Meadville Tribune

July 26, 2013

Allegheny profs find new connections with roller derby

By Lisa Byers
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — Stephanie Martin has lived in a few different places during her life — from Iowa to Minnesota to Colorado to Pennsylvania. But the Allegheny College associate professor of economics admits when moving to Meadville in 2005, she had difficulty adjusting.

“I actually didn’t really feel at home in Meadville until I started working with my students,” Martin said. “My classes do a lot of civic engagement. They are getting involved in nonprofit organizations. They’re considering public consequences of our area.

“At that point was when I starting feeling that I belonged and Allegheny College and Meadville were my home,” she said. “I tell my students all the time, they need to get off the campus and experience the town.”

Martin has taken the initiative herself to get involved in the community and is now involved with one of Meadville’s more unique nonprofit organizations: Roller derby.

Martin is one of two Allegheny College professors on the Rink Assassins Dolls of Doom derby team, which practices at Canadohta Lake and in Meadville at the Meadville Area Recreation Complex and is in its first year of competition.

Associate professor of biology Lisa Whitenack is also on the team. She is currently on leave awaiting the arrival of her second child.

“I’ve been roller skating ever since I can remember,” said Whitenack, who originally hails from Chicago. “In 2005, there was a show on A&E about the upstart roller derby in Texas called Rollergirls I believe.

“I thought it looked awesome and looked like it would be a lot of fun to do. When I was in grad school in Tampa a league had started there, but before I could try out, I became pregnant with my first child. Then I got the job at Allegheny and moved. So I just thought, ‘So much for that roller derby thing.’”

A merger in Meadville

Thankfully for Martin and Whitenack, a merger was forming in Meadville.

In 2011, roller derby made its appearance in the Meadville area with the Lake Erie Derby Dames and Crammer Girls Roller Derby teams. But in May 2012, Lake Erie Derby Dames co-founder Maria Davis retired from competitive roller derby shortly after suffering a minor injury at the Ice Break-Her Scrimmage at the MARC, according to LEDD coach Armand Wertz.

The team continued on for a while but eventually teamed up with some former teammates who were getting involved with RADD.

“As we continue to recruit, we have aspirations of one day fielding two teams — one under each banner,” said Wertz, now the coach for RADD. “But for now we have just enough skaters trained up to compete.

“So we are competing as a whole under the Rink Assassins name and plan to continue on until a time when our numbers dictate otherwise.”

For now, RADD is home to about 14 players, said Kathy Knapp, one of the team’s seven founders, including Martin and Whitenack, who are doing exactly what roller derby is intended to be all about, feeling empowered.

“The very tenets of all the rules and the founding organizations,” Martin said, “it’s about helping other women to get involved in something that makes them feel strong.”

“You get to connect with all these fabulous women from all walks of life,” Whitenack said. “It’s educational; broadens the horizon.

“My daughter is three-and-a-half and thinks roller derby is the best thing ever,” Whitenack said. “She has oven mits and a hat and skates and runs around and tackles her stuffed penguin.”

But just what do Martin and Whitenack’s students think about their professors’ involvement in RADD where they are known as Smartin Sassy and Stingrayge, respectively?

“I don’t think most of my students know,” Martin said. “A couple of my students have been to some bouts this summer. They think it is cool that Meadville has this derby team. And they get to see us outside of teaching.”

“They are a little surprised,” Whitenack said. “But overall the response has been pretty positive. I have a poster right out in front of my office.”

Final 2013 home bout

RADD hosts its final home bout of the season on Saturday. Action begins at 3 p.m. at the MARC. It is RADD’s second bout in Meadville. Knapp said attendance at the first bout back in June was decent, but that the team is hoping for an even bigger draw on Saturday.

Cost is $5. All proceeds benefit RADD, a self-funded organization, which is looking to contribute dollars to community organizations in the near future, Martin said.

“We’ve done some stuff up in Erie,” she said. “We’ve done some guest bartending. Every time we do a bout, they try to donate money somewhere, but we definitely want to get more into fundraising and building community relations.”

You can go

The Rink Assassins Dolls of Doom women’s roller derby team, which features two Allegheny College professors, hosts its final home bout of the season on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Meadville Area Recreation Complex. Cost is $5.

Skaters get fresh start with PURR

Lake Erie Derby Dames isn’t the only roller derby squad to undergo changes in the last year.

Crammer Girls, started in 2011 at the Olympic Fun Center in Hermitage, is also no longer active under the same name. Following some differences amongst members as to what direction the team was headed, some players opted to leave and embark on new endeavors, according to one of the original players, Shawna Strautnieks, also known as Sophonda Drama.

The remaining players chose a fresh start. So in March 2012, Pennsylvania Underground Roller Rebellion, also known as PURR, was born.

“We continued to practice and before Christmas we had a new name, logos and a USARS (USA Roller Sports) charter,” Strautnieks said.

PURR has participated in a number of bouts already. It hosts its first bout at Olympic Fun Center on Aug. 24.

You can participate

Area roller derby teams, Rink Assassins Dolls of Doom and Pennsylvania Underground Roller Rebellion, are accepting new members.

-More information: Visit Rink Assassins Roller Derby and PURR (Pennsylvania Underground Roller Rebellion) on Facebook.