County women star in season opener of roller derby league
From shtick to slick, roller derby is gaining ground as a legitimate contact sport for women.
Moira (Joy Ramone) Peters (left), of the Dead Ringers, and Hannah (Banana) Freeman, of the Las Banditas Locas, and both of Inverness County, were their team's MVPs at the season-opener of the Halifax Roller Derby Association.
It’s no surprise, then, that two Inverness County women are at the forefront of the sport.
Moira Peters, of North East Margaree, and Hannah Freeman, of Inverness, both of whom are living in Halifax, faced each other in the season-opener of the Halifax Roller Derby Association on Saturday at the Shannon Park Arena in Dartmouth.
You can be forgiven if the first thing you think of is the roller derby of the late 1970s and ‘80s, in which bouts were held on banked ovals, where women (like Skinny Minny Miller) fought regularly, and the matches were ‘fixed’ in the same manner as professional wrestling.
Today’s roller derby is a full-contact sport that is taken very seriously by the women who play it. And while it allows the players to take alter-ego nicknames and to have uniforms that border on costumes, it is played in earnest and often results in players suffering broken bones and sprains.
For veteran “jammer” Moira (Joy Ramone) Peters, all of that was part of the attraction.
“Roller derby is incredibly liberating (and) important for a lot of reasons,” said Peters, who is 34 and in her third season with the Dead Ringers.
She said it brings women of all ages, backgrounds and body types together and involves them in all aspects of teamwork, from practises to games, and to rotating the captain’s “C” on a regular basis.
“It’s a women’s sport, designed and made for women. I’ve never been involved in an activity like this. It’s a sport, and everyone knows it and they have to physically commit to it. Everything is appreciated equally: the players, the refs, the coaches; all are treated with respect,” said Peters.
“Also, there are not a lot of opportunities socially for women to be physically aggressive. I never understood why it was just guys who could play contact sports. In roller derby, we have this thing; we love hitting each other, like being intimate in a very different way.”
Peters said the theatrical element allows a certain freedom for its players to take on a persona that puts them in a different world with different values.
“It’s not Moira skating around the track; it’s not Moira hitting other women; it’s Joy Ramone.”
When she first joined (beginners are called “fresh meat”) someone suggested she call herself Skinny Minny Moira, but it didn’t sit well with her. “My middle name is Joan, and at home they’ll call me Moira Joan, and since I like the (band) The Ramones, I came up with Joy Ramone.”
For Hannah Freeman, her alter-ego name “Banana” has sort of followed her around since she was a kid growing up in Inverness.
At 22, Freeman said roller derby first piqued her interest when she saw the movie Whip It, starring Halifax actor Ellen Page.
“The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try it. I wanted a workout and I need to play a sport. I played soccer last year but it wasn’t any fun, so I gave this a try,” Freeman said.
Like Peters, Freeman is also a jammer, the player who scores points in a game (called a “bout”) that is divided into two 30-minute halves that are made up of a series of two-minute “jams.”
Each team puts five players on the track at a time, consisting of four “blockers” and a jammer. The blockers from both teams skate as a pack while the jammers score points by passing the opposing team’s blockers.
Blockers use positioning, legal body contact, and strategy to stop the opposing jammer from passing, while simultaneously helping their own jammer pass the other team’s players.
“It’s exciting,” said Freeman, who had never roller skated before. “I first had to take this six-month fresh meat program and at the end you have to take a minimum skills test. But if you played hockey, or you’re athletic at all, you can do this.”
In Saturday’s season opener, which the veteran Ringers skated to a 350-129 victory, both Freeman and Peters were selected as their respective teams’ MVPs.
“That was just my second bout ever and I feel that I’m pretty good at it. There are three jammers on my team, and we each get about ten shifts.”
Aware of the dangers of the contact sport, Freeman said the physical contact is refreshing despite nursing a bruised knee on Monday.
“I got sandwiched pretty good on one jam, and you fall a lot. Fractures are common but I think the sport is fun. There’s a little extra something to it, and I hope it becomes more recognized as a legitimate sport.”
Freeman plays for a team comprised of younger women, Las Bandidas Locas, which also acts as a farm team for the Dead Ringers. They both play in a league that includes seven New Brunswick teams and one from P.E.I. As well, two exhibition games against a Saskatchewan team are scheduled for Aug. 10th.
Peters, who also blocks for the Ringers, said she’s not sure how much longer she will be playing in Halifax, given her work commitments, but thought there might be a niche for roller derby in Inverness County.
“We have so many women who have played hockey and who are athletic. And our rinks are basically empty all summer, so who knows?”
Peters said if that ever happened, she would be tempted to play no matter how old she is.
“I feel like I haven’t aged since I was 16! But there are times when I definitely feel my age - my knees are shot and my shoulders are shot. But I find yoga really helps so I keep playing.”
For more information on roller derby (a Cape Breton association has started in Sydney), you can visit their website: halifaxrollerderby.ca or find them on Facebook.
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