Radical new addition

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First Posted: 1/19/2015

Competing with the steady hum of arcade game music and the whirl of a vacuum cleaner is the sound of skates gliding over a wooden track.

It’s bitterly cold on this Tuesday night, but the ladies are back after their month-long break and this second practice at Skateaway in Wilkes-Barre is happening no matter what.

There are helmets, knee pads, tattoos, piercings and pigtails. There are moms, lawyers, retail store managers, nurses and one grandmother, but for the next two hours they’re all Roller Radicals.

The start of this season is particularly special, because this year, the Roller Radicals officially became a part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA).

“Beyond excited, it’s like big, big, big, big news,” said one of the original members, Sandra “Burger” Davison. “Big dream, big step for us.”

WFTDA is an international governing body that sets standards for rules, seasons and safety for all sanctioned roller derby competitions. According to their website, there are currently 302 member leagues (aka teams) with some hailing from as far away as Australia. The Roller Radicals, Northeast Pennsylvania’s only all female roller derby league, got news of their induction on Dec. 22.

The road to membership began in the WFTDA’s apprenticeship program, which is designed to get a league familiar with the breakdown of the organization and the responsibilities that come with becoming a full member.

“Just this past year, we finished the program,” said head coach Alana “Liberty Violence” De Luca. “You have to do online lessons, you have to take quizzes, you have to write essays, letters of recommendations. You have to play sanctioned bouts. It’s a long process, but we got there, it’s very exciting.”

WFTDA is divided into three divisions – D1, D2 and everybody else. The Roller Radicals are currently in the unofficial D3 group.

“We can compete on a national level,” said De Luca about why WFTDA membership is a big deal. “At the end of the year, there is divisionals and there’s also nationals. … This is the real deal. Becoming a full-fledged member of WFTDA is just the start.”

Roller derby has been in the area for nine years, according to Davison. There was one big league, the Coal City Rollers, but there was a split and a second league called the Diamond City Scream Queens was formed.

But six years ago, the two leagues decided to reunite and form a new league and on Sept. 9, 2009, the Roller Radicals were born.

Some of the women like Christi “Disaster Girl” Chadderdon of Montoursville have been with the Roller Radicals for five years.

“When I first started playing, my mom’s first response was ‘But you’re so little,’” she said. “Now she’s a huge fan and comes to most of our games.”

Convincing family members is usually step one after joining the roller derby. After all, why would anyone want to sign up for the bruises, cracked tail bones and the occasional, though rare, broken bone.

“It lets the aggression out,” said mother of two, Brandy “Bagins” Ralston of Wilkes-Barre. “You need it, especially being a mom. You’re in the house all day. It’s a great way to relieve stress.”

And that’s the appeal.

It takes a certain kind of woman to be on a roller derby league, but it’s not the kind of woman most people think of.

“We have all different types of people that join but essentially it’s a group of fun-loving, good-time having women,” Davidson said.

It was this group and their fun, tough style of play that attracted De Luca, a New York native, when she moved into the area in Oct. 2009.

She first came across roller derby when she saw a flier for team tryouts while living in Connecticut. As De Luca tells it, it was only her sheer enthusiasm that got her a two-week trial period.

“I was awful,” she said. “I busted my butt, I fell down a lot, but I was able to move past it and impress them and from there, seven years later, I’m with Wilkes-Barre.”

De Luca loves her squad so much that she makes the nearly 90 minute drive (one-way) from Mountoursville twice a week to practice with the Roller Radicals. Games, or bouts, are typically played once a month. The Roller Radicals have played in New Jersey against teams like the Jerzey Derby Brigade and the New Jersey Roller Derby. They’ve played in Ohio versus the Rubber City Rollergirls. In Maryland against the Free State Roller Derby and, of course, in Pennsylvania against the Two Rivers Roller Derby, the Lehigh Valley Roller Girls, the Pottstown Roller Derby and the State College Area Rollergirls.

The Roller Radicals are opening up this season on the road in Yonkers, New York, against the Suburbia Roller Derby on Saturday, Feb. 28, at 6 p.m.

Competitions can get intense, but De Luca and the rest of the Roller Radicals say there’s one thing that unites every single roller derby athlete — sisterhood.

“We develop these relationships with these other leagues,” De Luca said. “You really build up these relationships so you can rely on each other.”

Interest, particularly in NEPA, is not at the levels the Roller Radicals would like. Though they have a collection of loyal fans, they want more. In the past, they’ve worked with local charities like Ruth’s Place Women’s Shelter to get their name out.

“We really like to help the community, it’s part of the foundation of WFTDA,” De Luca said. “We all started from somewhere. How are you going to get help, if you’re not going to help somebody else?”

Are you ready?

The Roller Radicals are looking for some fresh meat and will be holding tryouts on Tuesday, Jan. 27, from 8 to 10 p.m. Interested parties should bring their own mouth guard. Equipment will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“We take in and we do what we can,” De Luca said. “And if you have the will to play and to work hard then you’re good.”