Rollergirls take it out on the track

Five-Ho wanted to get a black eye. But it was her opponent, Hoova Dayum, that got pummelled.

As Hoova swished around the track amid a pack of DC Rollergirls, another skater’s wrist pad hit her left eye. At the end of the two-minute scrimmage, she rolled off the court, holding her glasses in her hands.

“Am I bleeding at all in my left eye?” she asked a DC DemonCats teammate, rubbing the corner of her eye with one hand and tugging at her micro-mini black skirt with the other.

“No, it looks OK,” said her teammate, clad in a similar outfit: black fishnets, red T-shirt and roller skates.

“OK, I just know you’re not allowed to skate with blood on the court, that’s all.”

So goes a typical practice at the D.C. Armory for the District’s only roller derby league. Roller derby is a rough and tumble sport, but the women clad in fishnets, short skirts, stickered helmets and skates with funky laces are not typical anger management cases. They are lawyers, government employees and day-care givers.

The women, who range in age from early 20s to mid-40s, derby not because they like to play rough, but because of the camaraderie, they said.

It’s like a sisterhood for tough girls. Their chapter names: DC DemonCats, Cherry Blossom Bombshells and Scare Force One.

On Saturday, about 300 people watched the first bout of the 2008 season between the DemonCats and the Bombshells. The Bombshells won 96-59. At the end of last season, the Bombshells ranked last in the league, the DemonCats ranked second and Scare Force One ranked first.

The league started in January 2006 over a couple of beers at the Black Cat. A group of about 15 spent the year recruiting, training and building the league. The first bout was held in March of last year.

Now about 50 women are part of the D.C. league. In addition to the three teams, an all-star team competes with other city teams including Pittsburgh’s Steel City Derby Demons and Baltimore’s Charm City Roller Girls. There are more than 50 women’s roller derby leagues nationwide.

Scarlet O’Snap, whose real name is Mara Veraar, said she became a rollergirl because of the camaraderie. When Veraar, 30, finished graduate school at American in 2005, she noticed all her friends had left the District. Now all her best friends are rollergirls.

“I go out with mostly other rollergirls,” Veraar said. “The thing with derby is that these are people I’d never meet, but because of derby we have a common bond.”

It’s the same for Five-Ho, or Bridget Cummiskey. As a Metropolitan Police Department officer, she is surrounded by men all day at work. Being a rollergirl gives her the chance to be around strong women who “are definitely not your typical female.”

As for the names, they’re not just left on the court. Cummiskey, 29, said she doesn’t know most rollergirls’ real names.

“We call each other by our derby names.” she said, her eyes rimmed with sweat and black eyeliner. “I got an e-vite invitation once and didn’t know who it was from because she used her real name.”

Darth Vixen, a Scare Force One teammate, said names and costumes are all part of the persona. Her real name is Myia Welsh.

“It’s a blend of being a rock star and a superhero,” said Welsh, 29. “Not many people get to do something like this. When I’m 85, I’m going to love to tell this story.”

The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, which sets nationwide rules and regulations, keeps a name registry to make sure none are repeated. Even the referees have derby names, like Mr. Mystery and Ref Neck.

The sport’s history dates back to the 1930s as an endurance race of sorts. It has since morphed into a more involved game that involves speed, endurance, strategy and lots of falling.

Matches are called bouts and two teams of five play against each other during jams of about two minutes. The players hold positions called jammer, pivot or blocker. The jammer wears a covering, called a panty, over her helmet and scores points for the team by speeding past the opposing pack.

A jam may look like skaters just whishing around an elliptical track as they run into each other, but strict rules and constant referee whistles govern the game. It can get rough, but elbow poking, pushing an opponent and tripping are off-limits.

Roller derby reached its peak in the 1970s and 1980s because of television coverage. Now Drew Barrymore is directing a film about the sport called “Whip It!,” starring Ellen Page from “Juno” as a beauty pageant teen turned rollergirl.

The D.C. league practices four nights a week at the D.C. Armory and Dulles SportsPlex. When the league first started, most rollergirls hadn’t skated since they were kids and the teams would practice in parking garages, on basketball courts or anywhere they could find space to build their skills.

League members said that after a while, you become the sport. You take on a new name, a new persona and a new wardrobe. You think about bouts and practices during work, and you collect cuts and bruises like trophies.

And as Dayum, who’s real name is Christie Hoover, said, “Your skates become your feet. They’re a part of you.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.