PORTLAND — Eric Wood never misses a Maine Roller Derby contest.
“I’ve been going for three years,” the Fryeburg native said. “I drive down to support them.”
Wood was one of more than 100 people who packed Happy Wheels at 331 Warren Ave. Saturday night to see MRD’s season opener, as well as the debut of a new way for fans to see even more bouts: so-called Home Teams.
April Fournier, who goes by “Jumpy McGee” when she plays the sport, said Home Teams are a way for fans to see more roller derby, as well as an opportunity for the women who enjoy the flat-track sport to gain more experience.
Maine Roller Derby was historically composed of three teams: a competitive, traveling A team, an intermediate B team, and a C team made up mostly of players new to the sport. The B and C teams didn’t get as much playing time or competitive experience as the A team. Now, all players have been place on two teams that will play in more games, and allows players to gain more competitive experience.
“It’s a popular concept to raise the fan base, get more games and build connections so you want to go back,” Fournier said. “It’s nice because we have veteran skaters (together with) new skaters.”
Fournier said this will benefit the newest skaters, who might not otherwise get too many opportunities to skate competitively.
Roller derby attracts a wide variety of fans. Some, like Wood, are season ticket holders. Wood said he has driven as far as New Brunswick to see the MRD skaters play.
Others, like Jim and Trishia Wasserman of Cape Elizabeth, had never seen a bout before, but came to support a friend who was skating.
“It’s awesome,” Jim said of his first roller derby experience.
And others still simply came out of curiosity. Fournier said they try to reach beyond family and friends to come see the bouts.
“It’s great if we had them once, but we hope to see them again and again,” she said.
Roller derby, while often very physical, is also a sport based on camaraderie. Following the bout, all players and fans were invited to a party at Bubba’s Sulky Lounge in Portland, which happens after every game.
Eric Wood said this small feel to the game allows fans greater access.
“There’s not many sports where you have this hard-hitting game and then an after party,” he said. “I know the skaters and hang out with them.”
Fournier said MRD just gained nonprofit status, which she said will allow the organization to do more outreach and have access to more grants for women’s sports.
In addition to MRD, there are seven other leagues around Maine: two in Portland, two in Bangor, one in Rockland, one in Aroostook County, a men’s league in Portland, and a men’s league in Bangor. Roller derby is an often high-scoring sport, with points awarded for the number of opponents passed by a team’s jammer, or designated scorer.
Fournier emphasized that roller derby is not “pro wrestling on skates.” She said it takes time to learn, and participants have to go through stages like Derby Light, a roller skating fitness program in Portland, before they can play full contact.
“It’s not just throw on skates and get out there,” Fournier said. “There’s a very deliberate safety process.”
Heather Tirado, who goes by”Kirsten Damned,” of the R.I.P. Tides, breaks free from the pack as lead jammer during a roller derby bout Saturday, Feb. 7, at Happy Wheels in Portland.
Jammer Marnie Williamson, or “Chickadee Wallop,” of the Calamity Janes, tries to break through the defensive line during a roller derby bout Saturday at Happy Wheels.
Playful pseudonyms are not just the domain of roller derby players, as this referee’s uniform testifies.
Leah Farber, or “Cabbage Smash Kid,” along with the rest of the R.I.P. Tides, high-fives the crowd at the end of Saturday’s match.