Roller Derby whips up passion

Rachel Morrison/Pioneer
In forefront is OCCC pre-nursing student Camille Ford-Atkins as the Oklahoma Victory Doll’s alter ego Camie-Kazee, in jammer position. She breaks through the pack during roller derby practice Nov. 15 at Star Skate in Norman. Atkins has completed her “rookie” year with the Victory Dolls, who compete nationally.

The students who have seen her on campus this semester know her as Camille Ford-Atkins.

But to the Oklahoma City community and surrounding areas, she is known by her roller derby alter ego, Camie-Kazee.

Ford-Atkins, a pre-nursing student, has just completed her rookie year in roller derby with the Oklahoma Victory Dolls. She said she loves the thrill of competition.

Roller Derby

Roller derby developed as a sport in 1935, according to Catherine Mabe’s book on roller derby. In the beginning it was designed as a marathon style competition of average people interested in roller skating.

Soon a 47-year-old woman named Josephine “Ma” Bogash joined the derby. Bogash’s skill and strength attracted an all new audience of housewives.

Because of Bogash’s influence, women flocked to watch their peers in a female sport, something that was lacking at the time, Mabe wrote.

The first breath of modern roller derby sprang out of Austin, TX, in 2001.

A group of skaters banded together and formed Bad Girl Good Woman Productions. BGGW decided to do things differently. According to Mabe, the first change was no men, although derby had been coed to this point.

The second change was that management of the teams would be done by skaters, which coined the phrase: “For the skaters, by the skaters.”

Eventually management disputes led to the break up of BGGW and the teams split in 2003.

One group left to form the flat track league, Texas Rollergirls. The other formed a banked track league named Texas Roller Derby Lonestar Rollergirls, now the infamous TXRD as featured on A&E’s Rollergirls. They are both still going strong today.

The banked track is a throwback to the old days with a massive oval shaped track. The banked track has an inward slope on the curves that allows for skaters to gain momentum while jamming.

A flat track is much more portable than a bank track. With a flat track league, one is capable of setting up a bout virtually anywhere with a flat surface and some tape or rope lights.

Before you knew, it derby teams were popping up in every city.

Oklahoma City was no exception. Oklahoma City is home to the Oklahoma Victory Dolls, founded in 2007. They play on a flat track.

There are currently two teams in the Oklahoma City area, with additional teams in Lawton and Tulsa.

Each team is coached by the players. There is generally a veteran of the league who oversees training new girls, but all the girls pitch in on techniques and improving which increases the bonding between team players.

“It’s an indescribable feeling,” Ford-Atkins said. “Hearing the crowd cheer for you is a wonderful feeling.”

The Victory Dolls typically pack a full house at their home rink, Mile’s Roll-Away Rink at 5800 NW 36 St. in Oklahoma City. Spectators can expect to pay $10 in advance and $12 at the door to watch the bouts, or games, which last about an hour, with a 30-minute halftime show generally featuring live music and raffles.

Women’s roller derby teams consist of four blockers and a jammer on the track during one jam.

Between each jam girls will switch off with other players on the bench to allow for longer stamina throughout the game. The idea behind the game is for the jammer to score points by skating past the opposing team’s players.

The opposing team’s blockers use every legal method to block the opposing jammer from skirting past them, including booty blocks, hip checks and various other methods.

Blockers must train hard to keep their momentum of moving forward while still being aware of all of their surroundings.

Blockers will hit other blockers to make room for their own jammer to score, while keeping an eye on the opposing team’s jammer coming up behind them to block.

Communication between the team’s players is key to timing the perfect placed hits. Each player trains for both positions on a team in the event they are needed to fill that position.

Each “jam” lasts two minutes but can end earlier if the lead jammer calls off the jam by putting her hands on her hips. There is no limit to how many jams can be played during a game as the game continues until the clock runs out. The lead jammer is the jammer who is out front.

The Victory Dolls typically have nine bouts per season, which run from February through August, and two to three bouts during the off season.

After experiencing her first game, Ford-Atkins described it as “…breathtaking, literally and figuratively.”

The Oklahoma Victory Dolls range in age from 19 to 45. They are equally diverse in background and ethnicity. Ford-Atkins said this is frequently misunderstood.

“So many girls I have talked to think because they don’t have tattoos or are on the PTA, they don’t have what it takes,” Ford-Atkins said.

“This is absolutely not true. In our league alone we have a hair dresser, a social worker, homemakers and nurses.”

Dress and hair styles vary as each member of the group showcases her own personal tastes and interests.

“Roller derby allows women to bond together in a fashion they haven’t been able to before,” said Danielle Wilkerson, aka Lucy Lockdown, a student at OCCC and retired veteran of the Oklahoma Victory Dolls.

“When you are helping and also learning from each other, it’s very easy to form a sisterly bond,” Wilkerson said.

“Roller derby is all about pushing yourself to limits that you never thought you could meet, let alone surpass. Not just physical limits but mental and emotional ones as well.”

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