Linda Cope works as a skating carhop at the Sonic in Red Bank, Tenn., and a customer informed her that Chattanooga had a roller derby team in development.
She and her friend of 14 years, Samantha Hogan, went to the very next bout in December 2009 and had decided to try out before the bout was over.
The sport attracts a broad cross-section of female athletes eager to try the popular and growing sport.
Both of them signed up as “fresh meat” to the team and went to watch the next bout in Savannah.
The two are among the approximately 20 players that make up the team. Fourteen rostered players can compete in a bout.
Cope is known by the derby name “Bully Jean” that was suggested by her husband Terry. She is currently the team captain.
Hogan became “Samsterdam,” one of four regular jammers on the team.
Derby names are now registered with the league in 2011, and Cope will have to change hers’ for next season, as “Bully Jean” already exists on the Minnesota Atomic Bombshells.
“It is a way to have ‘me’ time”, Cope said, “and can still involve my whole entire family at the same time.” Her son, Seth, plays middle-school football and frequently brags how awesome his mother is now that she plays roller derby.
“Bully Jean’s” skating skills were well established. She just needed to learn the rules of the game.
Cope is not new to contact sports as she progressed to a black belt in karate as a teenager.
She is predominantly a blocker, while Samsterdam is both a jammer and blocker.
Jammers earn points for lapping the opponent team members during a two-minute session, while blockers bump, bang, and bruise their opponents to prevent scoring.
Techniques of blocking include “the wall” in which all four blockers link to halt their opponents, while a “waterfall” is a crafty move in which blockers rotate to confuse their nemesis by diversion.
“Jammin’ is a lot of hard work. They have got to get through while everyone is trying to kill them,” Bully Jean said. “ I’d rather be the one going after them.”
The two endured the boot camp-style induction, which teaches all aspects of the sport, most importantly how to fall on concrete without getting seriously hurt.
The team trains nearly year-round, including two members in their early 40s.
As the current captain of the squad, Cope is in charge of developing the curious “fresh meat” who try out for the sport, practicing with them three times each week.
Chattanooga team members study YouTube videos of teams as they prepare for about. Some even travel to watch other teams for scouting and to progress in the sport.
“ We will watch them (videos) to know which jammers are fast and what heavy blockers are coming, to get a strategy around it to know who matches up,” Cope said.
“Jam sessions” last up to two minutes, which is determined by the lead jammer.
Chattanooga won its most recent bout, scoring 157 points against Columbia Quad Squad’s Miss B-Haver’s that managed 68 points.
The team took a decisive lead early in the first half, which allowed Cope to become a jammer for one series, scoring 4 points for the team.
That victory puts the team at 6 wins and three losses on the year, beating teams like the Soul City Sirens from Augusta, and the Burn City Rollers from Auburn, Ala.
The Chattanooga Roller Girls next home bout (and last of the season) will be against the Little City Roller Girls from Johnson Tenn., on November 19 at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
Bruising for a purpose
While the women enjoy the sport and the camaraderie among their peers, the biggest benefits of the Chattanooga Roller Girls are charity and community service.
“Our mission of the team is not only to play an awesome sport, but to give back to the community,” teammate Violet Heartbreaker said.
The local Humane Society receives donated portions of each bout, in addition to setting up a booth during the event to better inform the public.
Each of the Chattanooga Roller Girls spends at least two hours a month at the Chattanooga Humane Society.
“Jack’s Chattanoggins” was selected as a secondary charity for the October bout, which had nearly 1,000 people in attendance. It is an effort by 12-year-old Jack Skowronnek that has raised thousands of dollars for pediatric cancer in the past two years. Further charity info is available at: http://jackshaves.org.
A local Girl Scout troop was also special guest at that bout and enjoyed talking to the team that also took photos with the troop.
History and rules of the sport
Iconic movies like “Field of Dreams” or “Rudy” portray the emotional side of athletics, but neither could claim to have resurrected a sport to spectacular new heights.
A 2009 movie, featuring Drew Barrymore and Ellen Page, managed to redefine a misunderstood sport, leading thousands of women flock to it in record numbers.
“Whip It” is a coming-of-age story of a 17-year-old who discovered the revitalized sport of Roller Derby in Texas.
Roller Derby dates back to the 1880s when it was an endurance sport and has gone in several different directions over the years, becoming laughable entertainment in the 1980s with slap-stick-WWF moves coordinated for show and ratings, rather than legitimate competition.
In 2003, the real-life Texas Roller Girls Rock n Roller Derby began a new chapter for a sport that is enjoying unprecedented popularity today.
The original Texas teams were sought to train other competitive and recreational leagues that were beginning in 2007, which was captured in a documentary and followed by the motion picture “Whip It.”
Today’s version is done on a flat track (unlike the movie) that is laid out with a rope and thick tape prior to each bruising bout.
The bout consists of two 30-minute halves, and a fan meet-and-greet afterward where youngster seek autographs and ask to take photos with the athletes.
Only a handful of teams have the traditional banked tracks that cost around $30,000, which would have been prohibitive to the expanse of the flat track version of the sport.
The tradition of “body checks” and “whip assists” have remained as important offensive and defensive maneuvers, while “clotheslining” and elbowing have become penalties.
“Flat track roller derby is a legitimate sport, and the hits, spills, and competition are all 100 percent real,” according to Chattanooga Roller Girls website.
Roller Derby currently has more than 600 teams in more than 20 countries.
The sport, which once had co-ed teams, is now predominantly a female competition, and has standardized rules.
In 2008, a group of women formed the Chattanooga Roller Girls, and began with basic training for the sport, a 60-day process now titled “fresh meat.”
Chattanooga support for the team has been evident from the first exhibition bout in 2009, with more than 1,000 people at a few of their events.
The team has been in the apprenticeship program for the World Flat Track Derby Association since March 2010, and is seeking to become a nationally competitive team.
To find out more, visit chattanoogarollergirls.com or wftda.com.