M. Pyre Wrecker, right, cuts off CC Slyder during the championship bout Sept. 9 at Astro Skate in Pinellas Park.
PINELLAS PARK - Donning colorful and creative costumes, the women of the Deadly Rival Roller Derby created a fun, vibrant display as they whizzed around the rink at Astro Skate and Family Fun Center.
Players blurred into a stunning splash of color at the fledgling league’s Oct. 7 exhibition bout, “Cirque De Slaughter.” This was the last bout of the season, mixing together the regular season’s teams – the Hot Rod Hotties and Cat’O Strophix, which skated in the championship bout weeks earlier – into two informal teams for a fun-filled match-up. A last hurrah for the 2012 season.
But just because the last bout of the season has come and gone, don’t think these women are hanging up their skates to take a break. There is no true “off-season” for Deadly Rival.
Mere days after the exhibition bout, they were back in the rink. Next year, the league will create an all-star travel team to compete with other teams around Florida – Daytona, Lakeland, Tampa – said Michelle Bocchino, a member of the skater representative panel and whose skating nom de plume is M. Pyre Wrecker. This means they need to be at the top of their game when they represent Pinellas County around the state. This means there’s no room for time off.
Players have ample opportunity to work on their conditioning even after the regular season is over. They have three practices to choose from each week – the recent addition of a Monday night practice at the Tarpon Springs Astro Skate location, in addition to the longstanding Tuesday and Thursday night practices at the Pinellas Park locale – as well as informal skating sessions on weekends.
This Tarpon Springs practice is the first step toward creating a northern Pinellas team, said Bocchino. Currently, about 50 women compose the two teams.
“We’re really hoping to expand within a year or two. … Plus, skaters come and go all the time, so we always need to replenish the pool,” she said.
Now is a critical time to recruit new players – affectionately called “fresh meat” – and whip them into shape. There are about 10 rookie skaters in the pool, and more join up all the time.
Toni Gruchacz, who’s known as Ann-Nile-Hate-Her on the rink, is one of these newbies, and, at 48, one of the oldest skaters in the league.
“I didn’t know what I was expecting when I first joined,” she said, “but it’s a lot of fun and great exercise. A lot of the girls are younger than I am, but it’s a family here.”
Having not skated since she was a child, she acknowledges that it’s been tough getting up to speed.
“But I’m not a quitter. I had my doubts I’d be able to do it, but I’ve come a long way. I’m doing something I never thought I’d do. And it feels great,” she said.
Deadly Rival Roller Derby is just one of scores of leagues that popped up around the country over the past decade in a revival of the sport originally popularized in the 1970s.
“I always loved roller skating, and I used to watch the roller girls on TV,” Bocchino said. “There’s a picture of me as a kid in the ’80s dressed as a roller girl for Halloween. It always seemed like so much fun, so exciting.”
Bocchino also notes that there’s a common misconception about the type of person drawn to the sport, many assuming it’s just for the pierced, tattooed alternative set. But that’s just a stereotype, she said.
“We have moms, grandmothers, nurses, teachers, tattoo artists. We come in all ages – from 18 to 80 – all shapes and all sizes,” she said.
And if you question the diversity of the league, just look to Diane Makin, aka Coach Carb-Orator.
“I’m a Mormon, stay-at-home, soccer mom,” she laughed. “I home school my daughter. It has less to do with occupation or social groups and more to do with aggression and attitude.”
Deadly Rival formed as an offshoot of the Tampa Bay Derby Darlins. A handful of women from Pinellas carpooled to the practices and bouts in east Tampa, but about two years ago, grew tired of the commute over the bridge. It was obvious they would need to form their own Pinellas-based league.
Makin was among these women. Having coached Tampa Bay’s new skaters for several years, she was enlisted with the job of training all the new players joining Deadly Rival.
“It was a real challenge training an entire league from scratch,” she said.
From such humble beginnings, the league continues to grow, carving out a niche for itself in the community. It has even added a youth league, the Attack Pack! Junior Roller Derby, a co-ed team for skaters ages 5 to 17.
They also routinely host events that raise funds not just for themselves, but also for the benefit of charitable community organizations. Their next event, a concert featuring the Jenna Stone Band, will be held this Saturday, Nov. 3, at the Porpoise Pub in Seminole. The girls will be collecting items for Metropolitan Ministries. A Dec. 1 show at Fubar in St. Petersburg benefits local animal rescue groups.