Roller Derby’s Rockabilly Rebels
By Meredith Jean Morris
It’s a typical evening for a group of Polk County athletes. They gather at their arena, put on their uniforms and protective gear and get ready for some rough contact with the other team.
However, these athletes don’t play a typical sport. Their uniforms include leopard-print hot pants and fishnet stockings, and the contact they are anticipating all happens while speeding around an oval rink on roller skates.
This is roller derby, and the team is the Rockabilly Rebels, a part of the Lakeland Derby Dames (editor’s note: now called Swan City Rollers). And, these ladies mean business.
The Lakeland Derby Dames is a skater-owned and skater-operated women’s flat track roller derby league founded in March 2010.
The Dames’ goal is to provide amateur athletic entertainment and promote the advancement of athleticism and empowerment for women in a fun and inclusive atmosphere.
Additionally, the Lakeland Derby Dames are committed to raising funds for charities to make the local community a better place.
The women involved in this league hold such titles as teachers, nurses, restaurant employees and business administrators; however, when they are skating they have names like Bo Deckher, Shelbizzle Fo Shizzle, Cherry Cherry Garcia, Iva Grudge, Shy-Copath, Bullet Proof Chest, Candy Heartless, Vagabond Rouge, Yo! Adrienne and Hell Oh Kitty. These are names and personalities that help incite fear in the competition — or at least poke a little fun.
The game is played by two teams roller skating in the same direction on an oval track. Each team has a “block” consisting of about four players, and each team has a “jammer,” who tries to break through the opposing team’s block. If and when the jammer successfully breaks through the block and skates past the opposing team, points are scored.
The blockers simultaneously try to block the opposing team’s jammer, while also helping their own jammer pass by.
The Lakeland Derby Dames currently have more than 20 skaters on the master roster as well as a group of regular approximately 10 volunteers.
Chris Jemec, who is also known as Smack Brown, is the team’s bench coach.
“I got involved because of my wife, Bo Deckher,” he said of his wife, who also is the team captain, league president and bout coordinator. “She heard about the team when it started in 2010, and wanted something to do. My first thought was, ‘Oh, anther sport,’ because she has also played softball and basketball. She’s an extreme athlete.”
Bo Deckher, who works in the hospitality business when not wearing skates, stated that derby is the perfect outlet after a day at work.
“I am in the hospitality business, so that means that I get the joy of dealing with the public all day,” she said. “So, by night I am ready to share all the joy of the day with my team. By the end of practices I reach inner peace knowing I have spread the joy of my day through hard hits and steady skating.”
After his wife went out for the team, Smack Brown said he supported her as a spectator.
“Then, I transitioned into a referee, and then to bench coach,” he said. “Bo Deckher does the coaching during the practices, but when she becomes Bo Deckher the skater, I fill in as the coach. I manage the bench, set the lineup, help the players keep their heads in the game.”
As for coaching the sport, Smack Brown said he has basically learned on the job.
“The game of roller derby changes,” he said. “I just watch what’s going on. I’ve taken strategies from other teams that seem to work. Keeping up the big hits and aggression seems to work, and people enjoy watching it.”
The interest in the sport has grown during the last three years, particularly escalating during the current season, Smack Brown said.
“At the beginning of this season, we averaged about 20 to 30 spectators, but now we have about 125 at each bout,” he said. “It’s really picked up. The sport is growing in popularity.”
Stan “the Fan” Martin is one of the league’s dedicated spectators.
“I grew up watching derby on television in the ’60s,” Stan the Fan said. “It was an entirely different sport back then — played on a banked, wooden track with a lot more physical contact — the object being to knock your opponent into the next county. I much prefer the new flat track version. [There’s] lots more strategy, tactics and emphasis on pure skating ability. For me, the experience is much more rewarding today than it was in the past.”
He said he became hooked on the speed and excitement of the sport in late 2010, when he started attending both home and away bouts. During the time Stan the Fan has been following the Dames, he said the team has changed for the better.
“The team has gelled and become much more competitive and successful since I attended my first bout,” he said. “The use of Hangar E at the Sun ’N’ Fun complex in Lakeland has been a real boost to the league. The skaters have matured together and the results have manifested themselves on the track.”
The people are one of the best aspects of roller derby, agreed Smack Brown and Stan the Fan.
“Bo Deckher came out for derby because she wanted to meet some new friends,” Smack Brown said. “And, this is a great group of people. It’s a sport that builds a lot of self confidence. There’s people on the team who went from being a hermit to being wild and crazy. It’s a lot of fun.”
Stan the Fan echoed the enthusiasm.
“They are an absolutely incredible group of people that are open and accepting of folks from all walks of life,” he said. “The friends I’ve made will last me a lifetime. Do yourself a favor and come to a bout. You won’t regret it.”
Practices and home bouts are held at Sun ’N’ Fun Hangar E, at 4175 Medulla Road in Lakeland. For details about upcoming bouts and charity events, visit Swan City Rollers.