in the rink are also great. Sigler also added, in reference to the tough-but-girly ethic of the roller derby, "You know it's a good practice when you sweat your eyebrows off."
The Little Steel Derby Girls aim to be the Youngstown area's first women's roller derby league. With about a baker's dozen girls already joined up from Mahoning and Trumbull counties, the aim is to recruit about 45 girls, who will then be split into four teams to participate in bouts with teams from Cleveland, Pittsburgh and other areas who are also in the WFTDA. For those of you who are wondering, oh yeah; roller derby is back.
The sport, whose popularity grew in the 1970s, is actually traced back to all-day skating races in early 20th century Chicago, where the term "roller derby" was copyrighted by skating promoter Leo Seltzer. From this early incarnation to the striped-sock short-shorts '70s version, roller derby evolved into a full-on sport for both men and women.
How to join:
Want to join the Little Steel Derby Girls? Visit their MySpace page, or e-mail manager Tiffany Griffith. You must be 21 or older, will need to purchase skate gear (skates, helmet, pads, mouthguard), and it is also recommended to have health insurance. Alternate insurance is available to purchase.
MEET & GREET
A meet-and-greet with the team will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. May 11 at Stambaugh Auditorium in Youngstown.
If you are interested in volunteering as a referee (guys, don't be shy) or in being a sponsor for the team, visit www.myspace. com/littlesteelderbygirls or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Helmets and pads in place, two teams skate in a circular track in an attempt to score points by passing the "pack" of opposing team members (according to WFTDA rules). Five players from each team are on the track at a time: three blockers, one pivot, and a jammer, whose job it is to pass the other team's pack in order to score. The jammers follow behind their team packs, getting two minutes to score points by circling the rink; the pack's job is to get their jammer through, and to block the opposing team's pack and jammer. A variety of legal blocks may be used, but illegal moves and fighting result in time in the penalty box. The highest scorer at the end of an hour wins.
From the '70s until now, the roller derby has held a certain appeal for women. It's a chance to change stereotypes about women in sports, while at the same time embracing things a lot of women love: fashion, individuality and friendship.
The sport has gained momentum recently on the backs of pop culture phenoms such as Suicide Girls, a Web site celebrating tattooed, pierced models as opposed to the blonde tan variety, and reality TV shows chronicling national derby leagues such as A&E's "Rollergirls." The sport combines all kinds of punk elements into something constructive the girls can be proud of.
PR spokeswoman Kerri Rickard said some of the appeal of roller derby is that "it's a bunch of tough girls with and without tattoos, all walks of life, moms, engineers, artists, and they all come together. They get to be cute and tough." The camaraderie of the girls definitely comes into play, Rickard said. "It's strenuous - a group sport. It definitely takes a team to bring it together. Each girl is important."
Sarah "Pixxie Hazard" Cragle agrees, saying "We all get along really well." Cragle, like many of the other team members, found out about the team on MySpace.
Mikenna "Olivia Rotten" McClurg, of Warren, said she saw the derby site and "I didn't know what it was. After I looked it up, I said, 'I can do that!'"
Amber "Brute Sixty-Six" Stewart, mother of two, has also taken a mom role on the team, saying "I'm the oldest." Stewart said, "I've been skating my whole life," and she was actually looking to start her own derby team. "I was supposed to meet with the owner of Youngstown Skate on Monday, but (Griffith) met them on Saturday."
Stewart and Griffith met and pooled their ideas together. Stewart, whose children are ages 2 and 9 months, said her husband is also getting involved with the league, volunteering as a referee. "He gets to check the equipment. He's looking forward to that."
The girls get to exhibit their individuality in choosing their skate names. The names have to be approved by the WFTDA, and some are still waiting for theirs to be OK'd. Skater Marina "Jill Valenkill" Crespo is still waiting on her name to be authorized. "There's a master roster," she said. "That way there's no doubles." Shannon "ShanWow" Grimaldi, of Girard, got her name from infomercial for ShamWow cleaning products. Mandy Tucker, of Youngstown, picked the name "Hummuscide," explaining "I'm vegan." Tucker looked the word up on urbandictionary.com, and found it to mean, literally, death by hummus. Lisa "Nikki Sixxblade" Vario cites her love for Motley Crue in her name choice. Vario, a blocker for the team, looks forward to her role on the track, saying "I'm small, but I'm tough."
The fun isn't just for girls, however. Steve Kennedy, of Youngstown, a longtime skater, helps coach the team and is working on becoming a referee. "I'm trying to memorize the rules, and I also practice with the Akron girls once a week," referring to Akron's Northeast Ohio Rock 'n' Roller Girls, another team looking to be sanctioned by the WFTDA. He found the team on MySpace, like most of the other members. "It was something different," he said. Kennedy helps Griffith with the drills, gives the girls skating pointers and gets them ready for bouts. Being a referee is hard work, he said, and Kennedy puts in hours at practices, also at risk for injury.
Griffith has hit the track at full speed, already scheduling two practices a week, along with fundraising events such as a recent bake sale at YSU, meet-and-greet sessions with the team, guest bartending spots for the girls at local bars, and participating in the local St. Patrick's Day parade. All of this is in preparation of applying to the WFTDA. Griffith said applications are only taken six months out of the year, and that three coaches need to write a letter of recommendation for them to be considered. "It takes between 1 to 2 years," she said. "We have a lot of work to do."