It was a standing room only crowd for the Jersey Shore Roller Girls season opener at Convention Hall in Asbury Park Saturday night.
The Anchor Assassins scored a decisive win (163-134) over Murder Beach Militia. It was redemption after losing to the team by five points in the 2010 championship bout.
Hot Rod Hussy, also known as Allison Salenetri, skates with the Right Coast Rollers, but served as bench manager for the Militia Saturday. Before the teams faced off on their brand new sport court, she gave me the run-down.
"Murder Beach Militia have been a pretty solid, consistent, and stable team since the beginning. A lot of the players have been teammates since the beginning, so they could skate blindly next to each other and know what they're going to do. The Anchor Assassins have been known to be the team that has struggled a lot by losing skaters to injury or whatever it may be, so they've been rebuilding a lot. Towards the end of last season they came back incredibly strong. They're the underdogs here, big time," said Salenetri.
Her team will face the Militia on June 18 at Convention Hall.
"We've done a complete rebuild. We have three or four skaters that have been skating a long time and the rest are all brand new. So we're kind of starting brand new and fresh this season," she said of the Rollers.
The bout was fun, but what I really wanted to know was what motivated these women to pursue the flat track version of a sport I vicariously competed in when I was watching bank track bouts on Saturday afternoons back in the 1970s.
"Originally what interested me was that the girls all kind of looked like me and were crass punk rock girls. And I've always been very aggressive and loved roller skating, so it just seemed like the perfect fit. Then over time, I realized this is really a sport and I really have to become an athlete," said Selenteri.
Speaking of aggressive ...
Black Eye Betty, a.k.a. Clare Smith, a massage therapist from Toms River, is a co-founder of the Roller Girls and captain of Murder Beach Militia.
"I always wanted to play a full-contact sport," said Smith.
"I'm a pretty nice person, so I bottle up all of my aggression and anger, and I needed an outlet for it. I didn't have a lot of friends. I was super-shy. Really quiet. Roller derby has opened me up to so many things. Now I have more friends than I know what to do with," she said.
Alabama Whirley, a.k.a. Laina Schweizer, is co-captain of Murder Beach Militia and public relations/marketing specialist for the league. She sells cellular analysis equipment for Roche during the day.
"Some of the best days of my life have been winning with this team," said Schweizer.
"I was from Arizona and I had ended a relationship that had brought me here, so I really didn't have any other friends, and these are the best friends that I've ever had in my life. They're all like-minded women. They're very strong, dedicated, especially this team. Murder Beach is unbelievably close," she said.
T-Bex, a.k.a. Rebecca Wurzbacher, is an aspiring history teacher from Lakewood. She lives near the Jackson rink where the Roller Girls practice and thought she'd give it a try. Wurzbacher was nervous going into her first bout Saturday after spending a year in the league's Pork Roller training program.
"I think I'm more excited than anything else because I have a great team to play with and a great team to play against," said Wurzbacher, echoing the enthusiasm I heard from every skater I talked to.
Lucinda Block, a.k.a. Leslie Garino, skated her second bout Saturday after spending seven months last season as a Pork Roller. She said roller derby keeps her fit, both mentally and physically.
"It's a way for me to have my own time with something that I really enjoy as opposed to the PTA, which I'm involved in too, but you do that for other reasons. This is just for me," said the mother of two.
Carrot Topple, a.k.a. Megan Bradley, of Point Pleasant, also skated her second bout Saturday night.
"I read about it a long time ago, maybe when I was in middle school, in a magazine at Warped Tour, and then I got to high school and my English teacher was doing it. So I came to watch her and I just like fell in love with it. When I turned 18, I found out my friend was doing it, so we both joined together," said Bradley.
That was a year ago.
I didn't get Simone Debooya's street name. She sells clothing when she's not skating, but revealed a deeply philosophical bent when I inquired about her hobby.
"It was something I had wanted to do for a long time," said Debooya. "The modern revival of roller derby actually started in the early 2000s and every so often I would read a national newspaper article about it and they were always phrased the same way. They would always talk about women being kind of meek and gentle and they were sort of juxtaposing the whole roller derby thing. The articles made me really angry, because what about women isn't strong or aggressive or have the potential to be so? There was that emotion, but there was also, 'Well that sounds really fun,'" she said.
Nikki Sixx Feet Under, a.k.a. Nicole Koopman, of Jackson, got interested in roller derby three years ago after seeing a league poster at a Girl Scout skate. Her kids told her she couldn't do it.
"I came that Saturday to watch them for their first bout and I started on [the following] Monday," said Koopman.
"I'm in the best shape I've been in in like 20 years. The girls, they're like my sisters. They're more of my family than my family is at this point," she said.
Her daughter, like a lot of other children, was watching from the stands.
"She's proud of me and excited and wants to do it," said Koopman.
Lita Floor, a.k.a. Lisa Weisse, of Jackson, works for a landscaping company. She joined the Roller Girls soon after the league was founded four years ago. She described roller derby as a way to express herself. The chance to get away and the freedom to "be who you want to be" and "do what you want to do" are what keep her skating.
Stoli Slammer, a.k.a. Christine Such, 40, of Howell, is the skater I identified with most. She said she was tired of spending her evenings "watching television and getting fat" with her husband when she saw the Roller Girls page on Facebook and showed up for a Pork Rollers practice.
"I thought I was a little too old. I hadn't skated in 30 years, since I was like 9. ... I couldn't even stand up. I had to hold on to the wall, but they were so supportive. If you look around, there are so many shapes of girls from 18 to 45," said Such.
Some say the modern incarnation of roller derby combines elements of athleticism, a punk aesthetic, and third-wave feminism. Add to this mix a big helping of Jersey Shore grit and you've got the Roller Girls.
Where are my skates?
Find the Jersey Shore Roller Girls on Facebook.