Article & Photography by Tracy Smith | Owl Staff
Baconator. Hedda Chopper. Sk!n Shady. These are the skate names for middle-aged men and women who live typical lives during the week. On the weekends, however, it’s a different story.
On Sunday mornings, these roller derby players are lacing up their skates and gearing up with elbow pads, knee pads, wrist guards, mouth guards and helmets for their weekly, two-hour practice. As members of Harford County’s only roller derby team, the Hazard County Hellions are a close-knit group of athletes with great enthusiasm for this sport.
Roller derby is a high energy, action-packed sport where teammates work together to propel one member of their team (the jammer) past the competition, while blocking the opposing team in their efforts to do the same thing. During an official game, or “bout,” teams have to score within 90-second periods called “jams.”
After a jam, there is a 30-second break and then they try again. This pattern continues until the end of the quarter or half, when they take a longer break. The entire bout lasts one hour.
Jennifer Lotz, a former non-credit instructor at HCC and veterinary technician of Forest Hill, MD (Hedda Chopper), is the Hellion’s founder.
While skating with the Charm City Roller Girls for several years, she developed a greater passion for the sport and felt that Harford County was large enough and progressive enough to have its own league. In 2013, she began forming the team.
“It’s hard to overcome stereotypes that come with roller derby,” Lotz admits. As a team, they are working to remove antiquated images of women in tight mini-skirts and fishnet stockings.
Having gender neutral uniforms brings credibility to the sport while showcasing their derby names. Since they are affiliated with the Modern Athletic Derby Endeavor (MADE), their team can be co-ed, which removes the stigma of it being a women’s sport.
Roller derby is about “learning to skate in a tight pack and communicating with one another,” according to 39-year-old Westminster resident Mandy Liberto, also known as “Schlapshot.” Liberto works as a credentialing specialist at Sinai Hospital and has been a derby enthusiast for the last three years.
With book clubs, gym memberships and paint nights, why choose roller derby? For middle aged adults looking for a way to spend their free time, roller derby may seem like an unconventional choice.
“Most people my age are playing it on the safe side out of fear of getting hurt, then not being able to work,” comments 43-year-old Jeff Rohrbaugh (Sk!n Shady), who is currently the only male on the Hellions. Rohrbaugh used to serve in the Armed Forces but is now employed at Verizon Communications.
A self-proclaimed “adrenaline junkie,” he also plays ice hockey, and he loves to rock climb, scuba dive, skydive, and BASE jump. Being on a roller derby team seems like a natural fit in light of his athleticism and outgoing personality.
Yet, an interesting facet to this sport is that it appeals to people that may not fit the typical profile of a derby skater. When she first started, Lotz hadn’t been on skates in years. After having children, she was looking for a new and enjoyable way to exercise.
“It was a challenge for me because I had to step way outside of my comfort zone. I’ve always been an introvert, so it was scary for me to do something that doesn’t seem like a typical introvert’s activity, and I was doing it all by myself,” Lotz shares. Knowing her personality, even her friends had a hard time picturing her playing this sport.
Recent HCC graduate Allie Lotz couldn’t be more proud of her mother. “I’ve never seen my mother happier than when she’s participating in roller derby. Having this community of like-minded peers has been really wonderful for her and working with her fellow skaters has really brought out a side of her that I’ve never seen before. She’s a natural born leader.”
In a real way, roller derby allows individuals to reinvent themselves when they are skating. Something magical seems to occur when the players are geared up and take that first stride onto the rink. Even the idea of choosing your own creative derby name makes this sport unique.
When communicating, players only refer to each other by these names as opposed to their first names. This isn’t just something fun to do, it is actually part of the sport. It builds camaraderie.
It’s this sense of camaraderie that helps to bring very different people like Rohrbaugh and Lotz together. Although they both appreciate the fact that roller derby is a means of helping them stay physically fit, it’s much deeper than that.
“Derby is an outlet for me. It keeps me occupied, keeps me in shape and we are a close-knit group and I like the sense of belonging,” expresses Rohrbaugh.
Similarly, Lotz shared that “It feels good to be part of a team and after a while, you begin to think of your league as a second family.”
The Hellions may be close-knit, but they are anything but exclusive. In fact, they are an incredibly welcoming group of people and their enthusiasm for this sport is contagious. Anyone is welcome to join them on Sunday mornings at Putty Hill Skateland from 10:00 a.m. -12:00 p.m. for their practices. Skates and gear are provided.
“We’ll even teach you to skate,” Lotz promises. If you have a desire to learn and you are willing to commit to being part of the team, you just may be inventing a derby name of your own.
Follow the Hellions on Facebook! facebook.com/HazardCountyHellions