Rink Rash Is Sexy: Roller Derby in Westchester
The county’s latest sports team offers up an antidote to the Junior League.
Photos by Laurence DeWitt
Action between the Suburban Brawl and the Empire Skate Troopers in Albany last March.
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Westchester County is sophistication. It’s got country clubs, high fashion, and even higher property values, and with the arts, the finest schools, expert medical care, and quick and easy access to the world’s most famous city, this region oozes style from its well-exfoliated pores.
Yet, on the way to that play date for your three-month-old, do you hum, “Is That All There Is?” like an OCD-riddled Peggy Lee while your Mercedes SUV idles at the stoplight? That German-engineered engine isn’t the only thing stuck in idle and that bland taste in your mouth is the ennui that comes along with residing in the idyllic 914 area code.
Cough up your angst, Westchester; your saviors have rolled in. I’m talking about, of course, our very own women’s roller derby franchise. That’s right, the Suburbia Roller Derby and its three in-house teams, the Indian Point Sirens, the Country Clubbers, and the Botoxic Avengers, have embraced the Westchester vibe and given their unique je ne sais quoi to the region. The very best skaters from those in-house teams form the Suburban Brawl, Westchester’s traveling squad, which competes throughout the Northeast.
“This is all about being yourself and being able to express yourself in any way you want,” says Dobbs Ferry’s Natalie Reyes, whose derby name is “Coco Tough.”
Personal expression is very important to these rolling enigmas. Every skater and, for that matter, manager, referee, and announcer, takes on a derby name and persona. In addition to Ms. Tough, our Westchester squad comprises ladies carrying monikers like “A-Wol,” “Vixen Von Brüizen,” “Slim Fast,” and “Black Star Heroine.” Coincidently, none of their scheduled matches will
interfere with their Junior League of Westchester involvement.
The team sports uniforms in those traditional Westchester County colors of bright red and green camouflage, but outside of the hue parameters, the rest of the skaters’ sartorial statement is left to the individual. Some go with hot pants, others short skirts, while others prefer the subtlety that the cargo short offers. Fishnet stockings, sequins, and garters all are in
“It’s all about being girls and being able to do what we want,” says Port Chester’s Megan Moss Freeman, a.k.a. Slim Fast. “We know this is a rough game but we still like dressing up.”
It is important to note that accessorizing can interfere with performance, a point Ossining’s Kimberley O’Leary, a.k.a. Vixen Von Bruizin, made when she handed me her cellphone. Displayed was a photo of her buttocks with a cross-checked pattern caused by falling in fishnets.
“That’s what we call ‘rink rash,’” Von Bruizen says. “It must hurt,” I offer as a concerned journalist. Before she can answer, Coco Tough chimes in. “Hey, rink rash is sexy.” Indeed.
Slim Fast helped organize the franchise after trying out and not making the cut in a Connecticut group that was formed in March 2006, and seemingly is as popular as the Westchester team. That level of experience—just trying out—made her the senior skater when the Suburbia Roller Derby was born in June 2007. To make the cut on either team, players need to be able to skate and block, and have another form of income: this gig doesn’t pay. The team stays afloat through ticket sales, sponsors, fundraising dances, and—I kid you not—bake sales. The team is composed of around 40 members, aged 20 to 45-plus.
“I had absolutely no experience when I tried out in Connecticut,” Fast says. “I tried to be as outrageous as possible because they said that personality was important. I loved the adrenaline rush, but I was so nervous, I puked in the middle of the practice. I actually had to leave the track, skate to the sidelines, and toss. That’s kind of what qualified me to lead this group.”
The kitsch is a huge part of derby, but make no mistake, the action is real. Baby Boomers probably have some recollection of the Sunday-morning derby shown on TV in the ’70s. The Kansas City Bombers (who were immortalized in a renowned eponymous cinematic epic starring Raquel Welch) sported hot pants and low-cut jerseys and elbowed each other all over a banked and corralled ring. The outcomes were as legit in pro wrestling.
“This is one-hundred percent real; it’s not made up,” Von Bruizen says. “We’re really hitting each other and really trying to win.”
In this most recent incarnation, roller derby takes place on a flat track with no rails and, alas, though you can bump your opponent, there’s no elbowing, hair pulling, or fighting. The competitions are called bouts and, from the best I can tell, points are scored when one skater, known as “the jammer,” is able to pass through the pack. Points are tallied for every opposing skater the jammer passes—at least I think this is the point of the game…er…I mean, bout.
The Brawl had its first bout up in Albany at the end of March against the Empire Skate Troopers at the historic Washington Avenue Armory. The Armory is home to the Albany Patroons, a minor-league basketball franchise that draws so poorly that the sound of the players’ squeaking sneakers can get on your nerves. But for the derby, the place was packed. And here’s a big surprise—they sell beer at the Albany bouts.
While the ladies skate, the action is called by two announcers who, one might say, are given to hyperbole, and, in between the periods, a loud rock band keeps things moving. Electricity sparks through the crowd, which reacts with acoustic peaks every time a skater is plunked on her tailbone or is sent hot pants-over-tea-kettle into the first four rows of fans.
The crowd only can be described as “diverse.” There are little kids, grandparents, guys out drinking and, how do I say this, men sitting by themselves staring. Apparently, there is a certain demographic that consistently shows up at derby events. (There are 51 travel teams in the WFTDA–Women’s Flat Track Derby Association–across the nation.)
“Yeah, there’s a creepy element to a certain percentage of the crowd,” Slim Fast says. “We know there’s a certain degree of S & M to derby—that’s what makes it fun.”
While roller derby has never really left us, its resurgence is credited to better organization, and, of course, the age-old appeal of being a bad girl and getting loads of attention for it. The organization’s MySpace page features a Bettie Page pin-up type in derby gear bent over inviting all to share her excitement for this pastime.
Against Albany, the Brawl dominates the bout and wins easily despite Albany’s reputation for being bullies. The excitement was
palpable, there was no denying the bad-car-wreck-adrenaline-fog that hung in the Armory air. Perhaps Albany announcer Ida Feltersnatch (don’t say it) summed it up best: “Women in short sparkling skirts being violent toward one another and the ever-present chance of seeing some bare areola—what’s not to love?”
Indeed, Westchester, indeed.
Suburbia Roller Derby Schedule
The inaugural season will include the following bouts: July 19; August 16; and the championship bout September 6. The travel team of all-stars, Suburban Brawl, will play throughout the year. The Brawl already won its debut bout on March 29 against the Albany All-Stars, 129-96. All bouts are held at the E.J. Murray Memorial Skating Center, 348 Tuckahoe Rd, Yonkers, and start at 7 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at the door or online in advance at brownpapertickets.com.
Tom Schreck’s latest Duffy Dombrowski Mystery, TKO, was released June 1 and is available at bookstores and online everywhere.