Most people have a desire to belong to something or participate in an activity aside from their daily jobs and roles at home. A group of FL panhandle women have chosen something more intense than a mainstream hobby. Members of the Panama City Sugar Sands Roller Dolls (SSRD) derby team are engineers, CEO’s, active duty military, stay-at-home moms, and resort directors, just to name a few. When they skate in bouts, they’re transformed into players named Orville WreckNBlocker, Wyatt Riot, Sharon Sabotage, Slammy Winchester, Impassable Girl and Eve of DisTraction, among others.
Derby dates back to the Great Depression in the 1930’s when Leo Seltzer, a film publicist, saw an opportunity to hire the unemployed in cash prize contests for the public to attend. By the 1940’s, millions of spectators across the country were watching roller derby, but it was primarily a form of exaggerated theatrics and planned big hits. In the 1970’s, it transitioned towards true athleticism versus entertainment, but still had an element of show business with skaters donning scantily clad clothing, including fish net stockings. Over the last ten years derby has experienced a resurgence and increased popularity with more athletic uniforms, but also with a concentration on strategy instead of staging.
Chemical Engineer, age 30, Toni Shields (aka Orville WreckNBlocker) is the SSRD Head Coach and was first introduced to derby in college. “I went to a bout my senior year and after graduation I moved to NY and looked up a team, went to a practice, and fell in love with the sport and have been playing since,” said Shields.
As with any contact sport, it’s not without physical sacrifices. Kelly Wyatt (aka Wyatt Riot), age 32, has a long list of injuries like concussions, a torn rotator cuff, hurt knees, bumps, bruises and time spent in the hospital. After 10 years of skating, Wyatt retired from the sport; playing her last bout in October. “In the future I may do some coaching or training. It’s been such a huge part of my life and I’ve made many life long friends because of it. It’s just taken a toll on my body and I need a break.”
Derby still has an element of pizazz with music, grand player introductions and play-by-play commentary. Veteran emcee, William “Showtime” Blanton, is a 911 dispatcher in Tallahassee by day, but travels throughout FL announcing bouts during his off time. Blanton shares, “What’s great about the sport is the sense of belonging and watching skaters evolve over the years.”
SSRD Owner and Licensed Massage Therapist, My Massage Clinic, Lee Thompson, became involved with derby in 2008. “I enjoy watching new skaters progress from barely being able to stand on skates to playing in their first bout.” He also expressed the desire for more community support and the need to have a place to call home for weekly practices and bouts.
The team has been displaced and has resorted to practicing in parking lots. Recently, Skater’s Choice agreed to allow SSRD to use their facility after hours. Team members tape off their own track and fans bring folding chairs to watch. If one sits in the curves, be cautioned that this area is referred to as Suicide Seating for attendees 18 and over and where most of the action occurs. It’s not for the faint of heart.
For anyone wanting to get involved, just know that experience isn’t a prerequisite. “I played multiple sports growing up, but hadn’t been on skates in 20 years when I was introduced to derby last year,” said Jennifer Dobos, 35, pet groomer. “I was concerned about getting hurt or being intimidated, but everyone welcomed and encouraged me. The people I’ve met through derby have been amazing.”
For more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*PHOTO CREDIT: Doug Dobos Photography