Roseville’s derby darlings are on a roll
They’re fast, furious and some have names that sound like comic book supervillains: Ellen DeGenerate, Sam Manilla, Dee Sasster.
They’re the Darlings of Destruction, a Metro Detroit junior roller derby league for girls ages 7-17, with three teams that have regular practices and full-contact bouts.
The Roseville-based league has a lot going on. One of its travel teams, the Supernovas, is currently ranked second in the world. Next month, it will host an open house where potential Darlings can get a spot on a team. Its skaters also are gearing up for a regional championship in June in Fort Wayne, Indiana. And this summer, the league will mark its sixth anniversary.
“In a couple of weeks, we’re co-hosting a tournament in Mackinac City, and seven other teams from the region will be there,” said Jeff Good, who founded the league along with his wife, Brenda Good. “It’s kind of a tune-up. May 1, they seed the regional tournaments, so everyone is trying to get some good games in.”
Jeff and Brenda are the league’s first couple and coach teams under the nom de guerres “Darryl B. Pain” and “Anna Phalaxis.”
One of the Goods’ proteges, 14-year-old Alyssa Basemore, of Detroit, said the skating — and the challenge — attracted her to the Supernovas.
Basemore, or “Lysi B. Jammin,” No. 25, said she was quiet and shy when she started playing, but the sport brought her out of her shell.
It’s also given her a second family, she said.
“All of the coaches and derby moms and dads are like family,” Basemore said. “My teammates are like my sisters.”
Roller derby was a television mainstay in the 1960s, but the contact sport was often scripted and rehearsed entertainment similar to professional wrestling. Today, it features fast-paced games, or bouts.
After slowing down in the ’70s, the sport has regained its momentum. There are more than 1,500 leagues in approximately 40 countries, according to USA Roller Sports, the national governing body of roller sports.
Andrew McCarty, a spokesman for the Junior Roller Derby Association, said because roller derby for adults has taken off, the sport’s popularity has spread to youngsters — many of whom have parents or relatives who played or have an interest in it.
Based in Coral Gables, Florida, the association is a nonprofit and amateur sports organization for skaters 17 and younger. The association’s 2016 championships will be held July 9-11 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Only top JRDA-ranked teams from around the world are invited.
“(Roller derby is) definitely a sport that’s on the incline,” McCarty said. “We’re signing up more and more teams every day.”
As of March 1, the Darlings of Destruction’s Supernovas is ranked second in the world behind the Fort Wayne Derby Brats in the JRDA’s all-female division.
Good said he sees more interest in the sport, too.
“Six years ago when we started, there were two junior roller derby teams in the state — and one of them was ours,” he said. “Now we have eight. There’s definitely been some growth.”
In the roller derby, bouts are played by two opposing teams of five. Each player wears roller skates, helmet, elbow pads, wrist guards and knee pads.
Played on a flat 90-foot oval track, games are divided into two 30-minute halves, and each half is broken into shifts, or jams.
A “pack” — four players from each team — gathers at a starting line. One designated player, or jammer, from each team takes a position behind the pack at a second starting line.
The jammers, usually wearing large stars on their helmets, are the team’s players who try to score by skating through the pack. Skaters in the pack try to block the jammers with their hips, rears and shoulders. That’s where the competition gets physical.
Once the jammers skate through the pack the first time during a half, they earn a point every subsequent time they legally pass a member of the opposing team.
The team with the most points at the end of the bout wins.
But it’s not as rough and tumble as it sounds. Skaters are penalized by officials for using elbows, tripping, back blocking — making contact with an opponent’s back, an illegal target zone — or going out of bounds. Players can also be expelled from a game for serious physical violence.
Still, players can and do get hurt.
“Obviously, there’s some concern about injuries, but there’s concern about injuries in all sports,” McCarty said. “We don’t sugarcoat it.”
He said more kids get injured in other sports like cheerleading and football than they do in roller derby.
“We take precautions,” he said. “All skaters must have helmets, a full set of pads, mouth guard, properly working skates.”
The Goods formed the Darlings of Destruction for their daughter, Sierra DeAngelis, then 15, who was dying to play, he said. Good said the whole thing was his wife’s idea.
At the time, Brenda was skating on a team, and her daughter was bitten by the bug watching her, Good said.
DeAngelis, 20, who went by the skater name “Gnarly Quinn,” graduated from the junior league team and joined the Detroit Derby Girls a couple of years ago. The Detroit Derby Girls is a league with five home teams, three travel teams and more than 120 skaters. Now in its 11th season, the league hosts its home games at the Masonic Temple in Detroit.
DeAngelis doesn’t skate with the Darlings of Destruction in bouts anymore, but the league continues to barrel down the track.
It holds practices at The Great Skate in Roseville. The rink is also where the league will hold its open house at 7 p.m. on April 27. Girls interested in playing can sign up for training to get one of the Darlings’ home teams, Good said.
Good added the sport is inclusive; players come from all walks of life and their personalities run the entire spectrum.
“But they don’t see any differences when they’re on the track,” Good said. “They find themselves in this sport.”