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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA students shed light on roller derby reality

    UA students shed light on roller derby reality

    A whistle sounds and the echo of little red wheels kicking off the flat track fill the circular stadium, making the voices of the nearby crowd temporarily fade. The only noise comes blasting over a microphone as the announcer comments on the status of the girls in the bout.

    Fans suffer the heat to boo the opposing team and cheer their own, some standing around the glass-enclosed rink, fanning themselves with the roller derby programs handed out at the door.

    “”People love it,”” said Selin Kalaycioglu, a graduate teaching assistant and mathematics doctoral student. “”Once they understand the game, they really love it.””

    Kalaycioglu, who has been teaching college algebra and advanced math classes at the UA for more than five years, became involved in roller derby two years ago after her roommates brought her to a game and convinced her to try out. She had to go through a six-month training period before being ready to compete on The VICE Squad – a cop-themed team that dresses in black and blue attire, with fishnet stockings.

    Their logo: Handcuffs and an unmarked bottle of liquor.

    In addition to wearing unique uniforms, each player picks her own nickname that corresponds to the team’s theme.

    Kalaycioglu’s is “”Turkey Slammer,”” to reflect her Turkish heritage and convey an intimidating edge, she said.

    Part of the excitement of watching roller derby is simply the unique visual entertainment that the game provides, players said.

    Nikki Van Nielen, a UA graduate studying law and a player on the Copper Queens team, said she remembers the first time she played with VICE Squad, and they came out with weapons as a part of their persona.

    “”It’s very overt about the rivalry it’s expressing,”” said Van Nielen, known as “”Ferocious Oxide.””

    This point has not always come across, however, and although roller derby has all the characteristics of a competitive league, some people have doubted the game is even a sport.

    “”I think there used to be a lot (of people) that don’t see it as a sport, but now I think it’s more accepted,”” Kalaycioglu said. “”All the girls here work out regularly, and we all consider ourselves athletes, even though some people might have their opinion of it.””

    Kalaycioglu motions her head toward the crowd, showing seats filled with spectators ranging from families with children to university students and an occasional elderly couple.

    “”If people have an opinion about it, it’s their fault – if they come to watch it just as a sexual thing,”” she said.

    Technicalities aside, roller derby has made a name for itself over the past several decades and continues to drive assumptions – even if it’s over how injury-prone the players are.

    “”I was expecting to see more violence actually,”” said Melanie Borsfad, a visiting student from Northern Arizona University and first-time roller derby attendee. “”You see roller derby on TV, and it’s all pink and black eyes but, you know, it’s pretty calm.””

    Kalaycioglu said she has gotten similar reactions from her students when they visit her for office hours and see the roller derby poster collection on her wall.

    “”They’re like, ‘Oh, you’re hitting people and knocking them down?'”” she said. “”They can’t see a math teacher doing a sport, so it brings a little different perspective.””

    Over the years roller derby has thrived from its aggressive image, but the reality often shocks people, players said. It is like any other sport, and has its own set of rules that apply on a national scale, as certain physical attempts to knock players down are considered illegal.

    Kalaycioglu admits that some games can get a little nasty – so far, the sport has left her with a knee injury and a fractured tailbone.

    “”Some people have no idea what to expect, though,”” Van Nielen said, remembering how she saw reenactments on TV and thought it looked “”so dumb because all they did was push each other over on the track.””

    Now she knows games take more expertise, and players can average up to 10 hours of preparation a week for a monthly game – including league practices, scrimmages and working out to stay fit.

    “”We’re in this strange in-between place because of the entertainment and spectacle of it,”” she said, “”but it requires the girls to be athletic and takes a lot of skill.””

    Kevin Francom, a UA graduate who works in Phoenix, said he came to support his friend Van Dielen, and like many first-timers, was surprised by the experience.

    “”I didn’t realize how big of an event is was really,”” Francom said. “”I imagined something more like 30 or maybe 50 people, and until our friend was talking about it, I didn’t even realize they went to tournaments.””

    Van Dielen has noticed changes in roller derby over the year. Recently she saw a team switch from pink stockings and miniskirts to uniformsthat look more like “”basketball jerseys.””

    Although local matches don’t have a “”penalty wheel”” anymore that would have caused players to pillow fight in the past, each game has some element of originality that outperforms other sports. This distinction it is part of what keeps the game fun and the crowds coming, players said.

    “”There’s certainly an ongoing debate on how much we want derby to be seen as a sport,”” Van Nielen said. “”What works is balancing those two elements.””

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