PORTLAND, Maine — Intense but friendly competition, a propensity for the dramatic and an atmosphere of no-holds-barred girl power converged Saturday for the first-ever women’s roller derby competition between two teams from Maine.
Rockland’s brand new roller derby league, the Rock Coast Rollers, joined what in other places is a vibrant and popular sport with its inaugural bout against the Portland-based Calamity Janes of the Maine Roller Derby league.
Protected by helmets and safety gear and glowing with the charge of adrenaline, around and around the rink at Portland’s Happy Wheels they went, putting to rest any notion that full-contact sports are for boys only. Though the goal for both teams was to defend against scoring by knocking each other out of bounds or violently to the floor, the real objective in roller derby is to avoid contact and strive for finesse.
If that sounds easy, try it on roller skates while picking your way through a dense pack of competitors with names like Iron Orchid and Cherry Clobber who are trying to wipe you out.
“It was incredible,” said Adina Baseler of Friendship, who in the world of roller derby goes by the nickname Schrodinger’s Catfight, after Saturday’s bout. “I’m still feeling that amazing rush.”
To the first-time observer, roller derby is hard to grasp and reading the rules, which are written in mysterious words like lead jammer, blocker and pivot line, is of little help. However, it quickly becomes evident that scoring involves a skater with a star on her helmet navigating through a high-speed gauntlet of other skaters without being creamed.
Lorraine Boucher and Terry Grasse of Portland said they went to their first roller derby match after seeing a flier on a telephone pole.
“We just came one week and got hooked,” said Boucher. “Now we have season tickets.”
Grasse said he’s amazed by the level of skill and competition, even among new teams like the Rock Coast Rollers.
“This is about pure athleticism and wonderful skating,” he said. “It just shows that you don’t have to be skinny and 115 pounds to be an amazing athlete.”
Boucher and Grasse said they would travel long distances — perhaps all the way to Bangor — for a roller derby match, and they may have that chance soon. The Bangor Roller Derby league was founded several weeks ago and the Rock Coast Rollers are booking bouts in the northeastern United States and Canada. Earlier this week, the Rollers were accepted into the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s apprentice membership program. The WFTDA now includes 76 new leagues in the apprentice program and 124 full member leagues around the world.
Ken Pierce of Rockland was at Saturday’s bout watching his wife, 59-inch Nails, a name she came up with based on her 59-inch height. He admitted he was a little surprised when his diminutive spouse announced she had joined the Rock Coast Rollers.
“I said, ‘I think you’re a little small for that but if you want to join, go for it,’” he said. “She’s doing a great job out there.”
Les McNelly of Bailey Island said his reaction to his youngest daughter, Hurricane Bethany, joining the team was, “My god, you’re going to get killed.” During Saturday’s bout, though, he said he recognized her involvement in the sport as an extension of her long history of athleticism.
“There’s no question, you’ve got to be tough,” he said. “And she is.”
Saturday’s match-up between the Calamity Janes and the Rock Coast Rollers ended with a lopsided, 263-62 score in favor of the Portland team, but the lessons learned will benefit the Rockland team as it moves forward, said coach Hannah Percy, know by her teams by the moniker Liss N Up.
“I think it went pretty well,” she said. “We can take what we learned here to work on some things, but man, we had some good plays.”
Rockland teammate Zoe Foster of Thomaston — Roll Doll — said she’s hooked on the sport, even though she didn’t know how to roller skate when she joined in January. But the lessons are coming from everywhere, she said, including from the opposing team during Saturday’s bout. Liz Pelletier of Portland, known by the Janes as Dollipops, agreed.
“For me, [the new team] is a chance to have another set of friends,” she said. “We’re all really trying to grow the sport together.”