WINTERSVILLE - "There's roller derby around here? I haven't seen that since the '70s!"
Such a reaction is a common one for 26-year-old Kelli Barker to hear whenever someone finds out she plays, that she's GivEmHel Kel with the Ohio Valley Roller Girls.
The OVRG is on the threshold of starting its third season Oct. 20, but as Barker notes, "I still have people who are clueless to the league's existence."
DERBY GIRL -- Kelli Barker of Wintersville participates with the Ohio Valley Roller Girls.
Barker didn't know either when she first got interested five years ago in roller derby, following Pittsburgh official league - Steel City Roller Derby.
"After watching a bout, I ran into an old classmate of mine who had just finished playing. She told me about the league (OVRG) in Martins Ferry, which is a lot closer to home and encouraged me to try out one of the boot camps, so I figured why not? I've been hooked ever since," said Barker.
The Wintersville resident is one of about 20 women ranging in age from their early 20s to late 30s who are a part of the league. They are students, teachers, nurses and professionals in other fields who mostly hail from the Wheeling area with the exception of Barker and a few others from Washington, Pa.
The league consists of three home teams that play against each other for interleague play - the Roll Miners, the River Brats and the Death House Dames - and a travel team - the OVRG All-Stars.
"Girls from all around our community have joined together under the leadership and skills training of roller derby veteran Kat Von D'Stroya, seen in the Drew Barrymore film 'Whip It.' We are a nonprofit skater-operated organization dedicated to the sport of roller derby. We are local girls, and we support our local businesses and communities. Derby girls come from all walks of life and actually pay to play," according to the OVRG's website.
"We have monthly dues that help to pay for the building we use for practice," Barker said. Practice sessions run three hours, three times a week in Martin Ferry.
Barker is a senior at West Liberty University, a student in the dental hygiene program who expects to graduate with her bachelor's degree come spring. She worked as a dental assistant for three years before starting school.
She was 25 when she decided to give roller derby a try, even though she'd only skated once before in her childhood.
"That's when I went down to Martins Ferry for the Ohio Valley Roller Girls bootcamp where new skaters are allowed to try things out and see if they like it," she said.
Barker did and loved it.
"What appeals to me about roller derby," Barker said, "is the constant motion of the sport. Whether you are playing or watching the bout, if you blink, you're bound to miss something. I like the fact that it is constantly changing. As a player, it's nice to rely on instinct and immediately react to a situation," she said.
Barker emphasized that roller derby today isn't "the roller derby your parents or grandparents watched."
It's not the 1972 "Kansas City Bomber" movie starring Raquel Welch as a roller derby skater trying to balance a desire for a happy personal life with her derby dreams of stardom.
"There are a strict set of rules that goes along with this game," Barker said. "Sure, there are a lot of hits and pile-ups, but there are no 'elbows-to-the-nose,' at least, not intentional. It's a rough sport, but I wouldn't give it up for anything. The camaraderie is amazing, too. Without this sport, I would have never met some of my greatest friends I have now," she said.
Flat track roller derby, she explained, is a fast-paced contact team sport that requires speed, strategy and athleticism.
"Each team fields up to five skaters per two-minute playing segments called a 'jam' with four blockers and one jammer. Blockers play both offense and defense rolls in a 'pack' on an oval track. Jammers - they have the stars on their helmets - score points for their team by lapping opposing players," she said.
The proper term for a roller derby match is "bout" like boxing. "We have bouts every other month until the spring when it is once each month. We play both Saturday and Sunday on the weekends we reserve at the James E. Carnes Center in St. Clairsville," Barker said.
"The Saturday bouts consist of the OVRG All Star Team vs. Visiting Teams from other leagues around the surrounding states. The Sunday bouts are usually a 'mixed scrimmage' where we take our own members and players from other leagues, mix them up into different teams and just have fun playing roller derby," she said.
The season three schedule begins Oct. 20-21 with Dec. 1-2 being a tournament weekend where skaters from other leagues play. Schedule dates in 2013 are March 9-10, April 6-7, May 4-5 and June 1-2.
Compared to other leagues, the fan base is a little small, according to Barker, who added, "but that's mainly because not a lot of people have heard of us. We are constantly trying to get our name out there, and the interest seems to be great. We have a decent turnout, but we are always eager to bring more interest and fans into the league."
The OVRG is always looking for volunteers and new recruits, according to Barker, a 2004 graduate of Indian Creek High School and the daughter of Jeannie and Charles Barker Jr.
"If someone is interested in being a skater, they should contact the recruitment committee for information on the next upcoming bootcamp at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at www.ohiovalleyrollergirls.com," she said.
A derby skating bootcamp for beginners is scheduled Oct. 23, according to the website.
(Kiaski can be contacted at email@example.com.)