Roller derby picks up momentum in the Triad
By: Bethany Sharpton
Digital Media Manager
GREENSBORO, N.C. —
Women’s roller derby is picking up speed — in more ways than one — in the Triad.
The women behind the Greensboro Roller Derby league are athletes who are tough as nails — but also have a heart of gold.
The league and its skaters are outspoken about their desire to support a number of charity organizations, including the National Conference for Community and Justice of the Piedmont Triad (NCCJ), Youth Focus, Unchaining Greensboro and The Arc of Greensboro, by collecting donations at their matchups.
Just this year, the league, which was founded in 2010, earned its nonprofit, 501(c)(3) status.
On the track, hours of work and determination go into the full-contact sport for the women who play at both recreationally and competitively levels under the rules established by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.
“None of it is choreographed,” said Shanna Buster, the league’s president who goes by “Buster Vicious” on the track. “It’s live action as it’s happening. It’s really intense.”
Buster grew up speed skating, and joined the Greensboro league four years ago.
At Greensboro, every league member plays on one of the home teams — which are named after popular local streets — the Battleground Betties, Elm Street Nightmares and Mad Dollies. The three teams play against each other throughout the season in about six intraleague matchups, or “bouts,” as the sport calls them.
Greensboro also has two travel teams, who make several out-of-town trips throughout the year.
Skaters are also encouraged to practice as many as three times of week at a warehouse off of I-40 in eastern Greensboro.
The final bout of the season is Saturday in Savannah, Georgia, where the A team, the Gate City All-Stars, will skate against the Derby Devil All-Stars. Counterstrike, the league’s B team, will skate against the Hostess City Hellions.
The league’s A team is the league’s charter team, and plays other WFTDA teams throughout the United States and internationally to compete for international rankings points with the goal of achieving as high ranking as possible. There are more than 300 Women’s Flat Track Derby Association teams worldwide.
Skaters on the Greensboro travel teams must vie for their spots on the roster through a tryout process.
Members of the Greensboro league have diverse passions, backgrounds and occupations — including college students, young professionals, wives, mothers and grandmothers — but they come together for fitness and competition.
“I think it’s an empowering thing … for younger girls to come and see what’s possible,” said MaryAnn “Carnegie Brawl” Kozikowski, who is one of the league’s founding members.
One of Greensboro’s standout skaters, Victoria “Butternut Squasher” Meeks, will play in the 2018 Roller Derby World Cup for Team Philippines in Manchester, England. The competition will be held in early February.
There’s a spectrum of ages among the women who play for Greensboro.
Skaters must be 18 years old to participate, but the oldest skaters in the league are in their early to mid 50s.
“I would like for people to know that they can do anything they want to do,” said Connie “Burn Notice” Uselman, who turned 50 years old this year. “They just have put the skates on and get out there, do it. They may fall and they may fail, but they need to get right back up and do it again and they will succeed.”
All body types are accepted, too. From petite to full-figured, the only requirement to join is the ability to skate.
Interested skaters can take part in a four-month training program, dubbed “Fresh Meat,” to learn the basics before they join a team.
As a full-contact sport, injuries are common and it’s mentally straining for players. However, the interest in the sport, which is played on a flat, oval track, continues to grow in the Triad and around the world.
In WFTDA leagues, play is broken up into two 30-minute periods, and within those periods, into units of play called “jams,” which last up to two minutes. There are 30 seconds between each jam.
During a jam, each team fields up to five skaters. Four of these skaters are called “blockers,” and one is called a “jammer.” The jammer wears a helmet cover with a star on it.
The two jammers start each jam behind the pack, and score a point for every opponent they lap, each lap. Because they start behind the pack, they must get through the pack, then all the way around the track to be ready to score points on opposing blockers.
Skaters cannot use their heads, elbows, forearms, hands, knees, lower legs or feet to make contact to opponents. Skaters also cannot make contact to opponents’ heads, backs, knees, lower legs or feet.
Play that is unsafe or illegal may result in a skater being assessed a penalty, which is served by sitting in the penalty box for 30 seconds of jam time.
The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.
Skaters said there are still some misconceptions of the sport from what was portrayed on television as roller derby in past decades.
“The athleticism has really increased and people don’t realize that because they haven’t seen derby other than what they’ve seen on TV 20, 30 years ago,” said Buster, 39, who plays on the Gate City All-Stars traveling team and coaches the B team, Counterstrike.
Roller derby began its modern revival in the early 2000s and continues to pick up phenomenon across the United States and the world.
Earlier this week, the WFTDA announced that for the first time ever that women’s flat track roller derby will appear on network television, further solidifying the expansion of the sport founded in 2004 by the WFTDA.
The first place game of the 2017 International WFTDA Championships hosted by Philly Roller Derby in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is scheduled to air on ESPN2 on Sunday, Nov. 5 — and that is something the women who play for Greensboro feel proud about.