Extra Points: Ohio Roller Girls
What a difference a few years can make.
In 2006, when the Ohio Roller Girls held practices weeknights on the West Side, roller derby still seemed foreign to most skaters, who circled the rink in a clumsy, tangled pack of fishnets and bruises.
They soon formed four local teams to face off for diehard fans fascinated by the bawdy antics and riot-grrl chic. They'd occasionally play traveling teams, but the focus was on building interest and skills here in town.
This season, the Columbus skaters fielded a team sanctioned by the Women's Flat Track Derby Association, the sport's governing body. Since April, the Roller Girls have faced experienced opponents from Sioux Falls, Dayton, Cincinnati and Montreal en route to a 5-3 record.
"We have come a long way, but we're cognizant that we have a lot of growing pains and a lot more talent to gain," said Kristi Barka, aka Phoenix Bunz, who helps lead the top squad.
"We want to be a team that competes on the national scene. We feel like we're moving in the right direction."
To that end, the Ohio Roller Girls will take the track Saturday against the Fort Wayne Derby Girls for the season's final bout. The local B team, known as Gang Green, will battle Fort Wayne's Bomb Squad.
Flat-track derby is a contact sport that involves two teams of five skaters who roll in a circle. The goal is for a team's jammer, who acts like a running back, to lap opponents and score points. Speed and agility are more important than brute strength in a game that has definitely become more sport than show.
Since its renaissance in the early millennial years, the game has experienced rapid growth, with four WFTDA regions holding about 15 teams each. Facing more advanced competition out of town has forced the Columbus team to learn better, tougher derby.
"With traveling, you can see what other cities have to offer," Barka said. "It's definitely upping the ante as far as level of play."
Sarah Bardwell, a co-captain of Gang Green known on the track as Val-n-tina Sauci, agreed that seeing new strategies makes both local teams better prepared to climb national and regional rankings maintained by the derby association.
"When you play every week against friends, you know what to expect, so you're not seeing anything new," she said. "When you play teams where you don't know what to expect, it's a really awesome, challenging experience."
What: Fort Wayne Derby Girls vs. Ohio Roller Girls
When: 4 p.m. Saturday, July 18
Where: Central Ohio Roller Hockey, Grandview
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