Don’t mess with a mountain girl, especially one on roller skates.
“We’re a tough bunch, and we stick together,” said Krista Robb.
Aka “Butternut Squash,” the 28-year-old Robb is a star player on the Smoky Mountain Roller Girls, a nonprofit sports organization rallying folks from all corners of Southern Appalachia.
Judy Lau is a mom and detective with the Macon County Sheriff’s Office; Miss Demeanor is a tough-looking roller derby girl, sporting a helmet with fake bullet holes and red socks with guns and brass knuckles.
Miss Demeanor is part of Lau’s “a little more wild and crazy” second life as a member of the newly formed Balsam Mountain Roller Girls, a women’s roller derby team in Haywood County, she said.
Lau chose the pseudonym because of its obvious connection to her job.
“You kind of want to pick a name that has something to do with yourself,” she said.
Robin Matthews, an obstetrician/gynecologist in Haywood County, chose the name Minimal Invasion because most of her work procedures are just that — minimally invasive.
Choosing a name that rolls off the tongue and has some meaning is just about as difficult as the game itself.
Alex Gonsalez, who wears a Wonder Woman shirt, drew up a list of possible names before finally settling on Disgrace Slick, a reference to Jefferson Airplane lead singer Grace Slick.
“It just kind of came to me,” said Gonsalez, who hummed the opening of “White Rabbit.”
The women mainly practice at Smoky Mountain Sk8teway, which is owned by team captain JoLynn Bryant or, as she is known to her team, Femme Reaper.
Bryant is a web designer who bought the Smoky Mountain Sk8teway a year ago with her husband. Bryant said she has wanted to own a roller rink for six years and jumped at the chance to buy the Smoky Mountain Sk8teway.
Soon after, she started formulating plans for a roller derby team.
“I just don’t think there is enough sports for women in Haywood County,” Bryant said.
The Balsam Mountain Roller Girls began practicing in September and currently has 18 members ranging in age from 22 to 48.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Bryant said.
A number of the women who are members of the Balsam Mountain Roller Girls joined because roller skating was an enjoyable staple of their childhood.
“It’s like riding a bike; you just have to get back out there,” said Bryant, who advertised the new group in several area newspapers and on Facebook. About 15 women heeded her call and attended the first practice in September.
“It just really struck a cord with me,” said Matthews, who lived near a skating rink as a child. “Forming something from nothing is pretty exciting.”
Gonsalez started skating when she was 4 years old. She said she couldn’t ride a bicycle but she could skate, and the roller derby team gave her a reason to start again.
Lau skated when she was younger but quit for about 10 years when her work and home life became more demanding. Lau and her daughter, Heather, have been a part of the team since it was established.
“It’s a good stress reliever,” Lau said.
Several of the women traveled to Asheville this past weekend to watch their first bout, or game. As they saw first-hand, the game allows women to set aside their daily lives and do something totally different.
It was “kind of violent,” Matthews said. Plus, it’s exciting and great exercise, she said.
The Balsam Mountain Roller Girls has only had about 10 practices, but the possibility of competing in their own bouts make the women’s eyes light up.
Bryant said she never really enjoyed watching sports. During the bout in Asheville, however, she screamed like crazy.
“We’ve got some learning to do, but we’ve come a long way,” Lau said.
The women will continue to practice three times a week for now and then want to start scrimmaging other teams this summer.
“I don’t think we are anywhere near” ready to compete, but the team is improving with every practice, Gonsalez said.
Although their first bout is a while away, the Balsam Mountain Roller Girls plan to spread the word about their group by roller-skating in the area holiday parades and continuing to advertise their need for coaches, referees, sponsors, announcers and fans.
Any woman interested can join the team. Dues are $40 a month and members need to acquire skates, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, a helmet and mouth piece within the first month of joining.
The woman are not required to wear anything specific, beyond the mandatory safety gear but don mostly red and black, the team’s colors. They wear a mix of clothing items, including leggings, spandex, basketball shorts and stripped socks.
Roller Derby is about endurance and, most importantly, strategy.
“It’s like playing chess, and you’re the chess piece,” Bryant said.
Players are split up into three categories:
• The Jammer: Each team has a jammer, who wears a helmet cover with two large stars on either side of their head. Jammers start 30 feet behind the other players on a track. During the jam, or period of play, jammers score points by skating past members of the opposing team.
• Blockers: These players — three from each team — travel in a pack and try to prevent the Jammers from passing them on the track.
• Pivots: Pivots, wearing striped helmet covers, performs the same duties as the blockers but also have the ability to become the jammer in a move called “Pass the Star.” Jammers can pass their starred helmet covers to a pivot during a bout. The pivot then becomes the jammer, and the jammer becomes a blocker. Each team has one pivot.
A bout, or game, is 60 minutes long. The bout is split into two 30-minute periods, which are further divided into jams. Jams can last up to two minutes.
When a jam starts, the jammers try to pass the pack, made up of blockers and pivots. During the jammer’s initial pass, they do not score any points. Jammers can begin racking up points on subsequent passes and receive one point for each opposing blocker or pivot they pass, which means they can score as many as four points with each lap around the track.
To prevent the jammers from scoring, blockers and pivots may knock an opponent down or out-of-bounds, or simply move in a way that impedes the opposition’s speed and movements.
Blockers can use their torso, hips, butt, thighs or upper arms to knock an opponent out of play. But, they can only make contact with the other player’s arms, hands, chest, hips or thighs. For those who have seen the movie “Whip It,” elbows, heads, forearms and calves cannot be used or hit. Still, people have been known to break bones or chip teeth.
“It’s not violent, like we are going to kill each other,” Lau said. “It’s just like any other sport; it’s got rules and regulations.”
A full, detailed list of rules and regulations is available on the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association website.
The Balsam Mountain Roller Girls are currently looking for coaches, referees, scorekeepers, volunteers, sponsors, cheerleaders, photographers, announcers and of course, team members. Those interested can call 246.9124.
WHAT: Balsam Mountain Roller Girls
WHEN: Sundays and Tuesdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Smoky Mountain Sk8teway; Thursdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the WCU Ramsey Building
COST: $40 a month, plus price of equipment
WHAT: Smoky Mountain Roller Girls
WHEN: Sundays at 6 p.m. at the Swain County Recreation Center; Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. at the Stecoah Valley Center Gym; Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. at the Swain County Recreation Center