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Magazine Name National Post
Article Title A Roll Of A Lifetime
Volume Information Newspaper
Article Content

The roll of a lifetime

Scott Burnside

 
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"Gonna tell you a story you won't believe
But I fell in love last Friday evening
With a girl I saw on a barroom TV screen...
Jim Croce, Roller Derby Queen"

Poor Jim Croce's been dead these 26 years and one might expect that Roller Derby might have stayed dead right alongside the master songsmith.

But this is the late 90's and retro is king and that means reincarnation, recyle, rerun, and so it is that every Friday and Saturday night, through the miracle of modern cable, viewers can feast their eyes on a new generation of roller derby queens (and kings).

These new wheeled merchants of mayhem, bashing and whacking each other while racing in circles at about 50 km/h, sport a brand new '90's look.

Gone are the clunky, four wheeled quad boots, replaced by inline skates.

But the roller derby recipe remains virtually untouched since its birth in the 1930's and its heyday in the 1960's and 1970's. A little roller-violence, a little roller-machismo, and a little roller-sex.

It has all translated into an average of two million viewers every weekend for the NASHVILLE NETWORK (TNN), a CBS Cable network, since the World Skating League wheeled onto television screens on Jan 15 with something called RollerJam.

"She was five-foot-six and two-fifteen
A bleached-blonde mama with a streak of mean
She knew how to scuffle and fight."

They call Kim Hartt the Heartbreaker (or is that Harttbreaker?).

"I'm a heartbreaker to the men because I leave them behind and I'm a heartbreaker to the women because I leave them flat on the track," said Hartt, the only Canadian of the 84 men and women who populate the new Rollerjam universe.

"I'm very proud to be Canadian," said Hartt, 26, a native of Edmonton who fled to warmer American climes seconds after graduating from the university of Alberta in 1994 with a degree in physical therapy.

An avid fitness buff, Hartt was taking part in a swimsuit calendar photo shoot in south Florida last year when a fellow model described tryouts for a new roller derby league. She was hired immediately.

As a teen, Hartt skated competitively and contemplated joining the Ice Capades (her mother insisted on University). When she showed up for RollerJam auditions with dozens of skaters, actors, bodybuilders and others, she was hooked.

"I'm up for anything. When I got there and saw the banked track, I knew that this was for me. There was no doubt in my mind," said Hartt who credits her father, a trick waterskier, with instilling in her an unbridled spirit of adventure.

"The roller derby program said
That she was built like a frigerator with a head.
Her fans call her Tuffy
But all her buddies call her Spike."

Hartt and the rest of the Nevada Hot Dice make their national television appearance tonight at 8pm in a tilt against the Florida Sundogs.

Roller Derby has long pedigree stretching back to the 1930's

 

There are six teams, which would lead the casual observer to believe they came from across the U.S. even though no one strays too far from the soundstage in south Florida, where all the games are filmed.

Still, Hartt is quick to point out that she and her Hot Dice teammates studiously avoided members of the California Quakes when they discovered they were in the same Florida drinking establishment.

The sport has a long tradition as pop sports/entertainment, dating back to the 1930's.

For a time in the early 1970's, there were several Canadian teams, including the Canadian All-stars, which featured luminaries like Paul "the Bear" Rupert and Skinnie Minnie Miller, neither of whom were Canadian.

Michael Yohnicki is, however, a Canadian who lives in London, Ont., and who skated with the Canadian All-Stars and any other squad that needed a spare roller in the early 70's.

He says he's "kind of jazzed," that at least a form of the old roller derby has returned to television and to such a large audience.

Still, the head of the Roller Derby Preservation Society (and now a locksmith by trade) admits the weekly Internet discussions that follow each Rollerjam show yield decidedly mixed reviews of the roller derby revival.

In the same way that professional wrestling insists that it is a sport, not theatre, Rollerjam insists that it's sport, not wrestling.

Rosemary O'Brien of CBS Cable happily trots out a list of the injuries incurred during taping sessions - a broken bone in a skater's neck, broken wrist, broken collarbone, concussions, torn ACLs and MCLs.

Like old-time roller derby, the personalities of the skaters and the teams are drawn in broad strokes. They may not necessarily wear white, but the good guys are easy to spot, as are the villians.

the Hot Dice for instance, are the flashy, glitzy team with a mean streak.

"We're kind of the sneaky, conniving team," admits Hartt.

And would her opponents describe Hartt as playing that role?

"I think they might say that," the heartbreaker admitted. "Well, I'm sure they would say that."

Jim Croce, where are you now?

"The night that I fell in love with a roller derby queen

Meanest hunk o' woman that anybody ever seen

Down in the arena."

National Post.
Photos National Post - Roll Of A Lifetime

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