Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Click here to
sign up for our newsletter!

The Journal Publications will be operating remotely effective Thursday, March 19, 2020.

Aug 05, 2019

Central Jersey Roller Derby Team Carrying on Aggressive but Storied Tradition 

By Tim Morris

Central Jersey Roller Vixens League

Blockers for the Central Jersey Roller Vixens, in black, open space for their hammer to get through and score points. Roller derby is increasing in popularity and participation.

Roller derby is escaping from the shadows and becoming an empowering sport – just ask the women in the Central Jersey Roller Vixens League.

“It’s a very athletic sport,” said Vixens’ member Cheri Leach. “We work very hard. It’s a legitimate sport. We do hit each other very hard.”

The old stereotype that has followed the sport that everything in roller derby is choreographed and the outcome pre-arranged couldn’t be further from reality.

“It takes endurance and athleticism,” said Kathleen Martin, a captain and coach on the Vixens. “It takes a lot of agility. You skate laterally, forward and backward while getting hit. It’s a full-contact sport. We all enjoy the challenge. The sport keeps evolving. There’s a lot of strategy; you’re playing offense and defense at the same time.”

The timid need not apply.

Central Jersey Roller Vixens League

Blockers from the Central Jersey Roller Vixens, in black, team up to takedown an opponent during a recent game, demonstrating how physical the game can be.

“It’s pretty physical; we hit pretty hard,” said Vixen Donna LoSavio, who added that roller derby “is in my blood.”

There’s more to flat track roller derby than skaters circling around a track. Teams are made up of skaters who are blockers and a designated jammer who scores points for her team by passing the opposition’s players. Strategy goes into formations blockers use to create opportunities for their jammer to skate by opponents, and jammers can control when a jam – which can last up to two minutes – ends.

Martin noted that fans watching a roller derby game for the first time are surprised by the strategies employed by the team.

It takes a lot of endurance, as Martin pointed out, to play roller derby. Games are 60 minutes long, divided into two 30-minute halves.

“There’s great camaraderie on the team with everyone working together,” said Vixens’ member Harmony De la Cruz.

There is something else that brings the women to roller derby and that is being part of something bigger than themselves.

Teammate Meaghan Cross added, “You are part of a family. You’re joining a little family.”

That family includes other teams’ members as well.

“You make such great friends,” De la Cruz explained. “There’s mutual respect among the skaters. Roller derby is a community.”

And that community allows women to bond with women from diverse backgrounds. The Vixens have lawyers, teachers, stay-at-home-moms, nurses, medical technicians and college students on the roster.

“There are women of all different income levels,” De la Cruz said. “It’s not out of the reach of anyone.”

De la Cruz knew little about the sport until she was exposed to it. She had heard of roller derby and had even roller skated when she was younger but had never witnessed the sport in person. Once she did, her life was never the same.

“I had just started work as a bartender at the [Tab Ramos] Matawan Sports Complex and [the Central Jersey Vixens] were practicing there,” De la Cruz recalled. “It was the first time I had seen roller derby in person. It was awesome to see the way they work together. I was mesmerized to see what women could do on skates.”

De la Cruz was hooked. She went to the Vixens’ boot camp, which runs from four to six weeks, to sharpen her skating skills and lean all about roller derby. The women have to take a test before they become certified to become eligible to compete in games. De la Cruz is now in her sixth season with the team.

Cross has been in the league for two years. She learned about the Vixens from her high school teacher at Middletown North.

“She tried to recruit me,” Cross said. “She knew I was competitive and told me I’d like it.”

Cross played roller hockey but did not compete after high school.

“I didn’t have a competitive sport anymore,” Cross said.

So she gave roller derby a shot.

“I knew absolutely nothing about it. I had absolutely no idea. I didn’t know that I would be all in.”

Martin grew up roller skating around the rinks in Monmouth County and was interested in roller derby. When a team formed in the county, she was on board. LoSavio, an Army veteran, was searching for meaning after leaving the service.

Just as satisfying as playing the sport for the Vixens is the impact they have on a new generation of potential derby athletes.

“It’s great to see the younger girls reacting to it and wanting to know about roller derby,” De la Cruz said.

The Roller Vixen games have been good for recruiting.

“It’s catching on with fans,” Cross said. “It’s becoming more mainstream. People know it exists.”

One stereotype has not changed: the colorful names the women give themselves. They are stories behind them.

Martin calls herself Pushy Galore. She took it, she explained, because her teammates call her “pushy” because of the way she is able to push blockers into each other and take opponents out of a play. Also, she’s a big James Bond fan thus Push Galore.

De la Cruz decided to go with Harm-A-Knee. Cross calls herself Ivanna-Expose-Ya because she is an X-ray technician.

The team competes at home Saturday, Sept. 14 against Susquehanna and Saturday, Oct. 26 against an opponent to be determined.

To learn more about the team or to join, visit CentralJerseyRollerVixens.com.

Photos by Adam “Babe” Knudsen