Keep rollin’: Islander talks about the modern-day roller derby
“This isn’t your generation’s roller derby,” said Stephanie Hryzan, who is known as Smack Gyver on the flat track. “It’s not like that,” she added, referring to the televised matches in the 1970s. “That was a lot like [professional] wrestling – fake. It’s not like that at all.”
Hryzan explained that today’s roller derby prohibits elbowing, tripping and hitting. “That will get you kicked right out.” She said that it is still physical, but “it’s not all for show.”
In her second year in the league, Hryzan is a lifelong Jamestowner and a graduate of North Kingstown High School. She is currently a member of the Sakonnet River Roller Rats, one of three Providence Roller Derby League home teams.
After seeing the movie “Whip it” in 2009, Smack, as she is known to her teammates, read an advertisement for an upcoming bout in the Providence Roller Derby League that her friend picked up after the movie.
Acknowledging that the movie was not terribly accurate, Smack admitted that it was, nonetheless, interesting. So she visited the website later that night. A recruitment clinic in Narragansett beckoned her next and after that she began the training and assessments necessary to become a member of the league.
Hryzan explained the basic tenants of the game. Two teams of girls, about 15 players each, take to the track in lines, like hockey. At all times each team has five girls on the oval flat track. The matches are called bouts and consist of two 30-minute periods.
Eight girls called blockers – four from each team – line up at the pivot line while 30 feet behind them one jammer from each team stands at the ready. (Jammers are the only players who can score points during a bout.) After the first whistle blows, the blockers cross the pivot line, and when the last blocker has crossed, the referees blow a second whistle.
Smack Gyver explained that the referees are on the outside and inside of the track.
“The goal is to get your jammer through the pack without letting theirs through,” she said. “It’s offense and defense at the same time.”
The role of a blocker is to place her body in front of advancing skaters so that they cannot break free, thus giving the jammer an opportunity to advance as well. After a team’s jammer has moved through the pack one time she is then eligible to score. Once a jammer is on her “scoring pass,” she earns a point for her team every time she passes a blocker or jammer from the opposing team.
Hryzan said that blocking requires “good core and leg strength.” Moves include “booty blocking” and “hip checking.” A “pop-andblock” move uses the whole side of the body, but Hryzan reiterated that there is no touching, except players on your own team, and that fouls result in minor and major penalties. Majors are served as time in the penalty box, creating a significant disadvantage for the team who is down a player.
The PRDL is a nonprofit league of 50 active skaters, but the women do not receive a salary. Hryzan explained that the gate proceeds are used to rent practice space. Admission prices also go to the Providence Convention Center, where most of the home teams play, and to fund larger venues and travel costs for the traveling teams. Home crowds top 900 fans on average.
Traveling teams receive a $2,000 stipend from the host team to attend away bouts, and while the crowds have been both substantial and growing, Smack said that greater attendance and the support of more sponsors will allow for more bouts a year.
The Providence league, which was established in 2004, sponsors five teams in all, including the three home teams: the Mob Squad, Old Money Honeys and the Rats. The two traveling teams are the Rhode Island Riveter All Stars and the Killah Bees. The traveling teams are comprised of players from the three home teams.
For Smack, the number of bouts per year is unlikely to exceed three, but she added that on occasion a traveling non-professional team called the Providence Pigeons will travel out of state by invitation to play in a sort of scrimmage game. Hryzan traveled to Portland with the Pigeons several months ago, a bout that included all of the trimmings, including loud music, bright lights, a diverse crowd and lots of noise.
She described every bout as a “big production,” which is why fans attend and why costs are significant.
Also from Jamestown is Penny Candy Poison, aka Michaela Shea, a 1995 graduate of North Kingstown. Smack said that Penny, in her third year in the league, is an accomplished skater who is equally good at blocking and jamming. Shea is a member of the traveling Riveters team and the Mob Squad.
No shortage of clever monikers, others league names include league president Craisy Dukes, Rhoda Perdition and Ms. American Die.
Not an inexpensive sport, skates average around $400 a pair according to Hryzan, who added that they are handmade. While the skates may last, wheels are replaced annually and like football cleats there are various types appropriate for various surfaces.
A graduate of the University of Tampa, Hryzan may be best known, until now, for her altruistic efforts to return oversized lobsters to the waters off of Head’s Beach in Jamestown during the summer of 2006. She raised money from seafood customers in Point Judith to purchase the jumbo lobsters. A fan of clever names even then, Hryzan can be seen in the Aug. 24, 2010 issue of the Press holding “Pinchy,” a 20-pound lobster caught off the George’s Banks and given a new lease on life in the Narragansett Bay.
Hryzan said that the average “life” of a skater is about five years and she would like to skate for at least that long because in roller derby she has found “her place.” She is grateful for the camaraderie, athleticism and friendship that has resulted from joining the league.
She added that there are 500 roller derby leagues in the world and that this is the first year that the various leagues are supporting national teams.
Also a first this year, the travel season is separated from the home season. The travel season wraps up with a double header on Saturday, Aug. 13, against Montreal, and the home season begins on Sept. 3, when the Rats take on the Honeys at the convention center.