WATERBURY — Just as you learn to walk before you run, you learn to fall before you skate in roller derby.
On Thursday evening, members of the CT RollerGirls gathered at RollerMagic skating rink for league practice and a tryout session.
“We’ll take as many as we can,” said skater Margaret Vieira of Hamden, who skates under the name Mags and manages league public relations. “There’s always opportunities.”
A total of 22 women registered for the tryouts — a league record.
Roller derby isn’t the hyped-up fight fest that televised derby was in decades past. Instead, skaters say it builds self-confidence, is a good way to stay in shape and promotes camaraderie.
“It’s an easy way to make genuine friends,” Vieira said.
CT RollerGirls formed in 2006 during the amateur roller derby revival that began in the early 2000s. Now in its 11th season, the league has more than 40 skaters, referees and other officials.
The league is divided into two travel teams, the Connecticut All-Stars and the Yankee Brutals, and three home teams, the Bone Crushers, Iron Angels and Widowmakers. The All-Stars team is ranked in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the sport’s governing body and membership organization.
Tryouts consist of a skating skills assessment and a personal interview. League skaters demonstrate basic skills, including how to fall, stop and balance, and then those vying for a spot on the team perform the basics.
Helmets, mouth guards, elbow pads, wrist guards, kneepads and quad skates are all required.
“If you have your skates on, you have to be wearing everything else,” Vieira said.
Michele Peruzzi, of Meriden, skates as Black Cherry. She is one of the captains of the All-Stars and coaches the Yankee Brutals.
“People like to come see girls being aggressive and being athletic, playing a different kind of sport people don’t usually get to see,” she said.
Peruzzi joined three months after the founding of the league. As a member of the first rookie class, she’s seen tryouts with a few as six women up to eight or sometimes a dozen.
“This is probably one of our biggest group since the movie ‘Whip It’ came out,” she said. “Whip It” was released in 2009 and stars Ellen Page as a small-town teen who finds her voice through roller derby.
The “fresh meat” skaters go through a rookie period of 12 practices before officially entering the league, she said. They learn basic skills, like how to fall and how to hit correctly, “all the ins and outs of roller derby,” she said.
Once skaters pass evaluations by the coaching and training committee, new skaters start scrimmaging.
“It’s fast-paced and confusing at first, playing offense and defense at the same time,” she said. “We make sure that they have a lot of experience scrimmaging before they finally start bouting.”
Roller derby contests are called bouts. Some skaters progress faster than others, and some might be bouting in just a few months. For others, it takes six to nine months.
Kate Slomkowski, of Wallingford, skates as KaPOW!ski. She joined the league last June and was still beaming on Thursday from her acceptance to the Yankee Brutals two weeks ago.
It was her first time observing tryouts. Her advice to skaters trying out was to “have fun, don’t be nervous, and stay low” in a “derby stance,” with knees bent.
“The closer you are to the floor, the less distance you have to travel to fall, so it doesn’t hurt as much,” she said.
Slomkowski had played ice hockey for a number of years, and had not skated on quads before going out for roller derby.
Hockey “gave me a good foundation of skills so that when they started showing me the proper form and the right things to do, I was able to pick it up a little bit faster,” she said.
She saw a derby tryouts event on Facebook last year through a friend already in the league, skater Puke Skywalker.
“I was looking for a new sport,” Slomkowski said. “I was looking for a team and a new group of friends.”
Slomkowski knocked on her helmet as if knocking on wood as she said she hasn’t been seriously injured.
“Yeah, people get hurt, but it’s all in good fun,” she said.
Over 11 years, Peruzzi has had many injuries — the most serious a fractured kneecap that required surgery. She has also suffered concussions, bruised ribs, a twice-fractured nose, a separated shoulder, black eyes and torn ligaments.
Despite the injuries, she refuses to quit.
“This is my whole social circle,” she said. “It’s one big extended family.”
“I’ve done other sports, but nothing quite compares to this experience,” she said. The camaraderie “was something I was looking for, and you get that as soon as you walk in.”
Prospective players didn’t have to wait long to find out if they made the team. Vieira said players discussed the results of the tryouts afterwards on Thursday and sent out email offers on Friday.
The first bout of the season is a double header on March 25 at Insports Centers in Trumbull against Central New York Roller Derby and Southshire Battle Cats of Vermont. More information can be found at www.ctrollerderby.com.
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