By Rachel Dozier | Photos by Robert Boag
You wouldn’t expect to find women with names like “Afro-Die-T,” “Grim Nemesis,” “Janna-cide,” “Knasty Knitter,” “Luv at First Fright” and “Ramsey McDirtbag” in your bank, local high school or at the playground with their children. But the women of the Rocktown Rollers aren’t trying to meet your expectations.
hough a cheery sign of a happy monkey greets those entering Funky’s Skate Center, if you pick the right night, you’ll encounter fishnets, body slams and the thick smell of sweat.
For those of you who claim that nothing exciting ever happens in Harrisonburg, you’ve clearly never seen the Rocktown Rollers at work. Skull tattoos and shorts reading “Eat My Grits” blur past as their owners race around the rink knocking other girls out of the way.
But in the words of 2009’s movie “Whip It,” “There’s a lot more to Derby than fishnets and picking out a tough name.”
Martin has been skating with the Rollers for more than a year and is known on the team as “Rosie the Retaliator.” The 36-year-old high school history teacher chose the name to honor her grandmother.
“My grandma was an actual Rosie the Rivieter during World War II,” Martin said. “I teach history so it’s a nod to my grandma and to what I do. I love teaching history and 1920 [her number] is the year women got to vote, and it was also the year my grandma was born.”
Martin’s grandmother probably wouldn’t have approved of her foul-mouthed teammate Carrie Kemp. Kemp’s nickname on the team is “Eff In Aye” based on her tendency to let the curse words fly. The “aye” is spelled out phonetically because Kemp is from Minnesota and still has the accent.
She has now been on the team for more than two and a half years and loves every minute of it.
“When I was a kid I used to go and watch [derby] literally every weekend in Reno, and I lived here about eight years before I even knew about it,” Kemp said. “I came to the first game, and I joined literally the next day. I had to.”
By day she cooks, serves and bounces at the Blue Nile, but Kemp says that her job is a little unusual compared to her teammates.
“We’ve got bankers, we’ve got teachers, we’ve got stay-at-home moms,” she said. “We’ve got just about everyone from all walks of life, but it’s just that one thing that brings everyone together.”
Not only is the league made up of women from a variety of professions, but there are students involved as well. Nineteen-year-old Paige Easter, a current student at Blue Ridge Community College on track to transfer to JMU, is known as “Smashley Wheel’ams” by her teammates.
“I’m a huge Bruce Campbell fan,” she said. “I actually have a tattoo. I took that name after his character in the “Evil Dead” movies. So I’m kind of a fanatic.”
Easter joined the league after seeing a post on Facebook and attending the tryout.
“After the first practice, I was like ‘I am so in love with this. I am going to continue doing it,’ ” she said. “And I have been here ever since.”
The tryouts she attended are called “Fresh Meat Tryouts.” They happen every three months and once admitted to the team, players start scrimmaging and skating with the league’s veterans.
The Rocktown Rollers play teams from all over the East Coast, from Harrisburg, Pa. to Johnson City, Tenn. They practice every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on top of their presumably full schedules involving family, spouses and jobs. So why do it? It seems that both the love of the game and of the league are big factors.
“Rocktown is a very solid team of a very diverse group of girls who you wouldn’t think hang out together, but once you get everybody together, every practice is a party,” Easter said. “Even if people are mad at each other and we’re fighting, it’s just fun to be together.”
And the future of derby?
“The audience is getting broader and more and more people are coming to bouts and getting adjusted to it,” Kemp said. “I think the more we market ourselves, the better it’s going to be. The bigger the crowds and the more beer we can sell.”
For more information visit rocktownrollers.com