Almost every weekend a group of athletes get together to participate in a sport that has been making a resurgence in recent years, roller derby. In an underground bunker off of 90th and Maple the group known as Sparks & Wreckreation continuously rounds a 65 yard track taped onto the concrete floor of a former roller skating facility.
Sparks and Wreckreation is an offshoot of the better known Omaha Roller Girls Program as well as the slightly lesser known Big O Roller Bros men’s roller derby team. The group was formed by a skater who goes by the moniker Pinky the Insane. In the world of roller derby, the players utilize alter egos rather than their real names. Players go by names like Chicken Allen King, Ima Firestarter, Midlife Crashes, and Kiki Strike. Players are also encouraged to create their character which contributes to the colorfulness of the sport. Former players like Ima Firestarter with her rainbow socks and roller-skate tattoos, Midlife Crashes with her kitty ears, and newer players like Kiki Strike (a pretty young hipster woman speeding around the track in her Buddy Holly like black rimmed glasses) and Hippy Chick (a fun loving woman with a permanent smile on her face) add excitement and uniqueness to the sport.
These things are about the only aspects that are embellished in the sport of roller derby. Modern roller derby is vastly different than the mostly staged spectacle that was popular during the 1950’s to 1970’s. Today’s game consists of real scoring, more controlled contact, and faster action.
Today’s game also requires an extremely large time commitment as teams can be spread out over large distances since the sport is still in its growth phase. Due to the time commitment and expense associated with being a member of the Omaha Roller Girls and the Big O Roller Bros, Sparks and Wreckreation was formed in 2012 to provide new players an opportunity to learn the game locally without having to invest the time or money that is required to be a member of one of the competitive teams.
Sparks and Wreckreation is all about providing players an opportunity to learn the game in a supportive and safe environment. Due to its mission, and the goal to have sufficient numbers to play scrimmages, the league is co-ed.
While the uninitiated may have concerns about men and women playing against each other in a contact sport, roller derby may be one of the few sports where men and women can compete against each other on an equal footing. There is no punching or elbows to the face like in the old version of roller derby. In reality women may actually have a small advantage in the modern game due to women, by and large, having a lower center of gravity and generally being more agile and small enough to slice through jumbled packs of skaters. While watching a Sparks and Wreckreation scrimmage it is a common occurrence to see a female skater execute a well place hip check onto the lower thigh of a male skater, knocking them off their feet and sending them splatting on the concrete like a half cooked flapjack.
The Sparks and Wreckreation program has become so successful that it now serves at the de facto feeder system for both the Omaha Roller Girls and Big O Roller Bros. In addition to serving as a training ground for players, non-skating officials also practice their craft in the program.
In a normal scrimmage there will be two 30 minute periods played and as many games played as possible until the group gets too tired to continue. As some new players may be intimidated by co-ed action, jams (similar to shifts in hockey) alternate between co-ed and female only.
While the action is to serve as a simulation of actual roller derby, there are a few tweaks that reinforce the fact that this is an instructional and recreational league. The first thing that one notices is the fact that they have to sign in and get their team assignment from Mom. Mom is Pinky the Insane’s biological Mother, but everybody’s “derby mother”. Mom was exposed to derby because of her daughter’s participation but immediately fell in love with the sport and its culture of inclusiveness.
The other main thing that one will notice is how penalties are administered. In sanctioned play penalties are served for a time duration. In Sparks and Wreckreation there is a penalty wheel. Upon committing a penalty, the player spins the wheel to learn what their punishment will be. This punishment can consist of sitting out for 30 seconds, singing a song, doing the Chicken Dance, or having to pose with their hands on their head in the fashion of moose antlers.
While the league focuses on fun and skill building, the mail goal is to help players become competent enough to play the game at a level that will make it enjoyable and allow them to eventually play for the Omaha Roller Girls or Big O Roller Bros. The barriers to entry are minimal. To participate a prospective player simply needs to have skates, safety equipment, and a membership to the national governing body. After these basic requirements are met the coaches will help the new skater develop the skills and confidence required to join in scrimmages.
Sparks and Wreckreation is always looking for new players who are interested in roller derby. More information can be found on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SparksAndWreckreation/ or by emailing SparksAndWreckreation@gmail.com.