Fermilab Today Sunday, April 1, 2012

Roller derby team takes to Tevatron tunnel

Athletes are rolling where particles used to fly.

Following the Tevatron shutdown last fall, a league of fan-weary roller derby skaters quietly adopted the four-mile tunnel as their racing track. The skaters, who were unhappy to find their sport becoming mainstream, sought out a closed-off, closed-loop space to host their practices and bouts.

The Tevatron tunnel was a perfect fit. By hosting their match-ups in the Fermilab ring, not only would the league breathe a new kind of life and credibility into the former accelerator, there would be absolutely no room for their fans: a win-win.

"Roller derby used to be a fairly niche market, kind of like the X games," said derby girl Su-she Roll. While she doesn't have any connection to Fermilab, she likes the idea of skating where particles once collided. "But its popularity started growing, and several of us didn't like the exposure. Plus, it was noisy with all that cheering."

The four-team league, Volvo Underground, started up when several roller derby girls who felt they'd gone too corporate began defecting from the Women's Flat Track Derby Association, the preeminent association of US roller derby leagues, to form an underground league of their own. (The league's name is taken from the Latin word for "roll," not the Swedish automaker, though one presumes that the origin for both is the same.)

After searching for a home, they applied for and received permission to rent the Fermilab space for their indie match-ups. To finance the franchise without live, obnoxious spectators, they've made the bouts viewable online to paying, invitation-only customers by installing cameras around the ring.

The VU league's rules of play were rewritten to accommodate the longer, lower-visibility track. As opposed to a traditional rink, players can't see all the way around the Tevatron ring.

"Our sport is much purer this way," said Lisa Randall, whose skating skills were unknown to all until she joined VU. In the rink, she's known as Breezy Scandal. "Without the trappings of bright lights and screaming people, roller derby becomes solely about the athleticism."

In roller derby bouts, teams score by "lapping" the opposing team, and the VU form of play has disadvantages there. Skaters find it difficult to keep track of who and when someone has lapped in the Tevatron tunnel, which is 105 times longer than the WFTDA standard track. Also, points are scored at a snail's pace often no points are scored at all frequently deflating the enthusiasm of even die-hard followers.

Nevertheless, VU rollers have remained faithful to their mission to maintain a low profile.

"I had no idea this was going on, and I still don't know when it goes on, so I can't even join." said Fermilab's Young-Kee Kim. "But I appreciate the cred it buys us with the grrrl set, even if, in the end, the VU league folds."

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