A wheel to power: Rollerderby shows Bloomfield woman a new roll

Monday, September 14, 2009
HARD-HITTING ACTION: Stacey Groves, (crimson uniform, left) pushes forward as she competes with the Flatliners, one of two away teams in the Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls League. Groves is a 1989 graduate of Bloomfield High School. (Submitted photo).

Stacey Groves knows her roll, understanding where there are wheels, there's a way.

In her day job, Groves is a Bloomington-based counselor, assisting recovering alcoholics and drug addicts on the road to recovery.

But Groves, a 1989 graduate of Bloomfield High School, is also equally at home rolling on the rollerderby rink, joining a growing number of women in a sport that's resurging nationwide.

Once she dons a set of skates, pads and a helmet, Groves becomes "Pele's Melee," one of the Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls.

Rollerderby's popularity has waxed and waned since the 1950s, experiencing a rebirth in the 1970s and again in recent years. Invented in America, the contact sport features formations of females skating around an oval track.

Points are scored by passing, as competitors lap the members of the opposing team. It's a mix of racing, football and wrestling, with rollergirls often assuming colorful alter egos that leave fans cheering their favorites wildly.

Groves is no exception.

Pele, her namesake, is also name-checked by Tori Amos, one of Groves' favorite musicians, on the album "Boys for Pele." Pele was a Hawaiian volcano goddess.

"She seeks to bring the wrath of Pele to those who get in her way and to those who deserve it," reads Groves' bio on www.bleedingheartlandrollergirls.com. "The honorable, spared. The unkind, cursed. Those unlucky enough to be on the opposing team ... destroyed."

However, while the personas may be larger than life, nothing's staged.

"Everything we do is absolutely real. It's a tough game and we play hard. We practice a minimum of seven hours a week and most of us work out outside of practice to increase our endurance."

However, Groves said rollerderby's smashmouth reputation for violence is overstated.

"There are bumps and bruises," said Groves. "Just as there are any sport, like football."

She expects to fall at least once during every bout, but adds the event's organizers train participants on safe ways to fall.

The sport's traditionally been female-focused, with Groves estimating about 95 percent of participants nationwide are women.

Men help out in Bloomington, mostly as referees.

"It's something I'm pretty proud of," she said. "The women on my teams and in my league are an amazing bunch of women, just as the women I've met in other leagues are."

As a rollergirl, Groves skates for two teams within the league, one the home-team Farm Fatales, the other the away-team Flatliners.

Altogether, the Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls league is composed of Groves' two squads and two additional ones, the home-team Slaughter Scouts and the away-team Code Blue Assassins.

The home team Slaughter Scouts and Farm Fatales will close their 2009 season vying against one another with a 7 p.m. bout on Oct. 10.

The teams skate at home at the former Bloomington Sportsplex, recently renamed Twin Lakes Recreation. They'll also travel as far as six hours away, most recently appearing in Columbia, Mo.

The away season closes Nov. 7 with both away teams skating at the Indianapolis State Fairgrounds against members of the Naptown Rollergirls.

"The leagues really set their own standards for how far away they will travel," she said. "If (an event) was further away than six hours we'd have to discuss it."

The Bloomington-based league has grown dramatically since it was organized in 2006. It formally joined the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) last year, a national organization which regulates, establishes rules, and sets national rankings.

November's derby with the Indianapolis squads is especially crucial, Groves said, as the Naptown Rollergirls are WFTDA members.

"They're nationally ranked, and we want to start being ranked," she said. "It should be a good time."

Groves' own history with the Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls dates back almost to the group's inception.

While the league began in 2006, Groves moved back to the area in January 2007.

She attended a recruiting session in July of that year after seeing skaters in Bloomington's Independence Day parade.

"There were three games that summer, and the first one I watched, I went 'Wow, that was cool.' After that, each game I watched, I thought 'Wow, how can I do that?' "

Groves attended a field camp that fall, trying out for the teams and winning a spot. She's been skating ever since.

"I hadn't skated in a long time," she said, but added those women selected for the squads are taught all the skills they need, even if they've never skated before.

"Quite a few women who are involved in rollerderby have never been involved in a sport," she said. "Others are athletic, so we have a good mix. We teach them what they need to know."

Tickets for the rollerderby are available at the former Sportsplex, as well as a variety of Bloomington stores, including Bloomingfoods, Amused Clothing, Vintage Phoenix Comics, the Rolling Thunder Fun Factory, and the Sunrise Box Office.

They can also be purchased from individual rollergirls, or on-line at www.brownpapertickets.com /

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  • I am glad to hear of the rising interest in Roller Derby I have been a huge derby fan since I was a child and attended many bouts over the years. This is a fascinating sport and fun to watch. Good luck Bleeding Heartland girls.

    -- Posted by shmily86 on Tue, Sep 15, 2009, at 12:25 PM
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