The Herald Bulletin

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April 8, 2010

It's just how they roll

Modern-day roller derby teams excite Hoosier audiences

FISHERS -- During the week, Jim Miller is a mild-mannered meat cutter for Marsh Supermarket in Pendleton.

On weekends, he becomes “Haight” Miller, a roller-skating force to be reckoned with.

Last November, Miller became a member of the Race City Rebels, an all-male roller derby team whose home rink is the Forum in Fishers.

The Rebels are the brother team to the all-girl Circle City Socialites. The two teams’ first home bout of the season takes place  Saturday.

The two teams practice at an indoor skating rink at Ellenberger Park on Indianapolis’ east side. There, they race around a track —designated by white tape on the floor — and go over their moves: how to avoid a downed skater or how to race hard in five-minute sprints.

At a recent late evening practice, Miller said that roller derby is a competitive but fun activity.

“My son got me interested in this,” Miller said. “We went to a bout, and I knew it was something I had to do. I’m 54 years old and probably the oldest person in the league. It’s been over 30 years since I last put on a pair of roller skates. There’s a big difference between skating around a roller rink and what we do in roller derby. It’s fast and competitive, and I love it.”

Miller hangs tough with the younger crowd — standing out only with his three Grateful Dead tattoos and the marking of “H8” (haight) on his helmet and shirt.

“My skate name is Haight,” he added. “You know like in Haight-Ashbury. We all have pretty unique skating names that suits our personalities.”

The Race City Rebels are Indiana’s first and only men’s flat track derby team.

In general, there are two teams of five skaters each on the flat track. Each team consists of a pivot, three blockers and a jammer.

The pivot sets the pace for the team and leads the group of skaters in the pack. Jammers are the scoring skaters and start from behind the pack. Jammers fight their way through the pack. A jammer must break through the pack once, then sprint and make it through the pack again, as many times as possible, to score points by passing opposing team members. Skaters can use hips and shoulders against opponents, but cannot throw elbows or fists.

“Bouts are a lot of fun,” Miller said. “But you can still get plenty of bumps and bruises. I fell one night and really hurt my tailbone. It took a long time before the pain went away.”

Saturday’s home bout at the Forum at Fishers also features a match for the Circle City Socialites.

Jessica “Nova Blaze” Seaton, of Anderson, has been a member of the Circle City Socialites for five months. She chose her monicker out of respect for astronomy. The Ball State University Web designer says being a nerd doesn’t hinder her abilities to go full throttle in a bout.

“Roller derby started out as a woman’s sport,” Seaton said, “So it’s a very cool thing for a modern-day woman to do. I’ve always loved skating and thought this looked like a lot of fun. So far, it’s been nothing but fun.”

Circle City Socialites skater Kelly Kendall, known as “Faye Stunaway,” serves as media consultant for the team. She says that roller derby appeals to people of all ages and bouts are family oriented.

“Many of our fans remember roller derby from the 1970s, “ Kendall said. “They bring their grandkids and have a great time. I have seen kids as young as 6 years old at our bouts who are seeing roller derby for the first time.

“Our team is as diverse as our fans. We have artists, lawyers, teachers and students on the team. Some of us have tattoos while others wear pearls. I think our crowd reflects that diversity.”

Though members of the Circle City Socialites wear fishnet hose and skirts, Kendall noted these are serious athletes mixing some theatrics and tongue-in-cheek humor.

“The biggest misconception is that roller derby is basically fake wrestling,” Kendall said. “Nothing about roller derby is fake. We train hard and play to win. There’s also danger involved in the sport. When skaters are traveling at high speeds and are knocked to the floor, injuries are not uncommon.”

Saturday’s bout is being promoted as a “Black Eye Affair.” Seaton said, “I’m definitely excited about our first home game because I know it will feel good having our home crowd cheering us on. I’m not yet sure if I will be on the roster for the game yet, but either way I’m very excited.”

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