They’re athletic. They skate hard. They are physical. They’re exciting to watch.
Who needs the Hartford Whalers, when we have the Hartford Wailers?
OK, to be clear, we’re not talking about teams from the National Hockey League competing at the Civic Center in Hartford. We’re talking about the Hartford Area Roller Derby (H.A.R.D.) that hosts bouts for the Wailers (the ‘A’ team) and the Beat City Bedrockers (the ‘B’ team) in the gymnasium at Nomads in South Windsor.
The Wailers and Bedrockers, which have been in existence since April 2011, truly are Connecticut teams, with the women hailing from all over the state, including Tolland, Manchester, Vernon and New Haven.
The skaters vary in ages, from their 20s to their 40s, and hail from diverse walks of life; they’re teachers, nurses, administrative assistants and, in one case, a chemist with a PhD.
But they all compete for the same reason.
“I love to skate; I love the sport; I love the camaraderie of being part of a team,” said Wailer and team coach Sharon “Raven Storm” Frazier before the bout against New Jersey Roller Derby on Saturday. “We all come together to skate and for some great stress relief. We have a lot of tough ladies and it’s a lot of fun.”
Manchester resident Alexandra “Alexa Vendetta” Dilling of the Beat City Bedrockers agreed.
“It’s the camaraderie of 80 girls who become your sisters from practicing three times a week for two or three hours,” Dilling said.
With a major movie having been released in the last year on roller derby (“Whip It,” starring Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore), not to mention some 300 people lining the makeshift rink at Nomads on Saturday, it’s hard to disagree with Frazier’s assertion that “it’s a growing sport.”
The allure is evident. Roller derby is a contact sport that calls on four skaters called blockers from each team to line up behind a starting line. One skater from each team (called jammers), line up about 30 feet behind the blockers. After the referee blows a whistle, which starts the pack moving, without getting too technical, the jammers must move through the pack twice to start scoring, with the lead jammer scoring points for every opposing team member she passes.
The action is fast-paced and there is plenty of shoving and jockeying for position, which lends itself to plenty of collisions and spills.
The skaters are definitely skilled. Frazier, who did not skate on Saturday due to injury, is a nationally ranked speed skater from Tolland.
This version of roller derby does not have the fake, staged fights from the days of yore. But the sport has not completely abandoned its roots, as the women adopt punny, violent, and sometimes PG-13 nicknames, such as “Pixie Bust,” “Paula G. Imnaughty,” and a personal favorite, “Bloodbath and Beyond.”
Frazier said that no two roller derby names are alike, and they are a sort of badge of honor/rite of passage for a skater, who must first pass a series of tests before she adopts a moniker.
While the nicknames are oftentimes funny, the action on the rink is serious.
“It’s real, it’s not fake any more,” Dilling said. “It’s more of a sport. But we don’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s like having an alter ego. You get these petite women who you’d never think would hit someone, but they’re as aggressive as they want to be with no repercussions.”
Nevertheless, the outcome of the two bouts on Saturday between the Wailers and New Jersey Roller Derby (NJRD won 198 to 162) and the Beat City Bedrockers and the Red Bank Roller Vixens (Beat City won 160-139) were almost secondary to the spectators, many of whom just wanted to see what the league was about.
“We saw the sign for it a couple of weeks ago and just wanted to check it out,” said Enfield resident Bianca Plourde, who was in attendance with her husband Phil. “It’s very interesting.”
Many of those in attendance were family members or friends, all of whom were supportive of the skaters’ sport.
“It’s amazing; it’s fun to watch and it’s entertaining,” said Vernon resident April Joubert, who was at Nomads to cheer on her sister, Shannon “Bloody Shannanigans” Silliman.
Hartford Wailers Roster:
Ashley “Ram-Bowz” Metzger
Suzanne “Sue-Name Force” Brazeal
Katie “SABATAGE Sabal” Saba
Jennifer “Monkey Brains” Baum
Stephanie “Poison Ivers” Ivers
Kristin “Bully Elliot” Elliot
Jill “Paula G. Imnaughty NC-17” Luberto
Shannon “Bloody Shannonigans” Silliman
Rebecca “Betty J. Angel” Doster
Kelli “Madame Karnage” Suplicki
Lia “Lolli Pop-U” Tellie
Jessie “Swiss Miscreant” Rack
Mary “Bloodbath and Beyond” Griffith
Sharon “Raven Storm” Frazier
Linda “Pinky Nails”
Fatal Valentine - no name given
Diesel n’ Gin - no name given