The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Roller derby squads prepare to pummel at the New Hampshire Roller Derby double-header. Courtesy photo.

New Hampshire Roller Derby Double Header

Where: JFK Coliseum, 303 Beech St., Manchester
When: Saturday, July 12, at 4:30 p.m.
Cost: $10 advance, $12 at the door, kids 10 and under get in free

Bout it out
Roller derby season in full swing


 Jena Cotreau was working at Skydive New England in the summer of 2007 when she spotted a girl roller skating on a nearby runway, clad in safety pads and a helmet. She later learned that the girl was involved in roller derby in Vermont.

“I had never heard of roller derby before,” said Cotreau, better known as “Pixie” by her leaguemates from the Queen City Cherry Bombs and the Seabrook Meltdowns. “I mean, I loved roller skating as a kid, but I had never heard of the sport. [Joining the league] ended up being one of the biggest life-changing decisions I’ve made..”
Roller derby is not even in the same ballpark — or, more appropriately, roller rink — as roller skating. With its emphasis on physical gameplay and teamwork, the sport has adopted its own identity.
New Hampshire’s league started in 2008, about the same time Cotreau joined her team. Because the sport attracts so much interest from women of varying levels of skating skill, Cotreau said, the league provides several tutorials to teach the players how to skate as well as how to hit legally.
“[The fundamentals] were very intimidating,” said Cotreau. “But the league made the process very easy. I didn’t know how to skate very well, but they train you right from scratch. They also teach you how to fall without hurting yourself or someone else, and how to hit appropriately.”
Some, like Elizabeth Wahlman (league name “Poison Applebottom”), join the league with no skating experience at all.
“I had never had roller skates before, and the first time I got up, I fell back and smashed my tailbone into 14 pieces,” said Wahlman, who plays for the Granite Skate Troopers. “But most of us are coming into this brand spanking new, so the league teaches the very basics of skating, and derby itself. You’re all growing together.”
Roller derby has, arguably, one of the most unique set of rules and gameplay in sports. A bout takes place in a rink with five players from each team out playing. There is one “jammer” from each team, who can be identified by the star on her helmet, and four “blockers,” who, clumped together, form a “pack.” The pack starts 30 feet in front of the jammers, and when the referees blow the whistle, the jammers have to try to pass through the moving pack. Each time the jammers pass the pack, the team scores a point.
Of course, the biggest obstacle of this objective is the group of four blockers on the opposing team, whose goal it is to make sure the jammers don’t skate through them. But while the sport does get physical at times, Cotreau said, the intensity of the bouts stems more from how they play than how hard they play.
“We hate that stereotype that the players just go out and kill each other,” she said. “The public expects [us] to be beating the crap out of each other, but it’s really more about strategy.”
Wahlman also believes that most spectators walk in expecting something completely different than what roller derby actually is.
“A lot of people expect a big WWE-style showdown when that’s not what it really is,” she said. “There’s a lot of laughing and goofing around. We also try to make it a family-friendly event. At the end of the game, we have a high-five circle where people go down to the track and we circle around the rink and high-five everyone.”
Still, Cotreau admits that one of the reasons she enjoys the sport so much is that it empowers women. Juxtaposed against popular all-male contact sports like football, Cotreau said, roller derby gives women an outlet to lay claim to a contact sport without having to play in the shadow of it being a “man’s sport” first.
“It was the only contact and physical sport for women out there,” she said. “There’s nothing out there like it.”
Since the league has grown, however, men have started to get involved as well. While there is resistance from some female players, men have started their own league and have even gone so far as to play with the women, both on the same and opposing teams, Cotreau said.
“It’s definitely a controversy with the men getting on board,” she said. “Some women aren’t crazy about it, some are supportive. But the last game we had in June, we had our A team play the men’s B team. It was an intense game. The men won 126-125. They can really hold their own.” 
As seen in the July 10, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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