Getting to know the women of Cape Cod Roller Derby
These ladies are really on a roll!
A warehouse in Dennis Port has taken on a new identity recently for a group of about 40 Cape Cod women. Located on Shad Holl Road, the Cape Cod Media Center serves as home base for the Salty Dolls of the Cape Cod Roller Derby League—and participants in the all-female league refer to the center, affectionately, as the “Doll House.”
For each practice or bout, the players lace up their old-fashioned four-wheel roller skates, and don knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, mouth guards and a helmet. Face paint is optional—but encouraged!
“A lot of people remember the theatrical aspect of roller derby from back in the day,” says Lynne Duquette Perera, 38, the league’s founder and president. “Now, it’s a little less theatrical, and a little more of a sport.” The Salty Dolls follow the rules and regulations of the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association, an international organization that governs the sport of women’s flat track roller derby.
The Cape league is flat-track roller derby, which means the sport is played on a flat surface that is suitable for skating, such as roller-skating rinks, basketball courts and parking lots. Each bout lasts 60 minutes, with two 30-minute periods made up of a series of matchups known as “jams.” Typically, a jam, which is something like a mini period, lasts from 15 seconds to two minutes, depending on what the lead “jammer” is able to accomplish. Designated by each team, the jammer is usually a speedster and tasked with maneuvering and fighting her way past a cluster of the opposing team’s blockers, while her teammates, in the same way, try to block the opposition’s jammer. The jammer’s goal is to zip around the track and pass players on the opposing team; each trip around, and every opponent passed, racks up points.
During a recent bout, the Salty Dolls hosted the Southshire Battle Cats of Bennington, Vermont. From the very first whistle, chaos ensued as the squads’ jammers and blockers made their way in fits and starts around the oval-shaped track. Clusters of skaters began to form on the track and, between hip checks, shoulder checks and the occasional skater sent flying across the floor—the Dolls began to pile up points. Teams earn one point every time their jammer passes a blocker from the opposing squad. After a close first half, the home team took control, sending the Battle Cats back to The Green Mountain State with their tails between their legs. Final score: Salty Dolls 247, Battle Cats 130.
Throughout the fast-paced bout, the action on the track was monitored by “oohs,” “ahhhs” and other enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. One of the loudest moments came in support of Rachel Hutchinson of Brewster, one of the Dolls’ newest team members. A former hockey player, Hutchinson joined the team with no previous roller derby experience—but you wouldn’t have known it from this game. She enjoyed a breakout performance, flying through the pack to complete three consecutive laps, racking up 10 points for her team while dodging hits left and right. Hutchinson was named the game’s MVB—Most Valuable Blocker—and the crowd bellowed its approval.
How did the Cape Cod Roller Derby League get rolling? One day in February 2013, Duquette Perera of Yarmouth Port was reminiscing about the fun she had roller skating growing up, and she wrote a Facebook post about wanting to start a roller derby league on the Cape. A friend, Talia Arone of Harwich, responded with enthusiasm, and with a “what’s stopping us?” mentality, the women began to brainstorm. The first “jam” they came to concerned location. But Arone quickly came up with a solution, booking time at the Hyannis Youth and Community Center. The women posted on Facebook a time and date when they’d host their first practice, and then waited anxiously to see what kind of turnout they’d get. “When we started, we had no idea if anyone would show up,” Duquette Perera recalls. “We were like ‘worst comes to worst, we’ll just split the rent.’ We ended up having 15 women show up right off the bat. They were ready—they were like, ‘all right, let’s pay our dues, what do we do? Where do we buy our shirts?’ We were shocked.”
Soon, word began to spread and the league began to grow. With every week that passed, new skaters, ranging in age from early 20’s to mid 60’s, began showing up for practice, eager to learn a new sport and/or sharpen their skills. “We couldn’t believe it,” Duquette Perera recalls. “It was actually working. It was really taking off. It was pretty neat watching it grow like that. It could have gone one way or the other.”
In 2014—about a year after their first practice—the skaters were eager to put their skills into action. Following open skates, hours of drilling and visits by guest coaches, the team’s first official bout was scheduled. The league’s two teams, the Dolls and the Dockyard Danes—who have now joined forces as one—were set to face off in Hyannis. Once again, Duquette Perera found herself wondering if anyone would show up. But as the ladies geared up, they found themselves looking out at a sea of some 500 fans. “We sold out,” Duquette Perera says. “We couldn’t let anyone else in. Next thing we knew, we were looking at the stands and it was a packed house. We had people in the bleachers, people sitting on the floor, people standing. We couldn’t believe it.”
After that first bout, though, staff at the center reinstalled an ice rink, and the derby ladies found themselves once again without a home. During their second season, while the team searched for a new home track, they played all away bouts against the Battle Cats, and Connecticut teams including the Yankee Brutals of Trumbull, and the Bedrockers from South Windsor. Eventually, the team found the Cape Cod Media Center, and after a few visits, they began to call it the Doll House.
Today, about 40 women participate in The Cape Cod Roller Derby League. There’s a “first-string” of 12 skaters—the number needed to skate in a bout, and about 30 additional players who fall in the category of “Level 2,” otherwise known as “Fresh Meat.” Those in the latter category are new to the sport and still learning to skate and stop. As they improve, they may move up to become a “first-string” veteran or “roster skater.” One of the perks of reaching “roster skater” status is that the player can come up with her own personally tailored derby name. From “Darth Rightus” (Grace Decotte of Brewster) or “Gladys Nightmare” (Moe Leary of Wellfleet) to “Sass Kicker” (Sarah Ancahas of Yarmouth) and “LuLu Nori Morse” (Duquette Perera), the names are crafted with skill—and intended to send a humorous, quasi-intimidating message.
The quirky nicknames carry over off the track, as do the special bonds team members have formed. Samantha Moran, whose derby name is “Lamba Goddess,” joined the league in 2016 when she moved to Yarmouth from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, where she played in a roller derby league for four years. A natural roller skater since she first started taking steps, Moran says the fact Cape Cod had roller derby influenced her decision to move here. “I’ve gotten friendship out of roller derby,” Moran says. “A lot of the girls on the team have become family to me, because most of my family isn’t on the Cape. They’re very supportive and they really reach out if you’re having a hard time.”
When they’re not skating, the ladies often spend time together, participating in parades and other community events as a group. For some, the familial bonds are so strong they have decided against moving off Cape Cod—though they had planned to. “It’s exciting to hear young people are sticking around, even if it’s for something as simple as roller derby, because it becomes such a huge part of their lives,” Duquette Perera says. “I had one foot out the door, too. But then, when we started roller derby, I realized there’s no way I’m leaving now. I have met some of the best people I’ve ever met here.”
For Sarah Ancahas, all it took was watching one practice and she was sold. Today, two years later, she’s happy she joined the league. “Going from working to becoming a stay-at-home-mom was harder than I thought in different ways,” Ancahas says. “It was so great to get out of the house and be with a group of supportive women and get exercise at the same time.”
And from the interviews we conducted, it seems participating in roller derby has a way of stiffening the backbone. “A lot of the women come in, and they’re shy, uncomfortable or awkward,” Duquette Perera says. “I hope that people can come in and come out of their shell a little bit, gain confidence in the fact that they’re doing something really cool and badass. We see a lot of women’s confidence grow, their bodies change, their self-esteems change.”
For Moran, pushing herself to improve in the sport has given her the toughness to help get through situations in her life as well. “Roller derby, in general, gives you a lot of confidence,” Moran says, “because it’s a lot of pushing limits to see how far you can go. Maybe you don’t think you can get through a tough situation, and then, next thing you know, you’ve gotten through it. It’s empowering. I think once you start roller derbying, and once you get into it, it gets in your blood.”
The Cape Cod Roller Derby League practices year-round and typically plays about 10 bouts per year. In the coming weeks, the team has a home bout scheduled Saturday, August 5, against the CT Roller Girls; an away bout Saturday, August 19, versus Northampton Pioneer Valley Roller Derby; and a home matchup Saturday, September 23, against the Bay State Brawlers.
The Cape Cod Roller Derby League is mourning the loss of team member Caitlin O’Hara, who passed away in July.
Terms from the track
The following is a list of unique roller derby terminology
Fresh meat—new recruits
Hot lap—used in drills or practice, a lap skated as quickly as possible
Pack—the mass of blockers from both teams skating around the track together
Roller Derby wife—one’s roller derby partner in crime.
Whip—a technique where one skater uses an opposing skater’s momentum to propel herself
More information about the league can be found at capecodrollerderby.com.