It’s not the roller derby of the ’70s, with the intentional fighting, hitting and elbowing.
But there are blockers and jammers, women do fall on their butts, and new players are called fresh meat.
And the sport has been growing, not just in the Wyoming Valley but throughout the United States. In fact, it’s been called the fastest-growing sport in the country. The International Olympic Committee is considering roller derby along with several other sports for inclusion in the 2020 Games.
Here in the Valley, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Roller Radicals include about two dozen women involved as players, bench coaches, referees or players in training, the so-called fresh meat.
“We been here since, I think, September 2009,” said Melissa Sorber, known on the track as “Loyalville Slugger.” “There’ve been other teams. This is the seventh or eighth year there’s been derby in the Valley.”
The season’s first home bout is set for June 2 at Skateaway on Blackman Street in Wilkes-Barre, but the team needs financial support before that. To that end, a fundraiser and kickoff for its home opener will take place Saturday night. The Roller Derby Party at New Visions Studio & Gallery in Scranton will start at 8 p.m. and include an art-and-jewelry auction, food and live music.
The Roller Radicals’ roster of 23 to 25 includes the 12 to 15 active players, plus the trainees and other support personnel. They range in age from the 19-year-old fresh meat to the active player who is in her mid-40s, said Sorber, who will turn 37 on Saturday.
Their backgrounds vary, as well. Sorber is an engineering associate for a local phone company, while among the others are a couple of customer-service representatives, a social worker, a hairstylist, a full-time student, an attorney, some in the medical field and multiple moms. Sara Pokorny of The Weekender also is a Roller Radical trainee.
“When I tell people what I do, they’re quite surprised,” Sorber said.
To the twice-weekly practices, some of the women travel from the Poconos, two come from Binghamton, N.Y., and the rest from this area.
The bouts take place once a month, unless there is a tournament, which involves multiple bouts. The Roller Radicals traveled to bouts in Charlottsville, Va., in March, Hartford, Conn., in April and Pottstown in May. They will compete in New Jersey on Memorial Day weekend.
“We play the team out of the Lehigh Valley,” Sorber said.
But there is a team in Williamsport the locals have not played.
There are three home bouts, all at Skateaway.
So how does a bout work? Is it just skaters moving in a circle crashing into one another?
Five skaters from each team are on the track at one time — four blockers and one jammer.
The goal is to get the jammer through, and once she gets through the pack one time, on the next pass she picks up 1 point for each opponent she passes, Sorber explained. A bout lasts for two 30-minute periods, broken down into “jams” of up to two minutes each.
Fresh meat, the new skaters, don’t automatically get into a bout. They must undergo training first.
“We have a step-by-step program on how to do falls correctly and how to play safely,” Sorber said.