PORTLAND — Eric Wood never misses a Maine Roller Derby contest.

“I’ve been going for three years,” the Fryeburg native said. “I drive down to support them.”

Wood was one of more than 100 people who packed Happy Wheels Skate Center at 331 Warren Ave. last Saturday night to see Maine Roller Derby’s season opener, as well as the debut of a new way for fans to see even more bouts: so-called “home teams.”

April Fournier, who goes by “Jumpy McGee” when she plays the sport, said home teams are a way for fans to see more roller derby events, as well as an opportunity for the women who enjoy the flat-track sport to gain more experience.

Maine Roller Derby was historically composed of three teams: a competitive, traveling A team, an intermediate B team and a C team, comprised mostly of players who were new to the sport. The B and C teams didn’t get as much playing time or competitive experience as the A team.

Now all players have been placed on two teams that will play in more games, allowing players to gain more competitive experience.

“It’s a popular concept to raise the fan base, get more games and build connections so you want to go back,” Fournier said. “It’s nice because we have veteran skaters (together with) new skaters.”

Fournier said this will benefit the newest skaters, who might not otherwise get too many opportunities to skate competitively.

Roller derby attracts a wide variety of fans. Some, like Wood, are season ticket holders. Wood said he has driven as far as New Brunswick to see the Maine Roller Derby skaters play.

Others, such as Jim and Patricia Wasserman of Cape Elizabeth, had never seen a bout before, but came to support a friend who was skating.

“It’s awesome,” Jim said of his first roller derby experience.

And others still simply come out of curiosity. Fournier said they try to reach beyond family and friends to come see the bouts.

“It’s great if we had them once, but we hope to see them again and again,” she said.

Roller derby, while often very physical, is also a sport based on camaraderie. Following the bout, all players and fans were invited to a party at Bubba’s Sulky Lounge in Portland, which happens after every game.

Eric Wood said this small feel to the game allows fans greater access.

“There are not many sports where you have this hard-hitting game and then an after party,” he said. “I know the skaters and hang out with them.”

Fournier said MRD just gained nonprofit status, which she said will allow the organization to do more outreach and have access to more grants for women’s sports.

In addition to MRD, there are seven other leagues around Maine: two in Portland, two in Bangor, one in Rockland, one in Aroostook County, a men’s league in Portland and a men’s league in Bangor. Roller derby is an often high-scoring sport, with points awarded for the number of opponents passed by a team’s jammer, or designated scorer.

Fournier emphasized that roller derby is not “pro wrestling on skates.” She said it takes time to learn, and participants have to go through stages like Derby Light, a roller-skating fitness program in Portland, before they can play the full-contact sport.

“It’s not just throw on skates and get out there,” Fournier said. “There’s a very deliberate safety process.”

Maine Roller Derby 2015 schedule:

March 14: Lucky Lass at Happy Wheels Skate Center, 331 Warren Ave., Portland

April 4: Home Teams at Happy Wheels

April 25: Double Header at the Portland Expo, 239 Park Ave., Portland

May 16: Double Header at the Portland Expo

Sept. 19: Portland Expo

Oct. 17: Wicked vs. Good at the Portland Expo

Nov. 14: Annual Thanks for Giving Bout at Happy Wheels

Dec. 19: Fresh Meat, Coming out Bout at Happy Wheels

For more information about the derby, or for ticket information, go to mainerollerderby.com


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