Local Roller Derby Expands with Increased Popularity
By Jacquie Simone
During the day, 37-year-old Sue Dozoretz listens to ambient music as she gently massages customers at the Finger Lakes School of Massage. But at night, she transforms into “CamArrow” and spends her time slamming into opponents as she skates around the rink, egged on by the cheering crowds and the thuds of flesh on the floor.
Dozoretz is a co-captain of the SufferJets, Ithaca’s all-female roller derby team. They finished their home season Oct. 10 with a 140-101 win against the Derby Debutantes from Greater Toronto. From May through October, the SufferJets won four of their home games and lost only one.
“[Roller derby] must have had some sort of pull,” Dozoretz says. “I think it was the physical nature of the sport and also the theatrical nature of it—the personal, creative expression that every skater is allowed to have.”
Roller derby has been played sporadically since the 1950s, but the most recent incarnation of the sport has a distinct punk aesthetic. Skaters choose humorous aliases and are encouraged to personalize their helmets. Roller derby has recently garnered mainstream attention, particularly from the Drew Barrymore film Whip It, which opened earlier this month.
At the start of each bout, or match, five players from each team skate onto the circuit track. The defense for each team is composed of three blockers and one pivot, who wears a striped helmet cover. The offense is one jammer per team, who wears a starred helmet cover. Once the referee blows a whistle, the defensive pack starts skating, with the pivots setting the pace. With a second whistle, the jammers start skating. The jammers score points each time they legally pass an opposing blocker or pivot in the pack. Opponents push skaters to prevent each other from passing. Teams have 2-minute “jams” during which they can score points. Bouts consist of 30-minute halves.
“There’s a lot of strategy,” Dozoretz says. “It’s not just rock’em, sock’em. It’s a great sport.”
Dozoretz joined the SufferJets in May 2008 after she read an article about the team in the newspaper. She used to roller skate and says she was interested in the physical and strategic aspects of the sport. After a tryout to make sure she had a basic skill level, she spent a few months practicing before her first bout in August 2008.
“I sat in the locker room and I almost walked out,” Dozortez says, remembering her first bout. “I almost took my skates off and ran out the door. I thought I was going to puke.”
Now, as a co-captain, she often leads the SufferJets’ practices. Her coworkers and 9-year-old son, Max, often come to bouts to cheer her on with the rest of the large fan base.
The SufferJets was created in 2007 when a group of women began commuting to practice with a roller derby team in Auburn. They soon decided to recruit other Ithaca women and start their own team. The SufferJets have grown to around 20 women between the ages of 20 and almost 50. They practice about three times a week at Cass Park.
SufferJets founder Kitty Gifford, known as “Charmain Meow” in the rink, said most teams have a grassroots organization.
“Every single person here is putting in their effort to make this happen,” Gifford says. “It’s a different sort of organization than if you just went out and played ball. We have to build the whole structure of it.”
As the SufferJets’ name suggests, roller derby has a strong feminist component because it is a very physical sport dominated by women.
“I think it’s hugely important for women to have an outlet and that kind of experience in their lives,” Dozoretz says. “It’s empowering.”
The team also maintains a commitment to local charities. They donate a portion of their ticket sales to non-profits in Ithaca. Gifford said this civic initiative has increased awareness of the team and helped the local community. Proceeds from the Oct. 10 bout were given to Ithaca’s Big Brothers Big Sisters.
With the end of the home season, the SufferJets moved their practices to Beverly J. Martin Elementary School since the Cass Park rink will soon be covered in ice. Due to increased interest in the sport, they plan to create a new Ithaca team: the Bluestockings. Their fans said they are already looking forward to next year’s season.
“It’s fun to see women in a sport,” fan Melanie Prinzing said. “We love to see the girls doing something tough but also really cool.”
With the formation of a new Ithaca roller derby team and recent mainstream attention, roller derby might transition from a cult following to a more conventional sport. Whatever happens, the ladies of the SufferJets have proven that they can get right back up and skate on.
Tamara Thomas, who goes by “Mama Dusa” on the rink, tossed back her long dreadlocks and summarized why she likes roller derby.
“I like the camaraderie,” Thomas said. “I like getting to know different women from different places, women I wouldn’t normally know on a day-to-day basis, and hitting them.”
Jacquie Simone (aka AphroMIGHTY on the rink) is a junior journalism and politics major. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.