Derby girls rock, roll the rinks

by Kori Koch

Donning her scandalous hot orange skirt and bulky black elbow pads, Beth Donarski, aka “Buffy the Vampire Skater,” burst from the pack Sunday.

The Atomic Bombshells speedster and 2004 University graduate played an important role, dodging blocks and evading opponents, Sunday at the Minnesota women’s roller derby “Battle Royale” in Coon Rapids, Minn.

Since graduating in December, Donarski puts on her quad-speed roller skates and her alter ego to practice and compete several times each week. The fast-paced and sometimes violent sport has brought together women from throughout the Twin Cities area, including many University students, staff members and alumnae.

The state’s first all-female roller derby league was formed in the fall by local sisters Mary, Molly, and Bridget Donnelly. Now, they’re also known as “Head Trauma,” “Flogging Molly” and “Rolls Wilder,” respectively, and their sport has gained interest and enthusiastic crowds that come to their competitions.

In August, the three sisters began recruiting skaters in reaction to a lack of Minnesota female contact sports. The league now joins more than 20 organized groups in the United Flat-Track Roller Derby League around the country.

Advertisements and parties at local bars and restaurants soon got the word out. By the first practice, dozens of women were ready to go. The league now has four teams with 15 women each.

Lyndsay Trader, aka “Mitzi Massacre,” joined the organization after graduating from the University in December.

Trader attended a recruitment party and immediately joined with only ice skating experience, she said. She’s now a jammer for the Garda Belts, and is the player who races ahead of the team to evade blockers and earn points.

As blocker for the Dagger Dolls, 45-year-old Jenna Touchette, aka “Miss Adventure,” said she is the league’s oldest skater, but she still keeps up with the youngest players.

She saw an advertisement in a local newspaper that sparked her interest and encouraged her to attend a December practice, she said. The former University student joined the league with little recent experience.

Practice and exercise

Practice is held three nights a week for two hours at Cheap Skate roller rink in Coon Rapids, Minn. Skaters are required to wear helmets, mouth guards, elbow, knee and wrist protection.

She could barely skate when she started, but Emily Sexton, aka “Dixxxie Wrect” said she spent her first few laps of practice clutching the wall.

Sexton earned a bachelor’s degree in design communication from the University in 2000. She is now responsible for some Web site and promotional artwork.

“It’s a great outlet for my sarcastic personality,” she said.

Sexton said she committed to the league as a blocker for the Dagger Dolls because of huge support from other skaters.

“You don’t see that kind of encouragement from perfect strangers much anymore,” she said.

University junior Jen Plum, aka “Hanna Belle Lector,” said it took her one week’s worth of practice to get “decently comfortable” with specific skating techniques, such as crossovers.

A learning track

As well as polishing off dusty roller-skating skills, women were taught the rules of roller derby. Competition requires cooperation from three positions: a pivot, jammer and blocker.

Skaters form a pack on the rink before each two-minute “jam” of 14-minute periods. One pivot from each team leads the pack, followed by three blockers and one jammer. The pack is put into motion on command. A second whistle signals opposing jammers to fight through and lap the still-skating pack.

As jammers re-enter the pack, a point is scored for each opposing player they pass.

Silver Bullets captain and 1998 University aluma, Andrea Martin, aka “Trixie Whipsum,” is a grant administrator for the University’s Sponsored Projects Administration. Martin said she considers herself an experienced skater, although she admits the rules and strategies were difficult to understand at first.

Trader said, “It took time to learn how to strategically give and take hits.” She said she enjoys the exercise – which never feels like an obligation -that both practice and competition provide.

“It pushes people to find the skill, energy and toughness that hadn’t always been there,” she said. Martin said the league provides great team atmosphere and friendly competition for women.

Laura Lien is an employee at the University’s Stem Cell Institute during the day, and a Dagger Dolls blocker by night.

Lien said she was initially hesitant to join an all-female organization. But beyond the hard hits on the rink, everyone gets along and no grudges are held in or outside the rink, she said. Showmanship is a huge part of our league, Lien said.

“Our homemade uniforms fulfill the whole idea of an ‘alter ego,’ ” she said.

None of the players make money from the competitions and all money is donated to local charities. The organization will hold more tryouts to compete in June, but interest is so high that approximately 30 women have already signed up, officials said.

The league plans to compete against teams from other states next season, in 2006.