Last summer, Sarah Genther put flyers up around town and posted online about the roller derby league she wanted to start in Bangor. She had moved to Bangor with her husband and son from upstate New York — where she played derby for the Central New York Rollergirls — just a few months before, and she missed being on skates in a big way.
She expected a handful of women to show up for a general-interest meeting. She got 68.
“I was blown away. The interest was just huge,” said Genther, who’s derby name is Cereal Suicide. “We had to cap it at 40 because there was just no way we could work with all those people. It was really, really encouraging.”
This weekend, Bangor Roller Derby will compete in its first-ever official bout, against the Rock Coast Rollers out of the midcoast, and Maine Roller Derby, Maine’s first league, out of Portland. The match will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, at the Midcoast Rec Center on Route 90 in Rockport. The team — now down to a devoted, well-trained 15 members — has spent the past year training, fundraising and getting the word out that roller derby has arrived in the Queen City.
Contemporary roller derby is light-years from the games of the 1940s and 50s, when the theatrical elements were more important than the athleticism, and most matches were fixed. Today’s derby is a female-run and female-played sport that combines athletic skill with a sense of sisterhood and, yes, a little bit of that theatrical flair — though the BRD teammates caution that that is secondary to the sport itself.
“Once you’ve been in a couple of bouts, you lose the tutus and the fishnets,” said Genther. “Once you get a waffle iron floor burn from fishnets, you focus a little more on performance gear, less on looking cool.”
Roller derby is played by two teams who each send five women out on the track to play — they can switch players out if need be — during a bout, which consists of two 30-minute periods. Each period is divided up into two-minutes “jams,” during which players skate counterclockwise around a circuit track. Each team designates a scoring player — the jammer — and the other four members are blockers. A jammer scores by making a lap around the track through the pack of blockers.
Though the sport has cleaned up from its early, elbows-in-the-ribcage days, it’s still full-contact, and players can walk away with injuries. Kathryn Woodrow, a 31-year-old wife and mother of three from Hampden, known as Smokey Pork Chop on the track, had a minor ankle injury early on in training, but hasn’t let that deter her from being able to play pivot — a team member that can “pivot” between jammer and blocker.
“My kids are really into it. My oldest wants to do junior derby, my son thinks it’s cool to tell people his mom can beat up their mom, and my 9-year-old thinks I’m a superhero,” said Woodrow. “Now that my kids are a little older, this is my reward to myself for putting in the time to raise them. It’s an amazing stress reliever. It’s therapy on roller skates.”
Desi Clark, who at 20 is one of the youngest members of BRD, was working at Great Skates last year when Genther approached her about joining.
“I’ve been skating since I could stand up. I was wearing skates in the womb,” said Clark, who skates as DZ. “I had no idea what I was getting into [with derby]. Now they’re my best friends. It’s my favorite thing. I love it so much. It’s such good exercise.”
BRD has done a number of fundraisers and promotional events over the past year, including a party featuring the band Motor Booty Affair, volunteering for the Red Cross, the Bangor Humane Society and Spruce Run, and holding an exhibition bout at the KahBang Festival on Aug. 11. The big thing they’re focusing on now is either finding a home track in the Bangor area — a gym, an arena or even an actual rink — or raising the $12,000 to $15,000 needed to purchase a moveable track to lay down over an existing surface, such as the Alfond Arena or the Field House at the University of Maine.
“It would change our whole game,” said Genther. “It’s a big commitment, but it’s one we’re ready to make. We want to be a household name, with a cult following. But we also want to see derby as an Olympic sport. It could totally happen. The [ Women’s Flat Track Derby Association] is working towards it.”
Nevertheless, as BRD is still a relatively new league, there’s still room for improvement. Woodrow anticipates the Rockport bout with a mix of giddiness and nervousness since she and her teammates have been working toward this for a year.
“We’ll probably get our butts kicked, and I can’t wait,” she said. “I can’t wait to play with other people who are so much more experienced. It’s going to be a huge learning experience. On the track, it’s super competitive and aggressive. But off the track, it’s a big family. We share players, we do events together, we’re supportive of each other. That’s why it’s a pretty unique sport.”
The Maine Event Roller Derby Bout will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, at the Midcoast Rec Center, featuring Bangor Roller Derby, the Rock Coast Rollers and Maine Roller Derby. Admission is $7 at the door and free for children younger than 12. There is a 21-plus after-party at the Waterworks Pub on Lindsay Street in Rockland. There will be a Bangor Roller Derby tryout session in mid- to late-September; check their Facebook page for details.