Do you have what it takes to be a Rollergirl?
Are you tough enough to bout it out with the real women of the derby? The ladies of the Garden State Rollergirls are among the fiercest competitors of the ever growing and popular sport of roller derby, and they are here to play. “We are the highest WFTDA ranked team in New Jersey,” said Renegade Ruby, who is a league coach and captain of the Ironbound Maidens. “We look for girls that try really hard, and take direction and criticism well.” With their 2014 season just underway, the Garden State Rollergirls are ready to show their stuff on the track, and hopefully recruit the next slot of derby girls.
Rules of the rink
Roller derby, which has picked up in popularity in the last few years, is a full-contact spot played in traditional quad roller skates on a flat surface. There are currently almost 1,500 teams around the world.
The games, which are called bouts, are divided into two 30-minute periods with ten players on the track. “So you have two teams of five people, four blockers and one jammer,” said Ruby, who is an all-star jammer. “The jammer scores points, and tries to get out on the second pass to score points. For every opposing blocker you pass you score a point.”
According to Ruby, the blockers from each team try to form a wall to stop the opposite team’s jammer through the pack. “You are allowed to block with your whole body,” said Ruby. Blockers can use shoulder and hip checks, as well as booty blocks, to distract. However, the key to success is the open line of communication among their teammates during the games.
The roster brings women athletes together from all over northern NJ with different backgrounds and skill levels. To be a part of the team, all they ask is that you try, and put in the time and dedication. “We offer a series of three boot camps [anyone] can test it out for a couple of weeks,” said Ruby. “It’s not going to be easy. This year we took 11 new girls. There are 29 girls in total.” The season runs from March to November, and has open tryouts in November.
Renegade Ruby, known as Maureen Marsales outside the track, is going into her 5th season with the Garden State Rollergirls, and this is her second year coaching. “I was fresh meat in December of 2009,” said Ruby. “I had just gotten out of a long term relationship and I had a lot of free time, and I wanted to make new friends.” “I’ve skated my whole life,” she said. “From the time I was five or six years old I would go [skating] with my dad and I took lessons.”
Before joining the league in 2009, Ruby’s interest in roller derby was peaked from a reality show on A&E called “Roller Girls”. After which, she went to watch the bouts of the Jersey Shore Roller Girls in Asbury Park and was hooked, so she proceeded to search for a league near her home in northern NJ. “I thought you had to be fit [to roller derby], and all the girls were really average and normal,” said Ruby, who also loved the girls’ varying styles. “I like the camaraderie of it. I never played a team sport before roller derby and I love being out there.” Two of the new names to the roster are Wendy Skullz, aka Wendy Sulz, and Shimmy Hendrix, aka Mary Modica. This is the first season for both.
“They are really open to beginners joining and showing you the ropes,” said Wendy, who recently celebrated her second anniversary in the sport. Wendy first became familiar with roller derby at 20 years old, and even tried out for the Gotham Girls Roller Derby league, which had about 100 girls trying out f or the team. She did not make it in, but she continued to look for other opportunities and a few years later joined a recreation league in Brooklyn.
After going to the open tryouts for the Garden State Rollergirls this past November, Wendy joined the league and s tar ted practicing in early December. “I got to be part of a team, I’m more involved, and I’ve made a lot of new friends,” said Wendy, who is an online beauty editor. “I think that the [veterans] are really good about pushing us to our full potential. I just want to get better. It’s been really rewarding.”
Shimmy first stepped into the world of roller derby two and a half years ago after a co-worker at a community center brought her to one of her league’s bouts. Since roller derby was something she had always wanted to try, Shimmy then joined the Long Island Roller Rebels. She had to leave to move further west to join the FDNY, and then went on to try out for the Garden State Roller Girls. “There are so many things [about roller derby] – the first thing is the sport and fitness aspect of it,” said Shimmy. “I’m in the greatest shape of my life and it makes you strive to be even better. I never played a team sport in my life and it’s changing me as a person.”’ “Roller derby is an accepting community,” she said.
“Bullying and meanness is not okay. It’s the first time in my life that I really feel accepted in that way. Everyone can be who they are.” Shimmy loves the supportive environment among the Rollergirls. She is currently captain for one of the home teams, and is also learning how to jam in addition to being a b locker. “It was challenging and that is what everyone‘s number one priority and [concern] is – the ability to play the game,” said Shimmy. “I didn’t have to apologize for my short comings. They actively tried to teach me. To be accepted on the league in a social aspect you have to show your dedication to the sport first. Once you prove yourself on the track you could be a purple dinosaur and you’re in.”
In her 6th season with the Rollergirls is Devlynne DaHouse, aka Marianna Marks, the manager of an editorial department for a large publisher the league practices at least three times a week, in addition to hosting events and promotional work to keep the league operating.
“Monday night is endurance night and I never give less than 200%,” said Devlynne. “You dig deep and keep pushing. When you’re done at the end of the night, [you think] I didn’t know I had that in me.” Like so many of the girls, Devlynne has enjoyed the supportive environment and social component of the league, but just as important has been the challenge and ongoing evolution of the sport. “There is always something to learn and it’s very stimulating in that way,” said Devlynne. “The game is always evolving and the rules change [slightly] from year to year, and each year the girls coming in are better and better.”
A league of their own
Founded in the fall of 2006, the Garden State Rollergirls had previously been part of a group of three teams: The Hub City Hellrazors, Jersey City Bridge and Pummel and the Northern Nightmares. According to Belle Somebashin’, one of the founding members of the league, The Hellrazors were and continue to be based in Kendall Park, NJ, while the remaining t wo teams stayed in northern NJ.
“At that time the northern teams were primarily skating in outdoor hockey rinks, and during the summer of 2006 we secured a weekly slot at the Branchbrook Park Skating Facility in Newark,” said Belle. “Since the majority of the skaters were up here a group of us proposed that it was in everyone’s best interest for us to create our own league.”
The Garden State Rollergirls is an all-female, member owned and operated LLC, flat-track roller derby league. An Executive Board of at least four members, in conjunction with team captains and committee heads, runs the league. According to Belle, Jersey City Bridge and Pummel and Northern Nightmares continue to be the two core interleague home teams, in addition to, the two interleague travel teams, including the nationally ranked Ironbound Maidens and the Brick City Bruisers. The Maidens make up the team roster for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) rankings.
WFTDA is the international governing body for the sport of women’s flat track roller derby and a membership organization for leagues to collaborate and network. “Our No. 1 goal is we would love to be invited to compete in the WFTDA Division 2 tournament,” said Ruby. “We would have to be ranked within the top 60 teams in the country.” Teams are ranked 41 to 60 as of July 31st, and are invited to the Division 2 playoffs. For more information on the Garden State Rollergirls’ upcoming bouts and tryouts visit www.gardenstaterollergirls.com••