FRUITLAND – Sometimes the things that capture our imagination have more to do with their image than with their essence as in the case of 16-year-old Eva Paxton and the inauguration of the Salisbury Roller Girls roller derby league.
Four years ago, the now-20-year-old Paxton was watching “Miami Ink,” essentially a tattoo reality show and saw a woman getting her roller derby’s team logo tattooed on her arm. Paxton at the time knew absolutely nothing of roller derby – a women’s sport most associate with the 1970s – but the notion of joining something that intense was tempting. Tattoos suggest permanence and here was a woman who wanted to be permanently associated with a team. Paxton decided to learn more.
After extended hours on the Internet researching the game, its rules and local leagues, improving her skating and, most importantly and for her most frustratingly, waiting for her 18th birthday, Paxton joined the Diamond State Roller Girls, traveling thrice weekly to Wilmington, Del., for practices and meets.
After a year traveling back and forth to Delaware, Paxton put out a Facebook message that she wanted to have a local team and tried to drum up interest. One month later they were practicing and this Sunday, a little more than a year after she sent out that first interest solicitation, the Salisbury Roller Girls will have their first league bout.
Roller derby is essentially a full contact race between two girls – known as jammers. The Jammers have blockers whose job it is to help make sure their racer gets through the pack while the other racer does not. The starting line is also the finish line and the jammer must complete what are essentially two laps in order to score points.
Each series of laps are called a jam and lasts a maximum of two minutes. A jammer can end the jam after scoring, but her choice to do so is dependent on whether she feels she’s opened up enough of a lead to score again before she’s caught up by the pack. It’s a game filled with enough tactics and subtleties that it took the participants a full year to get themselves to a position where they felt ready to play in public.
Roller derby is overtly rough, with blocks, spills and elbows – both quasi-intentional and accidental – flying throughout the course of a bout. It’s also exclusively female and the Salisbury Roller Girls, as their forbearers in the sport did, play up the juxtaposition of femininity and the threat of violence. The result has been compared to professional wrestling if the winner wasn’t predetermined.
For example, Paxton’s handle is Buster Skull. All the girls have a roller derby handle they either select or have bestowed upon them when they’re “fresh meat,” the term for roller derby novices. Because it can be a little dangerous once the bout actually starts, the fresh meat players serve a kind of internship wherein they learn the rules and hone their skating skills before they’re allowed to participate in a bout at all. Once they’re ready they can be drafted by one of the two teams that, for now, comprise the Salisbury Roller Girls.
As the league continues to grow, teams with 14 girl rosters will continue to be added and the number of league bouts will be increased. Meanwhile, intra-league contests are played by what might be considered the league all stars. The Salisbury Roller Girls travel team will compete in tournaments all over the region and eventually the country, attending single-bout matches and seeded tournaments as opportunity allows.
For the present, however, the girls are hoping to draw enough of a crowd to excite further interest and begin to grow the sport locally, or at least get some bumps and bruises in the process.
Thus far they have two full teams that will compete against one another this weekend, the Wicomikazis and the Old Bay Bombers. The ladies will compete on the roller rink at the Crown Sports Center in Fruitland, which will have both bleacher and ring side seats. Paxton said the ringside seats are where the action is but caution’s spectators that the experience might be too close for comfort for some.
“I always put up a sign that says for people to sit there at their own risk,” she said. “They might end up with a girl in their lap.”