“We’ve been planning this since May,” said Johanna Bolos, president of the ACRD. “We’re hoping the bout at the War Memorial will really increase interest and get the word out about the sport in Syracuse.”
At the time of the March 5 “Shake, Rattle and Roll” Syracuse New Times cover story on the ACRD penned by yours truly, the league was composed of 15 members split into three teams: Psycho Dolls, Suffer Jets and the Auburn Prison City Ramblers. Since then, membership has doubled and now that each city has a roster large enough to field its own team, they became independent from one another. (Members from the defunct Auburn team skate with Syracuse.)
“The progress has been slow and steady,” continued Bolos. “This is a sport that takes a lot of dedication, so it’s been a slow climb. But all of the people on the team have been gung-ho and really into it.”
She noted that of the 14 women on the roster, only 10 are ready to rumble. Those combatants will be competing “in character” with salaciously titillating costumes and stage names such as Chainsaw Mama, Mistress Moxi and Feisty Fury, allowing fans to pick out a favorite character as the mayhem erupts.
S&M on wheels: Expect sex appeal and controlled chaos when the Assault City Roller derby makes its Syracuse debut Saturday night at the War Memorial. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
For those not hip to the basics of derby action, here’s what to expect at the War Memorial. Five members of each team will take the oval track: 88 feet around and 13 to 15 feet wide. Four wait at the starting line, referred to as the “pack.” The fifth is stationed a few feet behind the pack in a position dubbed the “jammer.” They are responsible for scoring points for their team and are identifiable by a cover worn over their helmet with a single large star on it.
When the whistle blows to start a bout, the pack takes off and, as soon as there is 20 feet of distance between them, the jammers follow. Scoring begins after the jammer successfully passes through the pack. From that point on, every member of the opposing team they pass again accounts for one point. Referees are stationed on the inside and outside of the track and are responsible for monitoring different aspects of the game, such as tallying the point count or keeping an eye out for any gross misconduct, such as illegal tripping or fighting. Those infractions can result in a trip to the penalty box or ejection if the circumstance is severe enough.
Hitting is allowed between the hip and shoulder, but elbows have to be clenched to the waist during contact. Hip-checking an opponent is also legal, as well as the self-explanatory booty block, which is imperative when trying to clear a path for the jammer to pass opponents and rack up points.
Like hockey, the competition is divvied up into three 20-minute periods. Each individual bout within a period lasts two minutes, at which point teams can substitute players and rotate the lineup to preserve energy. This is absolutely necessary as time winds down and thighs start burning.
But even with strict enforcement of contact violations, like any other sport, the risk of injury is always a moment away. After joining the league in late February, in her very first bout this past Memorial Day weekend against Ithaca, Jess Kunzwiler—who becomes Vanity Smash when she laces up the skates—took a bump from a Suffer Jet and went airborne. She landed with all of her weight on her left leg, fell and encountered one of the breaks of roller derby—literally.
“I didn’t look down because I knew it was bad and I tried to keep my cool” she reminisced. “One bone was sticking out of my leg, and when the medic raised up my leg, my foot was hanging down dangling. I can’t even tell you how many bones I broke between my ankle and my shin, but the official diagnosis was a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula.” (Type “Jessica breaks her leg” in the search box on YouTube and check it out for yourself; the video rivals Joe Theismann and Willis McGahee in sports-injury myth.)
After three hours of surgery and a not-so-luxurious four-day hospital stay, she now has two plates and 16 screws in her leg. There is no timetable or definite on recovery and she is not sure if she’ll be able to skate again. She hopes to be lacing up again next year with the intention of refereeing future ACRD bouts, and if she’s eventually cleared for full contact, Vanity Smash will be full speed ahead.
“It breaks my heart that I’m not able to skate,” continued Kunzwiler. “I absolutely love derby and we’re all kind of like a big family out there. I also love the intensity and conditioning aspect of it; you feel abused afterward, but a good abused.” For now, she’s still involved with the league in a promotional and recruitment capacity, although teammates have joked she’s not the best advertisement for prospective skaters.
Tickets to the event are $10 for general admission. Front-line seating—which is anywhere within 10 feet of the track—costs $15, or $20 if you buy the day of the event. But for the front-line dockets, you must be 18 and sign a waiver, because as Bolos pointed out, “you’ll probably end up with a roller girl on your lap.” And if you sit front-line waiting for that to happen with a dollar bill in your teeth, you’ll probably get them knocked out. These chicks are all business.
During the 15-minute intermission between each period, live music will be rocked out by Rochester’s Hounds of Hell, while Black Mamba Skateboards of Mattydale will be staging demos. Fifty-fifty raffles and food will be sold. Purchase tickets through Ticketmaster at 472-0700 or at the War Memorial box office. Bolos mentioned the ACRD is always looking for new members, so for enrollment possibilities and to find out more information about the league, visit assaultcityrollerderby.com or call (803) 730-7516.
Editor’s Note: As of next month, the ACRD will be homeless as their current practice facility in Baldwinsville will be covered in ice until next year. If you know about a rink, a warehouse or a venue with a space large enough for the team to rent and practice in, give them a shout.