Law change would make roller derby legal in Maine

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In Maine’s nine roller derby leagues, there are hip checks, bumps and hardcore skating by players with nicknames like Hard Dash and Frida Rockit.

It’s a full-contact sport — though maybe not officially.

Per roller-skating law in Maine — and there is actually roller-skating law in Maine — no contact is allowed.

State Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, has submitted emergency legislation to change that.

It’s up for a public hearing in early February.

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“When (Maine Roller Derby) announced they were tackling this endeavor, most of us looked at it and went, ‘What?'” said Taylor “Nacho Muffin” Pearson, president of the new Androscoggin Fallen Angels league and team, which practices at the Lewiston Armory.

She couldn’t believe the law was real.

“This is an athletic endeavor,” said Heather “Kitty Galore” Campbell of Auburn, team co-captain. “There are well-defined rules and you can’t clothesline anybody; it’s not wrestling on skates, (but) contact happens throughout.”

Russell said late last fall that she had heard from Maine Roller Derby, the oldest, largest league in the state, which is looking to raise $400,000 to buy a home base. 

“They’ve been operating out of a Happy Wheels and they would like their own facility where they can do clinics and train junior leagues and really elevate the sport, but they also in the process wanted to make this very prescriptive change to the law so everything would be legal and legit,” Russell said.

Her bill, LD 1559, “An Act To Encourage Roller Derby,” changes the 1991 Roller Skating Safety Law to allow colliding with objects and other skaters “when the skater is taking part in an organized team sport.”

Melissa “Frida Rockit” Prescott of Norway said to her knowledge, no roller derby game has ever been stopped because of current law, but there’s that possibility.
 
“It’s placing the roller rink owners and the people who are putting on these events in a precarious position right now, and it doesn’t need to be that way,” said Prescott, co-captain of The Port Authorities, Maine Roller Derby’s travel team. “Of course, this law was written before roller derby had really made a comeback at all, so nobody was imagining there would be a sport on roller skates, done at a roller rink, that involved people causing collisions with each other.” 

Russell said she submitted the bill after the emergency deadline this winter but that it was approved for consideration because the investment in the facility was on the line.

“We sort of did something similar with MMA (changing laws around mixed martial arts) a few years ago and the sport has really taken off in Maine,” Russell said. “It’s really kind of nice to be championing a sport that a lot of women play. It demonstrates that women can be tough and aggressive and play very, very hard.”

Heather “Hard Dash” Steeves of Portland, who skates on the Maine Roller Derby’s internationally ranked all-star team, said she’s heard some grumbling about the emergency status but hopes lawmakers can look past that.

“Roller derby is good for Maine,” Steeves said. “It’s good for Maine women and we just want to promote our sport in a legal way. Roller derby is my sport; it’s my workout, it’s my community — it’s where I meet my friends three days a week.”

Androscoggin Fallen Angels, which formed in April 2015, has 14 active members, ages 25 to 50, and plans its public debut March 26 in an exhibition at the Lewiston Armory.
 
Pearson said she doesn’t expect updating the law would have any effect on actual play, but the team, which is still looking to add members, hopes attention to the law raises the profile of the sport in Maine.

“It’s fun, it’s fast-paced, maybe a little flamboyant, in a good way,” Campbell said.

Russell’s bill is scheduled for a public hearing in front of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee at 2 p.m. on Feb. 2.

kskelton@sunjournal.com 

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