When thinking of roller derby, many people see an image of the popular television bouts from the 1970s that were more stage than competition.
Roller derby is back — and the Glass City Rollers will compete in their first home match against The Fox Cityz Foxz on October 31 at SeaGate Convention Centre. Team members include Luckey native Pam Keppler and Elmore resident Melissa Simon.
This time the competition is for real — at least that’s what the players say.
“It’s very real,” Keppler says. “It’s not the roller derby of the 70s that was more staged and was more of a show. This is a true sport. Any injuries are real. We’re really hitting, we’re really falling — nothing is staged.
“I think it’s very entertaining. The crowds that we’ve been in front of seem to really enjoy it — they get really into it.”
Keppler would go so far as to classify today’s version of roller derby as an extreme sport.
“It really is rough. Physically, it takes a lot out of you,” Keppler said. “It has a mental game. It’s tremendous — there is a lot of strategy to it. The danger involved physically is pretty high.”
Keppler began roller skating at a very young age and never stopped — competing in artistic, figure, and dance competition.
The 1997 Eastwood graduate, who now lives in Woodville, wasted no time when she heard about the roller derby team.
“I roller skated my whole life,” Keppler said. “My older sister skated, so naturally when I started walking they put me on skates. I started competing when I was about 4 and just really stayed with it. When I found out Toledo had a team, I signed up and joined.”
Keppler, a former Eastwood softball player, joined the Glass City Rollers in April 2008 and today is the team’s treasurer. She is introduced in competition by the stage name “Pamazon.” Simon, a.k.a. “Wendy Boughbreaks,” is the team’s resource manager.
“(Melissa) started before me and she is one of our seasoned veteran skaters,” Keppler said. “I came in pretty skilled on my skates. I kind of had a leg up on most of the girls. Most of the girls either have not skated at all in their life, or just a few times while growing up.”
Other Glass City players are “Sally Seam Rip-Her,” “Tonya Pavement,” “Slash & Burn,” “Vodkillah,” “Betty Floored,” “No-Holds Barbie,” and a couple names that shouldn’t be introduced in print. Even a referee is stage-named “Victor Von Refenstein.”
Keppler describes how to win a “bout”: “Basically, each team starts with three blockers and one pivot on the track. So you’ll have four girls from each team and that’s called your pack.
“Each team also has two jammers — those are the only two people who can score points. The jammer has to get through the pack legally. She has to make one complete pass through — whoever gets through first without any penalties is called lead jammer. Once you make your initial pass, on your second pass and any subsequent pass, that’s when you score points from any person of the opposite team that you pass. The lead jammer can call off the jam at anytime for strategy purposes.”
A typical roller derby roster can carry about 20 players. Keppler has advice for any women interested in joining. The team practices at the Swanton Coliseum on Route 2.
“Put some skates on, go to a rink and practice skating,” Keppler advises. “We offer a fresh meat program and we welcome anybody that is interested to try and come out for the fresh meat program.”
The “fresh meat” training program will begin in four weeks and already has about 5-7 interested participants.
Another reason for joining is the fun team members have, Keppler said.
“For me, personally, being an athlete I like the competitiveness and the sport of it, and the camaraderie that you get between this group of woman that have such diverse backgrounds. We all come from different walks of professional life. It’s great. It really is a sisterhood,” Keppler said.
That sisterhood goes beyond her own team, she added. This year, the Glass City Rollers have traveled to Michigan. Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Dayton, and Akron. Teams coming to the SeaGate Centre will be from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Canada.
“There usually is an after-party the home team usually hosts at a local restaurant, bar, or pub. Ours are at The Blarney because they are one of our sponsors,” Keppler said.
The Rollers are first-year members of the Womens’ Flat Track Derby Association. That’s right — “flat track” — no banked curves, no rails, and hard cement below the skates.
“We haven’t won anything. We’re trying to get that under our belt,” Keppler said. “This is actually our very first year of bouting. Our very first bout was in February of ‘09, and our first skates on your feet practice in May of ’08.”
Previous to entering this year’s league competition, the Rollers were trying to gain publicity by making public appearances. Getting organized has been no easy task, either.
“It’s been about basically getting a place (to play) and getting girls,” Keppler said. “I mean, it takes a tremendous amount of staff, including refs and stat people, money, all different kinds of things. Behind the scenes, what we do as a committee and as a league is we dedicate so many hours a week off the track to make this league work.”
Keppler and several teammates were interviewed two weeks ago on WRSCradio.com’s weekly Northwood football coaches show, broadcast from Burnsy’s Burgers and Brew. They followed Northwood coach Ken James and several Ranger players, and the broadcast is archived on the internet radio station’s website.
During the course of the interview, Keppler’s two young daughters were busy pretending to skate around Burnsy’s.
“They love it. They can’t wait until they are 18 when they can skate. They have little derby names themselves,” Keppler said.