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Bumps and bruises just a small part of Revolution Derby League

PORT RICHEY

They arrive wearing spandex and team shirts with names meant to intimidate emblazoned on the back — "Michete," "Meowch," "Scarlet Scourge" and "Helga Hufflepunch" to name a few.

In bare feet they work through a series of walking lunges, jumping jacks, sprints and holding planks while their taskmaster and coach, Keri Santiago, 39, a.k.a. "Diamond Cutz," keeps tabs, whistle in hand.

Then it's time to suit up.

Some gingerly tape over blisters and missing toenails, taking time to compare lingering bruises before Santiago barks at them to get a move on. They pull on elbow and knee pads, slip on helmets and lace up their skates, known as quads, then pop in a mouth guard and roll onto the floor.

For members of the flat track Revolution Derby League, that's the prelude to a twice-weekly grueling workout meant to prepare them for an upcoming roller derby bout against the Sugar Sands Roller Dolls of Panama City.

Some evenings, they train under the fluorescent lights of the outdoor basketball court at the Tarpon Springs Boys and Girls Club. Other sessions, along with monthly tryouts, are at SpinNations Skating Center in Port Richey. There, the walls are covered in neon-colored carpet, the floor is pristine and there's a killer sound system.

Blasting the Police's Roxanne ought to make stopping and turning drills more fun, Santiago figures, even if her skaters collapse to the floor when the song ends.

• • •

In the big picture of roller derby, the Revolution Derby League is grass roots — a nonprofit sporting league that currently draws players from Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco and has designs on extending its reach into Hernando.

There are more hard-core leagues out there — some that skate on faster, banked tracks and travel out of state for bouts, said league founder Rose "Dizzy Boots" Frizzle, 39, of New Port Richey. "That's not us. But this is a really good place to get started.

"We try to basically make it dedicated to new people — allowing them to come in and learn what it takes to play roller derby," Frizzle said. "You come here if you want to work out and learn how to skate."

It doesn't matter if you're a wall hugger or that you skate like Bambi on ice.

"When it comes to derby, dedication is the biggest thing," Santiago said, noting her own derby scars that include ACL and meniscus surgery on her knees.

Santiago, who lives in Hudson, formerly played for Pasco's first derby team — the now-defunct Derby Dolls.

"I pretty much fell into the role of coach here," she said. "I have so much love for them and derby."

Just weeks after her last surgery, Santiago was back at it — along with her two kids — Soleil "Paper Cutz," 14, and Nathan "Muri Cutz," 15, who is eagerly awaiting his 16th birthday, when he will officially be able to compete in coed bouts.

The coach is a teammate and a lot more.

Santiago does the warmups. She takes turns as the lone "jammer," willing her way through a wall of rolling flesh, then as part of the defensive pack, skating elbow to elbow, butt to butt in an attempt to frustrate slippery jammers like her daughter, Soleil, a lanky, formidable force who lets go a "whoop, whoop, whoop!" upon breaking through the pack.

"That's not easy to do," said league treasurer Roxy "Roxxy Balboa" Bensley, 44, of Holiday, who has been sidelined since taking a fall some weeks back. "In an official bout, the jammer would have to push their way through four of the other team's blockers to earn points instead of the 14 that are out there now. The idea is if you are able to get through 14, then four would be a lot easier."

• • •

The Revolution Derby League was founded in 2012 with a mission to serve the community and empower adults and children through athleticism.

"We come from all walks of life — we're teachers, scientists, mothers," Frizzle said, noting the altruistic nature of the league. "Every home game we give back to a charity. It allows members to get a sense of being a part of the community and, of course, be a roller derby superstar."

There are a few men on the coed Mom and Pop Militia roster. But the league is primarily women, some who skate for the all-women Valkyries as well as the Militia. The gender mix is something Revolution members are trying to change — along with common misperceptions about roller derby.

Today's derby isn't like the theatrics of the 1970s, said Michele "Dr. Harlee Quinn" Walicke, 30, a special education teacher at Gulf High School in New Port Richey. "People think we go out there and just throw each other around. But there's so much strategy to it."

There are rules and regulations, along with the rough and tumble.

"Falling down is to be expected. For the new skaters, if you're not falling you're not learning," Bensley said.

The team camaraderie and the athleticism that derby offers make coming back easy for some, as does the appeal of taking on a derby persona.

For Angelica "Helga Hufflepunch" Rodriguez, 28, of Clearwater, derby has been a place to grow physically and to lower the cholesterol level her doctor warned her about, while fostering new friendships. She plays for the Valkyries and the Militia, and recently completed a video tryout, with hopes of competing for Puerto Rico at the roller derby World Cup event to be held next February in England.

"I never did (organized) sports before, but I used to skate as a kid. I decided to try it and stuck with it," Rodriguez said. "Derby is kind of an alternative sport. It brings in some real interesting people. It's kind of like a family. Everyone watches out for you, and it's a great way to keep in shape."

Melissa "L Diablo" Murray, 32, of Tampa was a new mom, struggling with severe post-partum depression when she joined the league five years ago.

"Derby let me have an identity that wasn't being a mom," Murray said. "It really brought me out of it. Derby can be scary — intimidating. But for whatever reason, you just want to push through it. The experience of just trying it tells you something about yourself."

For Michelle "Michete" Kehoe of Tarpon Springs, her derby family provided a much-needed support system that helped her maneuver through a difficult divorce.

"What I like is the unity of the people here," said Kehoe, who brings her son, Baron, 9, to each practice.

"This is my family. They've got my back. I've got their back. It gives me happiness — exercise. It's my social life. It gives my kid a place to learn about teamwork and devotion."

Contact Michele Miller @mmiller@tampabay.com. Follow @MicheleMiller52,

Check them out or join

• A roller derby bout between Revolution's Valkyries and the Sugar Sand Roller Dolls is scheduled for 6:15 p.m. May 28 at SpinNations Skating Center, 8345 Congress St., Port Richey. Doors open at 5:45 p.m. Tickets are $12 at the door; $10 in advance (available at RevolutionRollerDerby.com) or at the door with a donation to Tampa Bay Cat Rescue. Requested donations: Purina Cat Chow Complete, Purina Kitten Chow, scoopable litter, dryer sheets, laundry detergent, bleach, toys, trash bags and gift cards.

• Recruiting for the Revolution Derby League women's and coed teams is at 7:30 p.m. the first Monday of each month at SpinNations. For information, go to RevolutionRollerDerby.com

Bumps and bruises just a small part of Revolution Derby League 05/18/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 17, 2017 6:57pm]
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