Don't Hate, Rollerskate!

by Jessica Clare       photography by Matthew James Photography

On Tuesday and Thursday nights, Building One of the Stockton Fairgrounds is filled with the sounds of whistles and shouts and skates on concrete. This is the part-time home of the Port City Roller Girls, Stockton's only roller derby team.

Fans of old school derby may recall over-the-top theatrics and WWE-style fights, both common characteristics of the 1970s incarnation of the sport. Now, scripted violence has been replaced by athletics and rehearsed hits with honest contact. The Port City girls are serious about their sport, and have traded their early theatrics for competitive spirit. "Port City is a team that wants to win," says Lisa Anderson, jammer and president of the league, known as 2 Quik to her teammates.

PCRG is a volunteer-run and skaterowned organization. Being a derby girl means more than strapping on a pair of skates. Players shuffle families and careers to spend countless hours practicing and competing. In the winter, when there are no bouts, there are fundraisers to organize and sponsorships to seek out. "There really isn't an off season," says 2 Quik.

Skaters come from varied backgrounds and experience. For most, their first Port City practice is also their first foray into derby. "Some girls haven't put on skates since they were 10 years old," said Brenda Ramsey, also known as Mean Mother Tucker, volunteer and former skater for PCRG.

Many teams have a certain look to them, their rosters rounded out by single women in their 20s and 30s sporting tattoos and fishnets. Port City stands out in the derby world by not standing out in real life, emphasizing family and dedication above appearance. "We're not just a team of people who want to party and have tattoos. We're athletes and we're here for the sport," said Brittany Herrera, who goes by Pomp Adorable in derby life.

Those who question roller derby's status as a sport need only watch the team in action.

"Put a football player on skates and see if they can do what we do," quips 2 Quik. At first, a bout looks like a mess of legs and arms and skates. Whistles blow seemingly at random. The score jumps for no apparent reasons. As the clock winds down, a method emerges behind the chaos and by the end of the first half, even newcomers begin to understand what is happening. Cheering grows louder and more confident. By the end of the bout, everyone whoops loudly when a jammer weaves through the pack or groans when a skater stumbles. Spectators pick out their favorites and know enough to point at a girl and say, "She's good."

Anyone who admires the hits given and taken in football or hockey is missing out on an entire sport based on contact. Throwing elbows, punching, tripping and head-butting end with a trip to the penalty box, but blocking is an essential part of the sport and players throw shoulders and shove while skating through a tightly huddled pack.

"One thing that divides roller derby from other sports is that we're all here to promote women's athleticism. The girl who knocked you down worked just as hard, if not harder, than you. At the end of the bout, we all get along," says Pomp Adorable.

Parent and son coaching team Roadkill Will and Momma and Poppa Roadkill have helped Port City dominate the Central Valley circuit, with the Roller Girls undefeated in the first half of the 2012 season. Port City's next home bout is on July 14, and dedicated to teammate Loco Lisa who passed away in July 2010.

Anyone looking to do more than watch is welcomed to come to a practice. PCRG is always looking for volunteers and referees, so if you have roller derby dreams but bruise easily, Port City is still happy for the help. "Just come out to a practice," says Mean Mother Tucker. "Once you do, you won't leave."

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