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Tampa Roller Derby season getting underway

Fans of the Cigar City Mafia, Tampa Tantrums, Black Widows, Switchblade Sisters, Vicegrip Vixens, Sea Sirens and Tampa Bay Bruise Crew roller derby teams can once again indulge in their appreciation of the sport’s bump and roll action.

The season’s first bout was Feb. 28, with the Tampa Bay Bruise Crew beating West Palm Beach’s Dub City Derby Girls 140-138. Bruise Crew jammer LeAnn “Dakota Dynamite” Throlson passed three Dub City blockers in the final 22 seconds for the come-from-behind win. Bruise Crew coach Amanda “Lunch Lady” King attributed her team’s win to the skaters remaining focused and persistent in a match characterized by several lead changes.

“I think it was more about having control and being confident we would win this game,” she said. “Patience wins everything.”

The evening’s Tampa Bay Junior Derby (ages 8-17) bout ended with White Lightning defeating Black Magic 251-200.

This is the 10th season for flat-track roller derby competition in Tampa. The local genesis of the sport began with a four-team league operating as the Tampa Bay Derby Darlins in 2005. The league gained acceptance by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association in 2007 and was re-branded as Tampa Bay Roller Derby in 2012. Marketing director Sara “PhDiesel” Flory says the sport is becoming more popular.

“We’ve grown so much as a league,” she said. “There’s 60 active skaters and we’ve brought back our fourth home team, the Vicegrip Vixens.”

Besides the four teams competing in the local league, Tampa Roller Derby has a traveling all-star team called the Tampa Tantrums that plays against high-caliber teams throughout the country in tournaments, as well as player development and youth teams. A newly formed men’s league, Tampa Bay Men’s Roller Derby, is further evidence of the sport’s popularity.

Roller derby has been around since the 1930s, and its popularity with American sports fans has waxed and waned over the years. The main evolutionary difference is the change from originally being played on banked oval tracks to the current flat-track version. Two squads of five skaters each travel counterclockwise around the track with one skater from each team, designated as a jammer, trying to get by as many of the opposing team’s four blockers as possible, scoring a point for each one passed. Games are called bouts and are divided into two 30-minute halves with the clock, and action, running nearly continuously with limited timeouts allowed.

Speed and agility on skates are important player characteristics, and so is a sense of commitment. Victoria “Polk Pixie” Sample, 27, is a working mother with two children and a derby veteran of four seasons who travels from her home in Kissimmee to practice and play with the Black Widows.

“We are a family on and off the track,” she said. “Roller derby is not about beating people up. It’s about camaraderie and empowerment.”

Sample’s teammate, Tabitha “Yoma” Fuller, 18, first experienced roller derby as her youth sport activity of choice and is starting her first season of adult league competition.

“It’s definitely pushed me harder than other sports I’ve tried,” she said. Tampa Roller Derby can attract hundreds of fans of all ages for its bouts and the atmosphere is festive, including costumed characters like a skating flamingo and accompanying taco on wheels.

John Walch grew up watching roller derby on television during the height of the sport’s popularity in the 1970s.

“I wanted to see what it was like on a flat track,” he said. “This is a little tamer than what I remember but there’s some pretty good hits.”

Some fans warrant their own derby names. Like a lot of parents, Lee “Mama Lunch” Gutschmidt attends all of her child’s sporting events.

“It’s exciting and welcoming,” she said. Gutschmidt’s daughter is the aforementioned “Lunch Lady” and coach of the Tampa Bay Bruise Crew.

Skating for a cause is also a big part of Tampa Roller Derby’s activities. Proceeds from ticket sales and other promotional events are often shared with community organizations.

“We like to choose a charity to partner with,” said Flory. Some of the organizations that have benefited from the league’s fundraising efforts include The Springs Domestic Violence Center, Lowry Park Zoo, Habitat for Humanity and others.

Roller derby season runs into October, culminating in a league championship bout. Downtown Skate at 5313 E. Busch Blvd. in Temple Terrace is the venue for local bouts.

Flory says roller derby has a lot to offer fans and athletes alike.

“If they come to one game they’ll be thrilled and become lifelong fans,” she said.

Tampa Roller Derby’s website, www.tamparoller derby.com, is the place to purchase tickets ($10 online and $15 at the door) and to find information like bout dates as well as when tryout and recruiting events are occurring.

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