NEW PORT RICHEY — Warriors of the skating world took to the rink at the All Sports Arena last weekend to give Pasco County its first taste of roller derby.
The sport is widely known but does not enjoy the type of fandom and decoration that other sports do. Even so, the all-girl sport is played by more than a thousand amateur leagues worldwide. Pasco County is now forming its first team, and plans to join a league with rivals in Lakeland and Pinellas County.
"A lot of us play hockey, which is an easy transition because in this we can beat somebody up and it's legal," said Dawn Kiziuk, founder of Pasco's first roller derby team. "We're calling ourselves the Pasco County Derby Dollz and we're practicing on Saturdays right now. We can't have a bout against Lakeland or Pinellas until we have 20 girls, but once we do, it's on."
All Sports owner Matt Garry was happy to find another outlet for his struggling rink. In recent months, Garry has tried everything from professional wrestling to a re-grand opening to help pay the bills. Saturday's exhibition between the Lakeland Rockabilly Rebels and the Pinellas County Roller Girls was his latest effort to bring attention to the arena.
"It would be great if I could help these girls get a complete team together," Garry said. "I've never had any experience with roller derby other than seeing it on television, but I need anybody I can get in here to rent the rink. It's something else to add to this place because they need practice time and time to host games, so I'm helping them push it as best as I can."
Combining the pace and tactical elements of speed skating with the physicality of hockey makes the games, or "bouts," interesting to watch, as skaters attempt to navigate tight corners through a field of pushy opponents.
The object of the game is for a faster skater, known as a "jammer," to lap a field comprised of skaters from both teams who are playing defense against the opponent's jammer while trying to assist their own in getting through the crowd. By using their teammates as blockers to help them navigate the field of bodies, jammers rack up points every time they lap the field. Both teams use a jammer, requiring the other players to worry about offense and defense at the same time.
Fans of the sport enjoy it for both its strategic value and its overall intensity.
"I grew up watching roller derby and I love the fact that we have teams around the area," Lakeland fan Stan Martin said. "It's a very athletic sport and I find it to be both high paced and graceful. I think that the sport will grow in this area because it's a good family sport and there is no shortage of entertainment. It's not as ruthless as the old-styled roller derby, but it's still fun to watch."
The audience was small on Saturday night, but Garry and Kiziuk believe that the sport can grow in the area as more people learn it is available. The Pasco Derby Dollz already has 10 players, but they need twice as many to be taken seriously by the other organizations they want to form a league with.
For the other teams, the opportunity to expand the sport and encourage growth within the region is an exciting opportunity. Gina Wentworth, co-creator of the Pinellas County Roller Girls, says she is looking forward to what Pasco can bring to the table.
"We need to expand our audience," Wentworth said. "We've been getting between 400 to 700 people at our bouts in Pinellas. Roller derby is an amazing sport for women, so I'm not surprised at the way these Pasco girls have taken to it, and we want to help them any way that we can because another team means more roller derby."