BANGOR — Roller derby is flourishing in Maine.
It isn’t the sport that some may remember from the televised matches of the 1960s and ’70s that combined the theatrics and physicality of pro wrestling with the speed of ice hockey.
Women on roller skates would be skating around a banked track with railings and they would routinely be elbowed or punched by an opposing player and launched over the railing.
Today’s sport seems to be a kinder, more honest one for the most part while the railings and banked tracks have been replaced by flat tracks.
It’s still a contact sport, but elbows and punches to the face are no longer allowed, and most of the theatrics have disappeared.
It has become an international sport and is being considered for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Interest in the sport appears to be growing and that popularity has spread to Maine, where there are six teams with women of all ages and occupations trying the sport for the first time and enjoying it.
Amy Blackstone, who skates for the Central Maine Derby team, stressed that they want to show that roller derby is a “real sport” and not the theatrical production of the early days.
“Because we dress in outlandish outfits and have derby names, I think some people still have a hard time considering roller derby a sport. [But it is a sport],” said Dawn Reese, who skates for the Bangor Roller Derby team.
Skaters choose roller derby names.
Reese is Eva B. Villain. Blackstone is “Wined-Up.” She explained she enjoys wine.
“I read about it on Facebook and it sounded like a lot of fun,” said Heather (Conary) Van Dyne, a member of the Central Maine team and the publicist. “I tried it out and fell in love with it. I had never been on skates before in my life.”
Blackstone said she started watching bouts in Portland.
“It was love at first sight,” said Blackstone, a 40-year-old sociology professor at the University of Maine. “What do I like about it? An easier question would be what don’t I like about it?
“It’s a wonderful form of exercise and this group of women is amazing. We are so tight on and off the track. Once you join the league [team], you immediately have 40 people you can rely on in all areas of your life.”
“As an adult woman, there aren’t many options for full-contact sports,” explained UMaine entomology graduate student Jennifer Lund or Pickle Bunny on the Central Maine team.
“I’m competitive by nature. I grew up playing all kinds of competitive sports like [ice] hockey, softball and ultimate frisbee. This seemed like a perfect fit for me and a perfect fit for my nature.”
Lund, who lives in Argyle Township, moved to Maine from New York and said she had a very small group of friends, mostly associated with the university, until she got involved in roller derby.
“Now I have some very good friends I probably would have never met before,” said the 34-year-old Lund. “And we have women from every walk of life: stay-at-home moms, hair stylists, mechanics, lawyers, doctors, nurses…
“I love the workout. It’s a great way to get fit. And there is no specific body type for roller derby. We have women of all shapes and sizes and all different skill levels.”
Lund recalled it wasn’t easy initially.
“My first time on quad [roller] skates, I spent the first two hours hugging the wall. That was a year or a year and a half ago,” added Lund.
Wendy Bingaman, a teacher formerly from Waterville who goes by the name Stargazer, acts as a Central Maine player-coach who used to drive from Bangor to Portland two or three days a week to practice with the R.I.P. Tides before teams were formed in the Bangor area.
“I had to stop. I ran out of gas money,” she said.
“It’s a love, it’s an addiction,” said Reese. She said they have skaters from as far away as Waterville.
Of the six teams in Maine, three are under the Maine Roller Derby umbrella based in Portland (the Port Authorities, Calamity Janes and R.I.P. Tides); the Rockland-based Rock Coast Rollers, the Fire City Bombers from Bangor/Hampden and the new Bangor-based team, the Central Maine Roller Derby League.
The Central Maine Roller Derby League will make its debut Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Bangor Auditorium. It will square off in a bout against the the R.I.P. Tides, who are the C team in Portland’s trio. The R.I.P. Tides are comprised of the least experienced skaters.
“We’d love to develop a rivalry with Central Maine,” said Reese, who expects to compete against Central Maine once it gets more established.
The Fire City Bombers are named in remembrance of the fire of 1911 in Bangor and the aircraft that used to be prevalent during the Dow Air Force Base days.
The team has been in existence since August 2011 and has five bouts scheduled between April 13-June 15, four against out-of-state teams.
The games consist of two 30-minute halves. A point is scored when one member of the five-member team, known as a jammer, laps a member of the opponents’ five-member team. The other four members are blockers and it’s their job to protect their jammer and take out the opposing jammer. One of the blockers can be a pivot and can assume the jammer’s role.
Bingaman enjoys playing a contact sport and has the bruises to validate the physical nature of the sport.
“I can show you a million bruises. But it’s all worth it,” she said. “There are no elbows or punches to the face allowed but it is still a full contact sport. There are hip checks and shoulder checks and whole body hits.”
Hits to the knees aren’t allowed and players have to go to the penalty box for infractions.
The players wear helmets, mouthpieces, elbow pads, wrist guards and knee pads and can also add padding to their shorts. The cost, including skates, ranges between $400-$500 to get started, said Van Dyne, whose moniker is Shelby Fastback.
“It’s very physically demanding but it’s so much fun, you don’t really notice it,” said Central Maine’s Sara Miller, a sixth-grade teacher who played basketball, field hockey and softball at Orono High School. “It caught my eye because it was unique. And there’s a lot of strategy. It has definitely lived up to expectations.”
In roller derby, Miller is known as Amazing Graceless.
Bingaman, Miller and Reese reiterated the camaraderie value in the sport.
“I wouldn’t have met half of these women if it wasn’t for roller derby,” Bingaman said.
“It’s really a unique opportunity to get to know people you might not have bumped into otherwise,” Miller said.
“One of our girls had a house fire and we were there seeing what we needed to do to help her,” Reese said. “If they get injured and can’t do laundry or dishes, we’ll help out. You really take on an entire family. It’s a very interesting culture.”
Reese, a former high school cheerleader who is now a stay-at-home mom with two children, got involved because “I wanted to hit people on roller skates.”
All roller derby skaters pay dues ranging between $30-$40 per month and they pay an insurance premium of $55-$65 per year that covers their injuries or injuries they may cause to another player.
Bangor Roller Derby has 30 skaters. They are allowed to dress 14 skaters and two alternates for a bout and they also have intrasquad bouts.
Central Maine has 50 skaters and they hope eventually to have B and C teams to go with their A team.
Everyone is welcome to try the sport. Central Maine holds fitness sessions that are open to the public on Tuesday nights 6:30-8:30 at Great Skates in Bangor. Those interested can check the centralmainederby.com website.
Central Maine and Bangor Roller Derby hold get-togethers after their bouts which include opposing team members. That’s part of the culture.
Players on each team are required to be involved in two hours of community service per week.
Tickets to Central Maine’s first ever bout are $10 at the door and $8 in pre-sale. They can be obtained from the players or at Giacomo’s restaurant, the Metropolitan Soul stores in Bangor and Orono, Results in Bangor or Verve Burritos in Orono.