Making a Name: Upper Valley Vixens Are More Than Funny Monikers
Julia “Make It Lorraine” Pelosi, lower middle, gets squeezed between Tami “Rabble Rooster” Anderson, left, and Gregory during practice. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
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Steph “Steppin Wolf” Gregory tightens her skates during Upper Valley Vixens roller derby practice at Great View Roller Skating Rink in Enfield on Thursday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Abigail Howard leaps from skate to skate during an agility drill. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Upper Valley Vixens, from left, Sarah “Elsa Smackarelli” Maxell-Crosby; Marnie “Chickadee Wallop” Williamson; and Erica “Flicka Flash” McConologue take break during practice on Thursday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Deb "Toadally Chaotic" Castellini laces up a skate as her Upper Valley Vixens teammates warm up on the track at Great View Roller Skating Rink. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Enfield — Roller derby’s popularity stems — at least partially — from character themes and spectacle. While the Upper Valley Vixens don’t shy away from those aspects, athleticism is just as much a part of what draws them — and their fans.
Entering their second full season of exhibition bouts, the Vixens — a grass-roots team whose 32 skaters are double the size of the roster for their debut match 15 months ago — have playful tag names such as Marisky Bizness (Marisa Miller, of Norwich), Maple Stir-up (Lebanon’s Becca Karp) and 5 A.M. Rable Rooster (Tami Anderson). Even the team’s appointed referees join in the fun, with monikers like Yo Ma Ma and My Baby Daddy.
Yet when these women lace up the skates and take to the rink, they take their sport seriously.
"It's really competitive," Karp, a skater and co-captain, said at a practice this week at Great View skating rink. “A lot of people talk about the booty shorts and the names, but it takes a lot of strength, agility and teamwork.”
With skaters circling the track at a breakneck pace, derby bouts consist of “jammers” attempting to lap opponents, earning a point for each, while simultaneously battling blockers aimed at preventing them from doing so.
A typical bout contains 20-30 “jams” lasting two full-contact minutes apiece. By the time it’s over, skaters may have a bruise or two and are unequivocally exhausted.
“Blockers start off in what we call a derby stance, which right off the bat is engaging your leg and core muscles,” Karp said. “You have to be light on your feet and move quickly, but you also have to have a lot of strength.”
Still a nascent organization, the Vixens are working toward becoming certified by the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association (WFTDA), which would grant them a league schedule and render them eligible to qualify for regional and national playoff tournaments.
The team hopes to enroll next season in a WFTDA apprenticeship program, which helps guide start-up teams through requirements, including insurance, equipment and referee certification.
White River Junction resident Steve “My Baby Daddy” Henck is a member of the Burlington-based Mean Mountain Boys, which opens the season next Saturday at Union Arena against the Connecticut Death Quads at 5 p.m., just before the Vixens face the Monadnock Mad Knockers in their opener. Henck also serves as one of the Vixens’ coaches, taking the center of the rink Thursday at Great View to lead the team through drills.
“Truth be told, I’d rather focus on coaching, but there’s more of a need for officials right now, so I’m doing both,” Henck said. “It’s kind of unique because you have to be careful about (refraining from) coaching them to take advantage of the rules. But you can coach them to learn the rules, so it’s doable.”
The women on the team range from their early 20s to early 50s — some grew up watching the sport on TV, some have simply always loved roller skating and others are becoming familiar with each other for the first time.
Former New York City area resident Kristi “Ivory Tower” Clemens had been interested in the sport for years and was elated to find the Vixens starting up when she moved to Hartland several years ago.
“I was a little hesitant to join the big, scary New Yorkers in the city,” said Clemens. “I was really excited to find this group here, to get in on the ground level, with a lot of us learning how to play together at the same time. It was an unexpected gift for me, because I’d never been part of a team sport before.”
Like many adult recreational sports teams, the Vixens value the team as much for its social opportunities as the competition. Bonds and friendships grow as much as their skills on the floor.
“It’s great meeting people from all over and working with them,” Karp said. “We’ve got students on the team from the Center for Cartoon Studies, a pastry chef, someone who runs her own bed and breakfast ...
“There are a lot of people you might not otherwise meet, and we’re all working toward the same goal.”
Jared Pendak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3306.
This article has been amended to correct an earlier error. The Upper Valley Vixens roller derby team is working toward becoming certified by the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association, the international governing body of women’s flat track roller derby. The name of the organization was incorrect in an earlier version of this article.