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NO TAME DAMES: A generation of women find wheel camaraderie in roller derby

The fleet skater hits stride before she's flattened by an opponent's well-timed shoulder and elbow. Within seconds the downed skater is back in the race, and a solid body check sends that same opponent careening off the track and into the bench area, earning a trip to the penalty box for Eva McCloskey, league's PR representative, as the home crowd cheers. That's not a scene from a Boston Bruins game. It's just one incident in a night of fast-paced, slam-bang action at the Shriners Auditorium in Wilmington, where the female roller derby league known as The Boston Derby Dames holds a near-capacity crowd of 1,100 in thrall.

McCloskey explains her love of this sport quite simply as "girls just want to have fun," and even if it's hard-hitting, bruising, and time-consuming, there's such an aura of empowerment and social bonding involved that, as improbable as it sounds, roller derby has become part of her life.

'Krushpuppy' (Front) of The Wicked Pissahs' tries to stay ahead of the pack in a match against the Nutcrackers during a Boston Derby Dames roller derby match at Shriners Auditorium. photo by Matthew Healey

"There's just so much positive energy in it," said Meghan McCambridge, a.k.a. Cookie Push, a Georgia native now living in Quincy with her husband and 8-month old baby. "It's all about strong women having a good time together."

Every skater has a "derby" name, like "Etta Maims," "Brit-Knee

Breaker," "Triple Deck-Her," "Full Metal Jackie," "Trish Squish," "Sheryl Crow-Bar" and, of course, on the sidelines, "Coach Belly Check."

But fans need not be intimidated by the monikers. The players are a cross-section of American women in all shapes and sizes, and the speed and elusiveness demanded ensures that even competitors as small as McCloskey, a.k.a. Evilicious, have a place. Just as long as they don't mind the occasional bumps and bruises.

"It's a fun thing to be a part of history - the first generation of a new roller derby," said McCloskey, a Hyde Park native, as she iced down her right knee between periods. "All of the hitting and bumping stays on the track, and we all encourage each other."

Along with the three Boston teams - the Wicked Pissahs, the Nutcrackers and the CosmoNaughties - the Derby Dames have a traveling squad of their best talent, called The Boston Massacre.

The Derby Dames, who practice regularly in Holbrook, are a self-sustaining business with proceeds from admissions (tickets were $14), souvenirs and concessions all going toward supporting the league and its activities.

At a recent game, defending league champions Wicked Pissahs made short work of the Nutcrackers. The fast-paced action and frequent spills kept the crown roaring, and Boston rock band The Great Bandini performed during breaks in the action. After the game, a DJ invited the crowd to "buy your favorite skater a cold drink."

The camaraderie is what's special about this league.

"We are all friends, and any bad feelings are left on the track," said McCambridge of the Nutcrackers. "We make sure we don't get too emotional. When we get together and skate, all our tensions and irritations can get released. I know - when I was pregnant and getting crabby at home, my husband couldn't wait for me to get back to skating."

Marshfield's Jesie Garretson, a.k.a. Brit-Knee Breaker, agrees. "It's a great support group of like-minded people. Part of the attraction is that it is a very inclusive sport - no matter what body type you are, there's a spot for everybody."

Quincy's Nicole Benoit, a.k.a. Betty Spite, called the league "family."

"I wouldn't trade this experience for anything," she said.

Your wife does what?

Husband, mothers and friends are the skaters' biggest fans.

"My husband shows up in a shirt saying he's 'Breaker's Good Buddy,'" Garretson said. "He really pushed me and thought it was a great idea. It's important to have that support, because it does take a lot of time. I have a professional job, and it might seem incongruous in that, but my cube-mate from work is also a Derby Dame. People we work with are used to seeing us both come in with bruises, so that makes it easier, but they're all supportive."

McCambridge says her husband really enjoys it, too.

"Any extra aggression I have I can take out on the other girls. I had done gymnastics and swimming and track in high school, and always been into stuff like female wrestling. But this is my favorite sport by far - there's so much contact. You know when you're doing a good job, and it tightens you up too. I know I'd find running or just working out at a gym way too boring."

The players are a cross-section of American women in all shapes and sizes.

Are you ready to rumble?

Strong-minded women with a tendency to enjoy being outrageous, looking for a fun way to exercise and network with other like-minded women, are invited to contact the Boston Derby Dames. And sports fans who like fast-paced action, and maybe a little tongue-in-cheek drama, not to mention concerts and postgame socials, will find much to like at the Boston Derby Dames.

Check out www.bostonderbydames.com for more information, and expect to be surprised.

By Jay N. Miller

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