How We Roll
At work they seem pretty ordinary. They have names like Teresa and Michelle and Shannon and Rebecca and Lesley. They are University professors and library employees and students. Some are parents and PTO members.
But at least three nights a week and one Saturday every month, they are anything but ordinary. They assume different identities and names. They wear helmets, kneepads, fishnet stockings and ripped tank tops. They strap wheels to their feet and strike fear into the weak-hearted.
They are the Palmetto State Rollergirls (PSRG), and they are serious about roller derby. They are quick to champion its legitimacy as a serious sport and its power to build relationships, relieve stress and benefit charity.
And they have the scars to prove it.
Shannon Stewart, aka “Tart of Darkness,” has practically given her right arm for the sport, breaking it in eight places during a bout in 2008.
“I hip-checked the opposing team’s jammer and when she hit the floor, she didn’t fall small and inadvertently tripped me,” says Stewart, a lecturer in CCU’s Department of English and spokeswoman for the league. “She went to the penalty box. I went to the emergency room.” After more than three months of rehab, she was back on her skates the day after her doctor cleared her, although she decided to become a referee.
Michelle Lewis, aka “Piranha Mama,”
broke her foot this past summer while doing a routine exercise during practice. Soon after the accident, she was trackside again, coaching and cheering for her team while rolling around on a scooter crutch that the team chipped in to buy her. Lewis is the coordinator of access services in Kimbel Library.
Teresa Burns, aka “Rockaway Beatch,” covers up her bruises at work, “but I’ll show off a particularly good bruise at practice. I actually hurt less after some games than after a good practice,” says Burns, who is associate professor of physics and director of CCU’s core curriculum. “After a particularly scrappy game, it’ll take a day or two of ibuprofen and ice packs to get back in shape.”
The gain, however, far outweighs the pain.
“As a physics professor, I spend a lot of time in my head. Derby gets me out of it,” says Burns, who is one of the three original founding members of the team, along with Lewis and Stewart.
“For me, it’s kind of like a social club,” says DeLeetra Staley, aka “Weapon of A** Dee-struct-ion” and access services specialist in Kimbel Library. “It gives me a reason to get out and meet some interesting people, and it’s an amazing exercise routine. Everyone looks mean and intimidating, but we’re all one big dysfunctional family.”
“This is a great culture, and when you’re in it you’re surrounded by people as crazy about it as you are,” says Rebecca Grouchy, aka “Namaste Down,” lecturer of astronomy and former yoga instructor. (“Namaste” is a traditional greeting in India.) “I feel like I could go anywhere this sport is being played and be welcomed by new friends who are as passionate about it as I am.”
Stewart and Burns have traveled to academic conferences to give presentations about the science of roller derby and the personal identity behind the names chosen for the derby alter-ego. Stewart even uses PSRG as a model of a nonprofit when teaching business writing at CCU.
“We play hard to attract audiences because every bout has a charity associated with it, and we want to raise as much money as we can for each one,” says Staley. The last three PSRG bouts raised money for the Playcard Environmental Education Center, the American Cancer Society and the Surfrider Foundation.
How to play the game:
Essentially, it’s a race with a lot of interference. Following the guidelines set down by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, each team is divided into four blockers and one jammer. The blockers try to keep the opposing team’s jammer behind them, while making room for their own jammer to pass. Every member of the opposing team passed by a jammer earns the team a point. Jammers wear helmets with two stars. There are dozens of additional rules, but those are the basics: A jammer skates fast and tries to avoid getting smashed, and a blocker is out to smash everyone not on her team.
“When you watch it, it feels intimidating and brutal,” says Grouchy. “But when you’re in it, it’s a blast.”
PSRG has about 20 members altogether. In addition to the five skating players from the faculty and staff, other CCU folks involved with the team are team photographer/promoterLouis Keiner, aka “A Boy Named Tsunami,” associate professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Physics; his wife Lesley Etherson, aka “Punk Blocker,” a graduate student at CCU; and team statistician Brady Cross, aka “Bare Naked Brady,” also on the Kimbel Library staff. Lewis’ 16-year-old daughter Lainey Lewis, aka “Ming Chung Chow,” a student at the campus Scholars Academy, is a bench coach for the team.
Roller Derby started in the 1930s, but the recent surge in popularity can be traced to the 1999 reality show Rollerjam. The PSRG was formed in 2006. In 2007, the team hosted the state’s first ever flat-track bout, Cinco de Die-O, against Greenville’s Reedy River Rollergirls. The PRSG organized South Carolina’s first roller-derby tournament, Labor Pains, held on Labor Day 2013 and featuring teams from Myrtle Beach, Charlotte, Greenville and Columbia. There are now eight teams in South Carolina.
“Roller derby is a sport, not a spectacle like professional wrestling,” says Cross. “It’s important to understand that these ladies are 100 percent athletes, not actresses.”
like professional wrestling,” says Cross. “It’s important to understand that these ladies are 100 percent athletes, not actresses.”
“Roller derby is a full-contact legitimate sport,” says Burns. “Most people remember shows from the ’80s that were more entertainment than sport. We have to fight those preconceived notions about modern roller derby to be taken seriously as athletes. The current game is an athletic endeavor as legitimate as football, baseball or hockey.” Roller Derby is being considered for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics.
“The cool thing is that our sport has this DIY [Do-It-Yourself] ethos,” says Stewart. “We buy our own equipment, pay monthly dues and travel expenses, rent the space to play, do the publicity, contact the charities, train by derby rules, lay out the track, and sometimes we even lay down the floor we skate on.
“PSRG’s growth as an organization is undeniable,” says Stewart. “We’ve put a clearer focus on training as athletes, and it’s grown beyond what any of us would have imagined possible in the early days.”
“But there’s still plenty of room for growth,” says Burns. “In the last seven years, the sport has developed and become a serious athletic endeavor. I hope in the future you will see us nucleate a men’s team and start a junior team.”
“The quality of sportsmanship among the skaters is striking,” says Cross. “Most of the time, people who play sports are out for blood and not nice to one another. This is the only sport I’ve ever seen where two teams get together, beat the living daylights out of one another and go to a party right after the event and laugh about their injuries.”