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Black Eyed Suzies step up to the competition

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Published on: Thursday, July 25, 2013

By Donna Broadway

ROCKVILLE – The women of the Free State Roller Derby are not shy. Within minutes, Morbid Karma is pulling down her khaki shorts to show a bruise on her left buttock. The bruise is only one of her many battle scars. Mandy Kelly, as she is known outside the derby, has a scar on her right leg, a bruise on her right knee and a bruise on her upper left thigh. In a sport known for its aggression and hard hitting, battle scars are a given.

Kelly, a stay-at-home mother, is one of the co-chairs of training for the FSRD’s only roller derby team, Montgomery County’s Black-Eyed Suzies.

The FSRD began in 2009 after the founder, Kate Hendrickson, or Keightasoreass Rex, became inspired after watching Whip It. Unlike in that movie, however, elbows to the face are not allowed. The only legal hitting in roller derby is shoulder and hip blocks.

 “I love Whip It, but it is not an accurate representation, they do a lot of things that are illegal, a lot of their plays aren’t realistic, the fighting on the track thing, if you go to an actual bout, you will see seven referees and if you fight, you will be ejected immediately. There is none of that. I always say to people, if you don’t think it’s real, come to a bout,” said Sandi Burtseva, or Slaughter Lily.

Maryland has 15 roller derby groups. FSRD currently has 40 skaters on its roster and a dozen “fresh meat” players vying for a spot on the team. The league is looking to add another team to the roster and wants to expand to three teams in the next couple years.

“One of the things I love about Free State is that we’re accessible. We’re not only accessible for a brand new person who does not know how to skate, we are also accessible to people who are financially tight and can’t afford to pay the $30 we charge and only four people on the whole team know that you asked to be waived and I think that’s really phenomenal,” Kelly said.

The players in FSRD are ranked by badges placed on their helmets. Red badges label the most inexperienced skaters who do not get any contact; yellow means the skater is allowed to pass and have partial contact with other yellow skaters; green allows full contact; teal allows a skater to scrimmage and bout; and a new badge, purple, will be added to identify those able to participate in bouts or matches – once this is added, teal badges will only allow scrimmages.

Bouts are played with two teams of five skating counterclockwise on a circuit track. Each team designates a scoring player called the jammer; the other four members are blockers. The jammer wears a helmet cover with two stars, while the remaining members’ helmets are uncovered.

Point scoring occurs during jams, plays that may last up to two minutes. During a jam, points are scored when a jammer on a scoring pass, laps or passes members of the opposing team. Each team's blockers use body contact, changing positions, and other methods to assist its jammer to score while hindering the opposing team's jammer. Points are determined by how many times a jammer successfully passes the blockers.

FSRD is 4-15 this season, most recently winning three bouts against The Iron Mountain Roller Girls of Cumberland.

“Our record is perhaps not that impressive yet but on a sharp upswing,” Burtseva said.

FSRD is fundraising to help fund rent and bouts.  The team partners with local organizations to sell products and services, and a few of the skaters even sell homemade products at bouts.

Emily Rainone, or Evilyn Ivy, the financial co-chair for FSRD, said overall costs are low because the group is volunteer-based, and players buy their own gear and pay their own travel costs.

Those involved in the FSRD consider themselves the “sisterhood of the traveling slams,” hard hits and bruises and all.

“Derby attracts people who had trouble fitting in other places and that’s not universal, that’s a generalized statement, I think that led itself to having a family and the sport itself is kind of hard and violent, it’s full contact and anytime you go on the field and hit each other, you’re going to end up with a sisterhood and a family,” Rainone said.

If you are interested in more information about FSRD, visit or contact

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