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Roller derby skates into Bemidji

BEMIDJI -- The Babe City Rollers started with maybe half a dozen roller-skaters, none of whom had ever played roller derby and most of whom knew nothing about the sport.

Babe City Rollers
In this photo taken Feb. 13, 2010, Karissa Kobel "VroomVroomKaboomBoom" (left) and Brooke Wichmann "Piece MakeHer" of the Babe City Rollers do a leg whip during a recent roller derby practice at Bemidji State University. The league started practice in October and will have its first competitive action Feb. 27 at BSU. (AP Photo/Bemidji Pioneer, Monte Draper)

BEMIDJI -- The Babe City Rollers started with maybe half a dozen roller-skaters, none of whom had ever played roller derby and most of whom knew nothing about the sport.

Just a few months later, the league has more than tripled, with more than two dozen skaters at various skill levels, and will showcase its first competitive action Feb. 27 at Bemidji State University.

The Rollers are coached by Shannon Murray, who discovered roller derby last March when she attended a Windy City Rollers bout in Chicago.

"I'd never even heard of it," said Murray. "I was completely floored by the sport and its focus on competitive, strong women and do-it-yourself effort and giving back to the community."

Murray decided she wanted to bring roller derby to Bemidji but didn't have much luck on her own. When her friend, Sara Bronczyk, joined the quest, things started to move quickly.


"I'd been trying to start it for a while," Murray said. "I think it takes a couple of women."

"I used to do figure-skating," said Bronczyk, a Bemidji State University sophomore. "I thought it would be a good activity. I fell in love with it."

Bronczyk said she liked the idea of organizing the league themselves.

The Babe City Rollers are sponsored by Bemidji State, so the roster must have at least 25 percent students. The league practices in Room 100 of Memorial Hall.

"I think we'll get more students after we start playing here," Murray said.

Murray is technically a player-coach, going by the derby name Olive Mayhem, but is currently unable to play because of a fractured elbow -- an injury not from roller derby.

She will not be able to play for four or five months, but on the bright side, she is able to put more energy into the league, she said.

"None of us have ever done roller derby before," said Alice Blessing, a roller skater who never liked inline skates. She joined the league several weeks ago and uses the derby name Roxy Solid.


Cate Belleveau (KissmyskatesCate), 52, on the other hand, loves inline skating.

"I inline skate down Highway 89 all the time," she said.

Piece MakeHer

Brooke Wichmann, 26, who goes by Piece MakeHer on the track, is one of the skaters who started at the beginning.

Wichmann moved to Bemidji in August and shortly thereafter met Murray, who introduced her to roller derby.

"I've really fallen in love with it," Wichmann said, adding that she is a stronger skater and a stronger person for her involvement.

She loves the culture of roller derby and said the stereotype of the sport as violent is far from the truth.

When she was in figure- skating, she saw a lot of backbiting, negative competition and body issues. "In derby, it's the opposite," she said.


Roller derby is a grassroots sport that stresses community service and being a positive force in the community, Wichmann said.

"Roller derby broadens people's conceptions," she said, noting that the league is made up of "waitresses, educators, wives, mothers" a group of women with diverse ages, lifestyles and backgrounds.

"I'm meeting women I would never hang out with in other circumstances," she said. "It's been really great. It's a lot of fun. I come here after a day of work, and when I leave here, I feel energized and happy. We train hard. It's fun. It's kind of addictive."

"We're from so many different backgrounds and ages," Murray said. "Some of us have never done sports, ever."

"I'm meeting a lot of women I wouldn't have ordinarily met," Bronczyk said.

Age groups

Roller derby skaters tend to be in their 30s and 40s, Blessing said. The youngest Bemidji skater is 19; the oldest, 55.

"We keep getting new members," Blessing said. "There are always new people getting more comfortable in skates. I improve each time."


While some leagues have six or seven teams, Murray would be happy to get enough players to form two teams for now. Players do not need to have any skating experience.

Skaters don't have to dump a bunch of money into the sport right away, as the league has a box of gear for temporary use.

"I skated about a month," said Wichmann, who was ambivalent at first. "As I became more passionate, I decided to invest."

The skaters are building strength and endurance as they continue to practice.

"The girls are noticing their bodies changing in positive ways," Wichmann said. "We're definitely improving muscle mass."

"My legs are like rock- hard," Bronczyk said.

The public will get its first look at the Babe City Rollers in competition Feb. 27 at an expo bout at BSU.

The North Star Roller Girls of Minneapolis will compete in the 7:30 p.m. bout, which will also feature halftime action with the Babe City Rollers, the Harbor City Roller Dames of Duluth-Superior and the Fargo-Moorhead Derby Girls.


"I'm excited to introduce roller derby to Bemidji," Murray said.

"People are definitely interested in learning more about it," Wichmann said.

Tickets are $8 to $12, priced on a sliding scale. No one will be turned away for inability to pay. The first 100 BSU students will get in free.

During the day, the North Star Roller Girls will train skaters from the other three leagues.

A roller derby bout is played on an oval and has two periods. The plays in those periods are called jams. Five players (four blockers and a jammer) from each team are on the track. A jammer scores by passing the opposing team's blockers.

The blockers' may use their shoulders, hips and backsides to get in the jammer's way to slow her down or push her out of bounds, but may not use their hands, elbows or feet. This will draw a penalty.

"I've only seen one bout, but (penalties) are pretty common," Wichmann said.

No one on the league has had any major injuries.


"It is a contact sport," Wichmann said, adding that players wear protective gear and learn to fall correctly.

Players must take a skills assessment test before they can practice jams. The test is challenging, said Wichmann, who skated about two months before she took the test.

Roller derby is hard work, but the skaters have fun, too.

"We take the sport seriously, but it's also about fun and empowering the skaters," Wichmann said. "Roller derby is having fun and expressing yourself."

During a recent practice, Wichmann approached a set of cones and tried to weave through them at high speed, but knocked most of them over.

"Note to self: Take a practice run first," she muttered as she lined up to make another try, which she did flawlessly.

"Note to self: Slow down," Murray teased.

On the Net:

Babe City Rollers: www.babecityrollers.com

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