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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on February 6th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 48 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 48

Sisterhood of the derby girls

Cal Skate Roller Derby straps on the skates for another season in Santa Maria

BY KRISTINA SEWELL

I’m standing at the Santa Maria Fairpark at one of the covered outdoor buildings. The cold has rendered my hands useless, but the biting weather doesn’t seem to bother the object of my attention: the Cal Skate Derby girls.


WHEEL CHALLENGE:
Cal Skate Roller Derby boasts 20 players who take on teams from here to Fresno and Modesto.
PHOTOS BY STEVE MILLER

Let me start by saying that watching roller derby is more like watching a cross between football and skating. Around and around they go, these gladiators of the rink. Lethal on eight wheels, these girls maneuver with a speed, aggression, and grace that make roller derby a thrilling sport to watch.

And the best part? They’re chicks. How badass is that?

According to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the roller derby dates back to the 1920s roller skate races. Eventually it evolved to become a more physical competition, and its popularity began to spread like wildfire.

Roller derby spread to Santa Maria three years ago with the establishment of the Flat Track Roller Derby League. Sharon D. Pain (real name Sharon Ybarra) was playing with another roller derby team before she and nine other ladies left due to differences of opinion—thus the Cal Skate Roller Derby team was born.

Ybarra, a school teacher by day and derby girl by night, said the team now carries 20 players who range in age from early 20s to mid-40s. The team plays from March to December with four home bouts and five away bouts lined up for the season so far.

After a short break, the ladies of the derby were excited to get back out on the rink for action. Ybarra said the team practices twice a week from 6 to 8 p.m. in the outdoor rink at the Fairpark.

“We work on endurance, drills, game situations, and agilities,” she said.


Ybarra, who’s been playing for four years, explained how a roller derby “bout” works. Played with two teams of five skaters each, there’s one position reserved for a jammer (the person working to score points) and four reserved for blockers who create a path for the jammer. Points are scored when the jammer passes all the members of the opposing team.

“Jammers have to be agile and see holes like a football player,” Ybarra said.

They also have to have endurance, because they’re constantly getting up and down.

Trixie TearHer (real name Brandy Gaver) is now in her second season of roller derby; she said derby is a game where you have to be aware of your surroundings at all times.

“You should always be doing something,” she explained. “It’s high energy—you’re playing offense and defense the entire time.”

The game is split into two 30-minute halves of constant cardio and skating; a tight game is usually 100 points. While the players agree that the older derby was focused on big hits and showmanship, today’s roller derby has shifted focus.

“We’re very organized and have a strategy,” Gaver said. “We focus on the athleticism.”

While the average spectator would be inclined to think roller derby is an angry free-for-all, the Cal Skate Derby team said there are rules to follow. Gaver said you’re not allowed to take swings or throw elbows; “hits” are more like aggressive shoulder-checks. Although roller derby has a reputation for being a high-risk sport, Gaver said she’s never been seriously injured despite taking some falls. As a further precaution, the players also wear elbow and knee pads, helmets, and mouth guards.

“Your body gets used to the beatings,” Ybarra said with a laugh.

The Cal Skate Derby team is filled with players from all walks of life: cops, mothers, teachers, bankers, hair stylists, managers, and a radio talk show host. Each of these girls came to roller derby for a different reason and ended up staying out of a love for the game.

For Ybarra, the constant cardio and chance to release some aggression is what appeals to her.

“I’m addicted to it,” she said. “It definitely helps me get my stress and anger out.”

Gaver, who skated and played softball when she was younger, said derby has helped her become more outspoken as a person, and she thrives on the adrenaline rush from a bout.

“I just put myself in a zone,” she said. “Whether it’s been a long day or a short day, it doesn’t matter, because it’s derby day.”

Like any other team, the Cal Skate Roller Derby ladies are united together by passion for their sport and a desire to succeed.

“You have to be tough and determined to push yourself,” Ybarra said.

“You get to better yourself so you can do things you couldn’t do before,” Gaver added.

The beauty of roller derby is that anyone—with a lot of experience or no experience—can learn
to play.

CJ Silas, Cal Skate Derby player and ESPN talk show host, said that being allowed to compete in a derby bout is a process.

“We teach everything—how to be aggressive and take falls,” she said. “It takes at least three to six months to learn the game.”

Silas added that knowing how to take falls is important, and the danger of roller derby comes from perils around the players and the occasional pile up.

Players aren’t allowed to compete until the coach approves them. But the hardest part of the process is picking out your name—which is the final step in becoming a Cal Skate Derby player.

“Picking your name is harder than learning the game,” Silas said. “It’s who you become when you put your skates on.”

Silas, known better as DodgeHer Blue, began her adventure into roller derby seven years ago.

“I went to a recruiting party and knew I was hooked,” she said.

The lively radio host and athlete said playing on a derby team is fun because there isn’t a lot of activity for women to do after college sports.

“We all get to get away from our lives and play a sport,” she explained.

Standing in the cold, watching her teammates practice, Silas shared the most awesome part about roller derby: the sisterhood. Silas said many of the girls have endured various hardships, but the derby team has been the thing they can count on to get them through.

“We’re always there for each other—there’s a camaraderie,” Silas said. “Its the safest place I’ve ever been.”

Gaver echoed Silas’ thoughts: “It’s a sisterhood; we get to do what we love together every night.”

Ybarra said the team will kick off its first home game on March 23. Because there are limited teams in the area, Cal Skate Derby travels to Paso Robles, Fresno, Tulare, Merced, and Modesto for bouts.

Silas added that the bouts are a blast to attend—fast paced with an announcer and music. DodgeHer Blue said the match ups are family friendly and fun. Gaver added that the crowd is a major part of bouts; the team loves to engage the audience and get them pumped up.

From cops to moms, the Cal Skate Roller Derby ladies come in all shapes and sizes. Whizzing by on their skates, these girls are just as committed to their sport as any other athlete. But most importantly, derby girls know how to take tough to the next level.

“You have to have respect, good sportsmanship and commitment,” Silas said. “All you need to do to play is want it.”

Staff Writer Kristina Sewell would be Angela Slamsbury. Contact her at ksewell@santamaria
sun.com.