April 14, 2012
Royal Pains ready to roll
Cortland’s roller derby team opens up season tonight
As an impressionable child growing up in the 1960s, Kathy Perez became fascinated watching roller derby skaters do battle on the banked tracks in big city arenas via the wondrous world of black and white television.
This self-professed rink rat, whose father played organ at the roller skating facility in Sidney where she first tried on a pair of skates as a precocious 3-year-old, knew the opportunity to become one of her beloved TV heroes was slim while growing up in the small rural New York State town of Mt. Upton.
That did not prevent her from seeing herself in that role, however.
“You’d go to school and teachers would ask you what you wanted to be when you grow up, and I’d tell them I want to be a member of a roller derby team,” recalls Perez, who is now a 49-year-old grandmother of seven. “They’d make fun of me, and the other kids would make fun of me. So it was always kind of a dream. So even though it’s not a banked-track, it’s flat-track, I realized the dream of being one of the founding members of this team.”
The Royal Pains are the flat-track roller derby squad, the “this team” of which Perez speaks.
The Royal Pains are the Cortland-based outfit that has enabled Perez to fulfill those youthful ambitions and become part of a collection of eager and energetic women who will begin their second Crown City Rollerz season with a roller derby bout this evening in Watertown. The Black City Rollerz will provide tonight’s opposition.
The team will make their first Cortland appearance two Saturdays from now — on April 28 at 7 p.m. — at the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex ice arena where practices are held twice a week. Assault City out of Syracuse will be the squad facing The Royal Pains for that bout, the first of five home dates on the 2012 schedule that runs into the fall.
As well as competing and providing entertainment, this non-profit organization helps raise money for worthy causes such as Relay for Life that helps combat cancer, the Cortland Free Library, Loaves and Fishes and Toys for Tots. There are activities for children and adults alike at the home events, and even a beer garden for those of age wishing to imbibe.
The crowds are given a crash course on the sport, too, prior to the first whistle and a printed page of rules is inserted into the program. Jams featuring five members from each team (four blockers and a jammer who can score points by passing opposing skaters) last two minutes, and two 30-minute halves make up a bout.
“The bouts are a little bit like a circus,” says Jane Witty of Cortland, who is the president of The Royal Pains as well as a skater, of the shows put on at the McDonald Center. “It’s definitely about the game, but we get the community in here, too. There are halftime shows, and there’s the charity that we sponsor, so it’s a grass-roots, community-based organization. It is more of a mission actually, that is also out to empower women.”
A percentage of the gate goes to that evening’s charity, with the rest put towards running the next show. The Royal Pains depend upon sponsors, advertisers and individual team dues to raise money to make this all happen.
The skaters put plenty of effort into the sport, too.
“One our the catch phrases is that it’s the third shift,” said Royal Pains coach Kat Coldren of the six hours of practice, the Saturday speed skating sessions and the other conditioning it takes to be a productive performer. “Your regular job is your first shift, kids and home the second shift and this is the third shift.”
This sport also carries the tradition of giving everyone involved their own special nickname to be known by, ‘Hip Switch’ being the moniker Witty answers to while at the rink. Coldren is known as ’Kata Klysm’ while coaching skaters like ‘Court Knee Shove’ and ‘Ema Killa’ and ‘Iva Secret’ and ‘Meaniac’ and ‘Bombsicle’ and ‘Roller Troll’ and ‘Evil Lucian’ and ‘Commitment Issues’ and ‘Unruly Miss Julie.’ There is even a ‘Delicate Flower’ in this not so delicate endeavor that Coach Coldren accurately describes as “rugby on wheels.”
The physical nature of this sport may not be for everyone, but all are certainly welcomed to find that out for themselves.
There is an open roster policy, and skaters can develop as quickly or slowly as necessary. Some people come in to skate and wind up as volunteer helpers instead, and some people have come in to be a volunteer helper and ended up lacing up the skates and joining the show.
“We tell people on the average, even people who walk in who are athletes, that it takes six months at least to train” says Coldren. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association has three skill level tests that skaters must pass before they can participate in a bout.
“We’re always working with new people,” the coach added. “It’s inclusive and some skaters may get it and be ready in three months. For other it is maybe 13 months, but then they become awesome skaters and awesome contributors to the league. So we’re a little different than saying: ‘Ah, you’re not ready. Come back next year.’ We would have lost a lot of skaters that way.”
There are 16 team members who travel 25 miles or more to be a part of The Royal Pains, including Coach Coldren who hails from Ithaca, which is a nice compliment to how they run things.
A few of these skaters have never be involved in sports before joining.
“We’re bringing women into this new sport, have more women doing a sport when they weren’t attracted to more traditional sports before,” says Witty. “It’s more artistic. And maybe because you can do community out-reach there’s this other facet, so that it’s not just the sport itself they’re drawn to. So you have women, like myself, who would do something like yoga or something else like that not because you want to be thinner but because it would make you a better skater.”
Natural athletes are drawn to the sport, too — like Erin Carrino from Baldwinsville who just finished her junior season as a member of the SUNY Cortland field hockey team and is now a Royal Pains team captain.
“I came to the derby to check it out and fell in love with it, so there was no way I was giving it up,” says Carrino. “I find myself using some of the roller derby stuff in field hockey, because field hockey can be really physical, too, especially playing defense and staying tight to your opponent.”
Even Red Dragons coach Cynthia Wetmore is fine with Carrino’s outside activity, and hopes at attend the opener with some of Carrino’s teammates.
Debi Barber, also a Royals Pain team captain and another former field hockey player before graduating from Cortland High in 1993, also craves the physical nature of roller derby. This local police officer, a fitness instructor who runs Barber’s Boot Camp out of her home and is also a defensive tactics instructor at the New York State Police Academy, just noticed a roller derby poster and decided “I needed something else to do.”
She found it, and goes by the her nickname of ‘Criminal Miss Chief.’
“It‘s everything,” is how Barber responds to what she likes best about the sport. “Being able to skate in front of a bunch of people and have them have a place go go. There‘s not a lot to do in Cortland other than the bar scene, so it’s nice to offer something for the whole family. I think because it appeals to everyone, that’s what I like. We give back to the community, and that’s important to me.”
Just as it was important for Perez to finally become a roller derby skater. The Locke resident is a Spanish teacher at Southern Cayuga High School in Poplar Ridge, has been seen doing squats and lunges in her classroom, and encouraged students to select her roller derby name. She finally settled on her department chairman’s suggestion of being known as ‘Senora Going to Floor Ya.’
“I think I’m the oldest one around. It’s rough,” said Perez, who besides her grandchildren has a six-year-old at home and has a tough time convincing her life partner (who she married four years ago) that it’s all worth it. “There are a lot of aches and pains. You just keep at it. That’s part if it. I just love to skate, so that’s a part of it for me.... the passion of being on wheels.”
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