The referee’s whistle tweets and the skaters of MedCity Mafia are in a jam again. Right where they want to be. The blockers are bunching together to clog up the oval track. They push and shove; they smash into opposing players to clear a path. Scorers behind them jostle and juke to pick their way through the pack of players.
They squeeze through gaps and dart around the edges of human walls. They try to avoid jarring hits that can knock them off their wheels. It’s clash and crash out there. The “jam” is the play in the sport of roller derby and MedCity Mafia is Rochester’s homegrown roller derby league. Whatever their levels of moxie off the track, the 21 women on the team bring plenty of attitude to the derby. The Mafia’s roster is filled with it. Meet Sister Mary Bruiser, Green Eggs and Slam, Kayla SMASH, Nurse RachHIT, Pirate Queen, Chocolate Pain Service, Mad Catter and Perfecta Kill, to name a few. They are “women with passion for the sport,” says Sarah Ferden, 33, of St. Charles, known to MedCity fans as “Sweet ‘n Nasty.” “They don’t hold back.”
Ladies willing to Bump, Block and Roll
Those derby names come with a variety of ladies and a range of skills. Laural Brentner, 28, of Rochester was among the first to join in 2012 and arrived with little experience on wheels. “We just hoped we would learn the skating,” says Brentner, whose uniform label is “Patience Zero.” But after playing rugby in college, “I was prepared for the physicality of it,” she says. She wears the inevitable bruises of roller derby like “a badge of honor.” “If you’re not getting bruised up, you’re probably not playing very hard,” Brentner says. “You work through [the pain], or you don’t feel it. Usually the next day is when I’m the most sore.”
Jennifer Logelin, 37, of Rochester had never played any team sport before joining the Mafia last year. Her motives? “Exercise is a huge part of it for me,” says Logelin, who goes by “Green Eggs and Slam.” She says she also is setting an example for her two young daughters: “Girls can do cool stuff, too!” Most of the Mafia skaters range in age from early 20s (minimum age is 21) to age 40, and most have children. Mafia’s organizers decided early on to keep their bouts “family friendly,” Ferden says.
No Ball in Roller Derby
Roller derby is a sport without anything to throw, carry or hit. “There is no ball in roller derby,” Ferden says at the outset. Here’s how it is played:
• Two teams play the derby on a flat, oval track. It’s typically indoors but can be outdoors.
• Each team fields five players, all wearing roller skates. One, called the “jammer,” is the sole scorer for her team; she wears a star on her helmet. In a way, she acts as the ball.
• Every time the jammer passes a player from the opposing team, her team scores a point. (The exception is the initial pass in each jam.)
• The other four members of the team, called “the pack,” protect their jammer and block opponents. These blockers play offense and defense at the same time. While making a path for their jammer, they also must prevent the other team’s jammer from lapping–or passing–them.
• The jams are brief, no more than two minutes apiece. But there are a series of jams and teams can rack up hundreds of points in a 60-minute “derby” or bout. The team with the most points wins.
Freewheeling Action-with Rules
A roller derby jam can look like a moving melee, but it actually is very well controlled chaos. There are rules for every part of the game and there can be as many referees (nicknamed “zebras” for their striped shirts) calling the bout as there are players. Like hockey, roller derby also has a well-used penalty box. Among the basic rules are limits on blocking. Players cannot use hands, forearms, legs, feet or heads to block. A roller derby player can’t legally throw an elbow, block from behind, or hit someone in the head. That leaves upper arms, shoulders and torsos for blocking. And, yes, ladies, chest hits are perfectly legal. Roller derby is a contact sport and injuries happen. Since its beginnings in 2012, MedCity Mafia skaters have had comparatively few injuries. “We did have a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament),” says Ferden, and “one player also was sidelined for the season due to a broken wrist and foot.”
Derby and the Med City
The MedCity Mafia had its start in August 2011, when roller derby fan Sarah McLain– who still plays as “Perfecta Kill”–advertised
online for skaters to start a team. She soon attracted a few women who skated together. The team grew and played in its first bout the next year. The Mafia skates its home bouts in the Mayo Civic Center Auditorium, with at least one each year taking place in Graham Arena at the Olmsted County Fairgrounds. The next Graham bout is scheduled for Saturday, May 24. “We’re just setting up our season for next year,” says Ferden, the Mafia’s head bout coordinator. The season typically sticks close to the local school calendar. The Mafia’s training home is the National Guard Armory on the city’s southeast side. Players practice two to three times a week on a track laid out on the concrete floor in the armory’s gym. Gate receipts from bouts are important to the team, but the skaters are amateurs, not pros. “We pay to play the sport,” Ferden says. Players have monthly dues for team membership and they buy the necessary gear, from their 4-wheeled skates to helmets and elbow pads. “My $100 knee pads are worth every penny,” exclaimed Fereden.MedCity Mafia technically is a league having two related teams. The main team is the DONnas of Destruction; MobSisters is the second squad. The Mafia recentlyapplied for its “apprentice” affiliation with the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the sport’s governing organization, Ferden says. The WFTDA currently has 101 apprentice leagues and 243 full members. More information about MedCity Mafia can be found at medcitymafiarollerderby.com or on Facebook at MedCity Mafia.