Wheels Up

Custodian With a dry mop in a hallway

Bumps, Bruises and Bonding With Frederick Roller Derby

By Lisa Gregory, Photography by Jamie “Wik” Filson

When her little girl requested pink roller skates for Christmas a couple of years ago, it caused Rebecca Kennedy to recall her own childhood and her love of skating. “My mom got me some from a yard sale and they were broken and my dad fixed them,” says Kennedy. “They had like wood and electrical tape on them, but I loved them.

The memory inspired her. “I remembered how much I loved skating as a kid and thought it was something my daughter and I could do together.”

She ordered a pair of skates of her own, but it didn’t stop there. Looking at ways to continue her love of skating led her to join the flat track Frederick Roller Derby. “I felt like it was a way to add something positive to my life again,” she says.

She has not been disappointed. “It’s a big-time commitment,” says Kennedy, who goes by the name Wrecka in the roller derby world. “It’s pretty physically demanding and we are very competitive. But we’re also really about the environment and encouraging each other and supporting each other.”

Frederick Roller Derby was cofounded in the fall of 2021 by Jen Bennetch, aka Killadelphia, and Renee Yockelson, aka RoboChop. The two met when skating for Hagerstown’s Mason-Dixon Roller Vixens team. Both have a passion for roller derby.

“I love the sport of roller derby,” says Yockelson, “and I enjoy contact and rough play. It’s challenging and it forces me to be better and think quickly which I need in my life at 47. It’s also an outlet for me from raising three kids, being married, being self-employed and working side by side with my husband, as well as being PTA president, swim team manager, assistant softball coach and a school crossing guard.”

After moving to Hagerstown from Philadelphia in late 2010, Bennetch says she was “looking for a way to meet people and be active. So, when I saw that there was a league in Hagerstown, I decided to go and see if it was something I would like to do. I had never really skated before.”

Bennetch, who works as a regulatory compliance manager for biomedical research, wasn’t sure she would enjoy the rough-and-tumble world of roller derby. “I loved it, actually,” she says.

That passion inspired Bennetch and Yockelson to start a league in Frederick after the pandemic delayed the return of the league in Hagerstown. “Robo and I missed skating,” says Bennetch. “It had become such a huge part of our lives.”

“I knew the community of Frederick would always embrace roller derby,” says Yockelson. It had previously with the former Key City Roller Derby, which disbanded due to lack of practice space. Yockelson was concerned that that might be the case again.

But she was determined.

“Next thing you know I’m emailing the mayor [Michael O’Connor] about my passion for derby and telling him about Key City and how Frederick needs to bring derby back,” says Yockelson. “He emailed me the following day. He said he loved roller derby and he used to watch it all the time. He would love to see derby come back to our area.”At O’Connor’s suggestion, Yockelson reached out to Alex Garipay, recreation supervisor for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. The department was able to provide a skating facility with the gymnasium at Trinity Recreation Center. The facility allows Frederick Roller Derby to offer monthly open scrimmages for those who qualify. “We want to eventually expand to a youth league and a men’s league,” says Bennetch.

“I am very happy with the support we get from Frederick City Parks and Recreation,” says Yockelson. “Roller derby has been self- run and -funded since forever. This is such a break, and it has allowed us to focus on training new skaters and growth.”

Garipay is pleased, as well.

“Generally, when you start a new program, it may take time to build,” says Garipay. “The first couple of times you offer something you might get one or two participants. But with Robo and Killy being so involved in the community of roller derby and knowing all these people who wanted to participate and not having the ability to do so because of the lack of a league in this area, as soon as they opened it up … there were tons of people.”

In addition to in-house scrimmages, Frederick Roller Derby has a team that squares off against the likes of the Patuxent Roller Derby in Columbia and the Rocktown Rollers in Harrisonburg, Va., among others. The games, or bouts, consist of each team fielding a single point-scoring skater, or jammer, whose objective is to lap as many opposing skates as possible.

Yes, it is a contact sport and not for the faint of heart. Bennetch, for example, ticks off an array of injuries, including a torn medial collateral ligament, a broken tailbone and a shattered pinkie finger.

But all who are up for the challenge are welcome. Skaters with Frederick Roller Derby range in age from those in their 20s to those in their 50s. Even those with little skating experience are encouraged to give it a try. A training program, appropriately called Fresh Meat, is designed to prepare future skaters and lasts from 12 to 16 weeks.

“They want to make sure you know what you’re doing before they throw that fresh meat out there,” says Erin Snell, who is a children’s librarian and an ordained social justice minister and goes by the roller derby name of, wait for it, Dewey Decimator. “One of the first things they tell you about is falling small.”

Falling small? “If you fall on the track, you make yourself small and roll up in a ball and draw in your arms and knees,” explains Snell, a Fresh Meat graduate who is relatively new to the sport at age 46. “You are less of a target.”

So far, so good for Snell. “I still have all my fingers and toes,” she says with a chuckle.

Skaters are designated skill levels of A, B or C when competing. Snell admits she is still working on her physical contact skills. “I’m still getting used to that. I feel like I’m still holding back,” she says.

Like Snell, Devon Atkinson is also new to roller derby and came to the sport with very little skating skill. “Just skating parties in middle school, that sort of thing,” says Atkinson, a cancer researcher by day who skates by the name of Devastation. “I was definitely one of the least-experienced people when I started out. I probably spent more time the first six weeks sitting on the floor because I had fallen. But you know the more you put into it the more it comes to you. I fell in love with it, and it’s become a great outlet for me both physically and socially.”

Of course, more experienced skaters like Bennetch understand the call of the wheels all too well. “It’s so liberating,” says Bennetch. “Once you start getting the hang of it and you are able to move your body on skates and you become fast, it’s not like anything I’ve ever done before. It can be challenging but fun.”

But even more than that.

“I remember thinking, if I can get this, I’m going to be able to really enjoy myself. Really kick ass, you know?”

Frederick Magazine