Roller derby catches on in Westmoreland

| Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, 8:52 p.m.

Some call it exercise, others a getaway, most a bond, but outsiders may consider the Westmoreland County roller derby team intense ... and a little crazy.

“It's just for everybody to come and have a good time,” said Calista Coffman, founder and coach of the Westmoreland County Derby. “Where else can you go to see something like that for 10 dollars? It's cheap and it's different entertainment.”

Coffman or “Atomic Bombino,” a pediatric home-care nurse in Scottsdale, is referring to the 20-minute periods where two packs of women skate around a designated pivot point. All the while, the jammer, or scoring position, does her best to break through the opponent's pack to score points.

The women in tights whizzing around the track, flinging each other to the ground, can be quite intimidating, but Scottsdale resident Aleesha Welsh or “Murder Monroe” says anyone can do it.

“There is no right or wrong person to play derby,” said Welsh, a part-time assistant in the Westmoreland County Hospital Emergency Room. “We have women of all different ages and sizes, physicality. People say I couldn't do that because I'm not an athlete. Your kind of whatever you want to be, and you can do this.”

Skating is a part of almost every childhood and can be hard to forget.

“When you jump back on those skates for the first time in years, and it all just comes back to you,” Coffman said. “We all have that sort of background where we don't have an athletic bone in our body, but you put the skates on your feet and get out there and do derby and you are pretty much an instant athlete.”

Coffman skated with the Steel City Derby Demons for three years before wanting to bring the sport closer to home. That's when she founded Westmoreland County (Westco) Derby.

“I was kind of concerned we wouldn't have the interest here,” Coffman said. “Our first meeting (in February), we had roughly seven girls show up. After we hung flyers, we had roughly 20 women that were interested. We just had to find a place to skate, and we got really lucky with Hot Shots (Sports Arena in Mt. Pleasant).”

Coffman relies heavily on past experience to coach the women into thriving derby players and sought help from the Morganton Roller Vixens and Ohio Valley Roller Girls with logistics, such as derby insurance. And although the business side is important, it's not what makes the sport.

“Derby is a sport where you can go and play another league and completely lose or kick the other contender and go to the after party and dance and hang out with each other and just have a good time,” Coffaman said. “You can talk to each other. That's the part of the sport that I love.”

Karen Struble Myers of Unity agrees that the bonds made at derby are at the forefront, rather than the sometimes brutal collisions on the rink.

“In many ways, this is something that brings a lot of joy to people's lives, and it's very personally enriching,” said Struble Myers or “Code Red.” “I think people come from different backgrounds and participate in derby. It's been so wonderful to meet so many different people, but we really are like a family. We spend a lot of time together at practice, but then we spend a lot of time together after practice, as well, because we make public appearances together.”

Struble Myers, a certified fundraising executive for the Fred Rodgers Center at St. Vincent College, joined after some encouraging by her husband.

“My husband told me it was my life's destiny to play roller derby because I've always been athletic and a little bit aggressive from time to time in terms of how I play,” Struble Myers said. “I have to say, in some ways he is right, in some ways it is my life's destiny to play roller derby.”

Many of the derby girls feel the same way. It's something that is carried with them wherever they go. It's in their blood.

“You can go to a different state and run into a girl that does derby in that state and be instantly friends,” Coffman said. “You just have that bond with them where you are instantly friends.

“It's just something that's unspoken.”

Brittany Goncar is a freelance writer.

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