Providence Roller Derby part of sport’s national revival

Friday, December 8, 2006

It’s a Friday night in Providence, and techno music plays in the background as scantily clad girls are getting smashed. Nearby, a man dances in a blue spandex bunny costume. No, it isn’t Sex Power God, it’s Providence Roller Derby, and “it’s the most fun you can have standing up,” according to Sarah Kingan ’02, the league’s founder.

“Doom,” as Kingan is known on the derby track, is a long-time roller derby player and one of many women nationwide playing the fast-paced contact sport, in which teams skate in formations around a track. Roller derby has recently enjoyed a renaissance of sorts across the country, as leagues that sprung up primarily in the South in recent years are being replicated elsewhere.

Doom became hooked on roller derby when she was exposed to the sport while living in Tucson, Ariz. She eventually became so enthusiastic about the game that she decided to start her own league in the Northeast.

“Providence is such a vibrant city and is really supportive of the arts,” she said. “I thought it would be an easy town to start a league.”

Doom’s project took off in 2004 when she rounded up a handful of other women and founded PRD, New England’s first flat-track roller derby league. PRD has grown immensely since then and now fields a nationally competitive “all-star” team in addition to the three teams that compete locally during the season. Doom, however, had to leave the league to begin pursuing her doctorate in evolutionary biology at Harvard University.

PRD lost another Brown skater last season when Lauren Hinkson ’06 – a star blocker known as “Tankerbelle” – graduated and left for New York City.

“(Tankerbelle) was a newbie who picked it up and could do it instantly,” said Corianne Webber – or “Anna Wrecks’Ya.” – who serves as spokeswoman for the league.

Last Friday, PRD held its final game of the season – the championship bout between “The Sakonnet River Roller Rats” and “The Old Money Honeys.” The bout featured Doom and several other roller derby veterans from Boston who made cameo appearances to fill in for injured players. Doom managed to earn multiple points for her team by lapping the Rats in quick succession. The star skater led the Honeys to a 136-114 victory over the Rats, posting a team-high 47 points.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Doom said after her impressive performance. By the end of the match, she had invented a new move with fellow Honey “Jolly Rocket,” in which Rocket stuck out her leg and Doom grabbed on before being launched forward. The move garnered ecstatic cheers from the hundreds of fans in attendance.

“We call it the ‘Rocket Whip of Doom,'” Doom announced to the crowd after the stunning display.

Though innovative, roller derby can also be physically grueling. Doom took some nasty spills Friday, including one that saw her skid into the crowd on her knees. Other players also suffered, as several hit the concrete track face-first, ripping their clothing in the process. Despite the potential dangers, Doom said she strongly believes women need a full-contact sport of their own.

“Lacrosse was changed for women so it isn’t full-contact, hockey was changed for women so it isn’t full-contact, and there’s no reason for that,” Doom said. “(Roller derby) is a very empowering sport.”

Doom continued: “If I could get paid to do this, I’d quit everything,” she said, “I’m in great shape, and I’ve got all these great women. It really is a life-consuming sport.”

All league participants skate for free and even pay dues to be part of PRD. According to the league’s Web site, “skaters are rewarded with cheers from fans, the glory of being a badass, and the happiness of new friends.” The league does accept donations from fans.

Looking to the future, Doom said she has high hopes for roller derby. “The overall goal for all of the leagues is to compete on a national level,” she said. “But most of all, we want to be respected as athletes.”

Though respect may be hard to come by for girls named “Maura Buse” or “Kitty Twister,” Doom said roller derby has increasingly received support from a range of people – and not just from dancing men in bunny costumes.

“The Mayor of Providence came to our first bout,” she said, referring to David Cicilline ’83.

Though there are no Brown women currently skating in the league, both Doom and Anna Wrecks’Ya said “fresh meat” is always welcome. Given Brunonian players’ history of success, both women agreed that PRD needs a stronger Brown presence.

“We’re always looking for new skaters,” said Anna Wrecks’Ya. “As long as they have health insurance,” Doom added.