January 10, 2008

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Are you jammer material?
Roller derby group seeks to build Manchester team
By Alec O’Meara aomeara@hippopress.com

Roller derby, the traditionally all-female contact sport played on roller skates, is making a comeback, and a pair of local entrepreneurs are hoping to spearhead the sport’s return to the Granite State with the Manch Vegas Rollergirls.

Having formally launched the “Manch Vegas Rollergirl” brand earlier this year, partners Victoria Gailinas and Donna Chagnon are now recruiting team members and securing sponsors for what they hope will be a family-friendly sport for women and men.

For Gailinas, the venture is a natural extension of her own business, Flyin Phil’s Place, a roller skating and in-line skating store. There won’t be any in-line skates laced up for roller derby, however, as the sport is a strictly retro affair.

“It will be all quad skating,” Gailinas said. “They are nostalgic, and besides, they are cool-looking.”

Ideally, the Manchester league will be composed of four women’s teams plus a men’s team. The teams will work on a farm system schematic, meaning anyone will be allowed to learn the ropes and play on the lower-level teams, while the third- and fourth-tier teams will play in competitive bouts against other teams. The partners were involved in the launching of Skate Free or Die, a Nashua-based Roller Derby squad, and are also hoping to get a team going in the northern part of the state or possibly in neighboring Maine.

The next recruitment session will be held on Friday, Jan. 11, at 6:30 p.m. at the Black Brimmer, 1087 Elm St. in Manchester. “This is one of the coolest sports ever to hit New Hampshire,” Chagnon said.

Roller derby is played on a circular track. A team scores points by having its point-person, or jammer, out-skate the other team. For every rival team member the jammer passes, a point is scored. The rest of the team works together to try and protect the jammer, block opponents, and check the other team. The result is a fast-paced contact sport.

Like any physical sport, it has explicit rules and referees out there to make sure that the contests don’t devolve into brawls on wheels.

“It’s contract, but it’s not kill or be killed out there,” said Chagnon.

Roller derby participants often create edgy monikers for themselves. There’s actually a roller-derby registry online to make sure that a particular name is not taken. Gailinas calls herself “Wicked Evil Step Mom,” while Chagnon is “Justice Crone.”

Once the league is formed, the partners expect that the women involved will get hands-on experience in the management of the league, learning what it takes to manage one’s own business.

“We want to do something that empowers the women of New Hampshire,” Chagnon said.

The idea of a different kind of workout, combined with a lifelong love of skating, is what attracted Jana Hartley to the Manch-Vegas Roller Girls. Hartley was one of the first to sign up for the league, adding that the fact that there is no pay for the competing women was not a detraction for her.

“I pay to play in a soccer league, and I pay for a gym membership, so this wasn’t any different for me,” Hartley said.

The women’s league will be the core of the program, but the partners have also registered a men’s league, the Manchester Men in Black, as well, and are hoping to find players for that team as well. The men’s team is one of only seven nationwide. Depending on success, Gailinas and Chagnon are also talking about a pee-wee roller derby league for children under the age of 18.