A league of their own

Women's roller derby club gets rolling in Hagerstown

Women's roller derby club gets rolling in Hagerstown

August 19, 2007|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

GREENCASTLE, Pa. -Sydney Harbaugh, 25, of Greencastle, came to a Friday-night roller derby practice ready for action - her hair pulled back into pigtails, a couple of tattoos peeking out from under her team T-shirt, fishnet stockings covering her stout legs.

Her roller derby nickname, "Bad Luck Betsy," was on the back of her black skirt.

She's one of the 20 or so on team HCORE's roster - short for Hagerstown Community of Roller Enthusiasts.

Alice "Malice" Battista of Falling Waters, W.Va., formed the club after she moved to the area to be with her fianc Damien Armstrong.

"I used to play up in Philadelphia. When I moved here, I felt this area really needed something like this," Battista said.

The team doesn't have a schedule yet, and is still working toward becoming part of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association, an organization that sanctions national competitions.


But there are plans to host scrimmage games at iSkate81 roller rink in Greencastle, where the team practices. Organizers are hoping to host a match at iSkate81 as early as November.

The women of HCORE

All of the players on the team are women, except for the coach - who is Battista's fianc.

"Roller derby is an extremely empowering sport for all women," Battista said. "We get to be cute, fun, violent, aggressive and mean all into one."

To be good, a derby girl has to get over the fear of hurting somebody.

"You don't necessarily want to do that, especially if they're your friends, but you gotta jam. If you're doing a scrimmage and one of your buddies is skating really fast behind you, you've got to stop 'em," Battista said.

Harbaugh said she does roller derby for the exercise.

"I got older and became a mom and really didn't have anything physical to do," she said. "We've had a lot of girls who said, 'I'm not athletic, I don't do sports,' and they do this and they love it."

Teammate Atta Cucina, aka "Ripper Gore," said she appreciated the physicality of derby.

"Everyone's at different physical levels, so it's really nice to get cheered on for where you're at," said Cucina, 30, of Hagerstown.

Cucina also appreciated the fashion. She wore multicolored argyles that stretched well above her calves; ones that coordinated with her cranberry crayon-red hair.

"They're actually kind of hard to find," she said.

Other derby enthusiasts

Patty Leazier, 40, co-owner of iSkate81, said she was excited when she first heard of the club's formation.

"I was thinking of starting a roller derby team myself," said Leazier, who has been skating since she was 2.

HCORE already holds practices at iSkate81 two to three times a week. Leazier said there are plans to hold a scrimmage game at the rink in November.

Travis McGlaughlin, a manager at Hagerstown 10 Cineplex, said he has been an avid roller derby fan ever since the Charm City Roller Girls, Baltimore's roller derby team, made an appearance at the theater last October.

"I haven't missed a (Charm City) match yet," said McGlaughlin, who often goes to Baltimore to see the Charm City team.

When he found out about Battista's plans to start up a league, he decided to help them out. The theater has hosted the club's informational meetings.

McGlaughlin is the team's event and bout coordinator.

Changing the game

The National Museum of Roller Skating in Lincoln, Neb., has an exhibit on roller derby. Jody R. Boyce, director and curator of the museum, said the sport's popularity dipped in the 1970s as more sports opened up to women.

But the recent resurgence of roller derby owes much to what it offers busy women: "an outlet, a chance to be someone you're not," Boyce said.

"If you're a shy, quiet person for the rest of the week, on Saturday, you're bone crushing."

Leazier recalled watching a roller derby bout in Philadelphia as a teenager. "The teams had personas. There were the villains, the good guys, it was like good versus evil."

Roller derby of yesteryear was also more violent, Leazier said. She remembers seeing people getting flung over the rails.

Today's take on derby is a bit toned down.

The hair-pulling, elbow-throwing derby girl ready to scrap is more myth than fact.

"That's really just a stereotype," McGlaughlin said.

There are rules to keep physical contact at bay, but matches can get physical.

The history of roller derby

· 1935 - Leo Selzer invents roller derby; it is structured as a marathon speed-skating competition. The first match is Aug. 13, 1935. A total of 25 two-person, coed teams compete, aiming to be the first to skate the equivalent of 3,735 miles (the distance from New York City to San Diego). Only nine teams finish the race, with the first-place winner crossing the tape on Sept. 22, 1935.

· 1937 - A competitor gets shoved during a roller derby match in Miami; the move is well-received by the crowd. A sportswriter suggests that Selzer change the rules to allow for more physical contact between players. Roller derby becomes more of a contact sport.

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