Rock and roll

  • Victor Balta / Herald Writer
  • Monday, August 8, 2005 9:00pm
  • Life

Mark Hale supports his daughter.

He’s involved with her team and has even become its spiritual leader, in a way.

Rules of engagement

Roller derby is full-contact competitive roller skating on four-wheeled skates around an oval track. Points are scored by one player passing the other team’s players.

Each bout consists of two 14-minute periods divided into two-minute jams. Jams start with five skaters from each team: one pivot, one jammer and three blockers.

Pivots are the skaters in the front of the pack with striped helmets that set the pace and often call the plays. The pivot is the last line of defense to prevent an opposing jammer from scoring.

Blockers work to keep the pack in a tight formation to try to prevent an opposing jammer from skating past. Pivots, blockers and jammers can knock each other using their bodies, but can’t grab each other.

Jammers are the skaters positioned at the back of the pack with the starred helmets. They work their way through the pack and score points by passing members of the opposing team after they have lapped the pack once.

The jam starts when the whistle blows and the pack takes off. On a double whistle, the jammers start fighting through the pack trying to become the lead jammer. When the jammers lap the pack and re-enter the pack, they receive one point for each member of the opposing team that they pass.

A jam lasts a maximum of two minutes, but the lead jammer has the right to call off the jam at her discretion. If the lead jammer falls behind and can’t score points, she can call off the jam to prevent the other jammer from scoring point in the jam.

Source: Rat City Rollergirls

He goes to her practices and is always there for the big competitions.

Kevin Nortz / The Herald

Throttle Rockets team captain Sue Schmitz (center), aka Darth Skater, weaves through two of her teammates at Hangar 30 at Magnuson Park in Seattle on June 25.

But the 55-year-old, mild-mannered elementary school assistant principal isn’t like most dads.

That’s because nothing is as it seems with the Rat City Rollergirls, a Seattle roller derby league in its first season that’s reviving the throwback sport as part of a trend that’s hitting every major city in the country.

It’s a place where women, gay or straight, who are artists or musicians or business owners or cancer researchers, lace up and hit the track and each other in front of crowds that are growing bigger every month.

By night, Hale becomes “Dr. 5ive,” the fatigue-wearing, bullhorn-toting manager of the Derby Liberation Front, one of the four Rat City Rollergirls teams.

And his daughter, 28-year-old Alyssa Hoppe (aka “Lorna Boom”) is one of the team captains. Her fishnet stockings and cleavage are usually the last things her opponents see before her shoulder thrusts them to the ground.

“It’s like a twisted soccer-mom syndrome,” Hoppe said of her dad, who is an assistant principal at Tulalip Elementary School.

So how did Hale get roped into his new alter ego?

“My daughter called me at an off-guard moment, and I said, ‘Yeah,’” he recalled. “She said, ‘Dad, we need somebody to announce our team. You need to do this, and you have to have a stage persona. The first rehearsal is tonight. Do you want to go?’”

He also needed a stage name by the time he got there.

“‘Dr. 5ive’ was the first thing that popped into my head and I made up explanations for it later,” Hale said.

He probably shouldn’t be drawing on the spelling of his stage name in any English classes, but it fits.

He’s the father of five children and there are five women on the floor for each team in a roller derby bout.

Looking back, Hale isn’t surprised that his daughter decided to put on skates and try out the sport he used to sneak peeks at on TV as a child in the 1950s and ’60s, when Dad was at work and Mom was out buying groceries.

“I thought it was perfect,” he said. “She’s just always been really physically active. Even as a little girl, she loved to wrestle, and the harder you wrestled, the bigger her grin got.

“I think it makes a whole lot of sense. It’s really a perfect outlet for women who’ve been involved in various other kinds of sports. But this has its own mystique and glamour.”

High on camp and intensity, the typical roller derby bout combines gaudy fashion – the scoreboard girl sports a pink velour halter top and hot pants with huge Jackie O. sunglasses as she displays the results on a dry-erase board – with loud live music and other theatrics.

And the competition, to a novice, looks like a bunch of people skating around in a circle.

But for the participants, there’s an underlying craft and strategy behind getting one skater from each team, the jammer, out in front of the pack.

After passing the pack once, the jammer picks up one point for every opponent she passes. All of her teammates aim to clear a path while the other team tries to stop her from passing and picking up more points.

It’s a relatively simple concept, but for the women on the floor, it’s an exhaustive workout and a momentary release from jobs, child care and cleaning.

“We’ve never really had something that’s just ours and we can be really physically aggressive,” said Hoppe, who grew up in Marysville and Edmonds and spent plenty of time at the Lynnwood Roll-a-Way. “It’s not really society’s viewpoint of the way women are supposed to behave.

“And we really get to define ourselves, alter egos that define aspects of ourselves we wouldn’t get into before. I get to play dress-up, leave the kids at home and be this character that I wouldn’t normally get to be.”

The three, three-hour practices each week are just the start of the commitment the women make to the team and the sport, but it’s something that Jessica Bloom, 27, of Mill Creek couldn’t wait to join in April, not long after delivering her second child.

Bloom is known as “Holley KnockHers” on her car-mechanic-themed team, the Sockit Wenches.

“It’s really great to watch women playing a sport that has so many different facets,” Bloom said. “There’s strategy and endurance, and I think it does a lot, also, for body image for women. Every body type has a good role in different positions.”

As the sport’s popularity grows, audiences are growing with it. The league recently moved its bouts from the Southgate Roller Rink in White Center to a large hangar at Magnuson Park on Lake Washington.

The league hopes to buy its own floor soon, which would allow it to stage events in different cities in the area. And there is talk of more-frequent matches with leagues from other cities, as well as an eventual national tournament as the sport expands.

But the league members must approve any changes, and this is already one jam that’s gone by in a flash.

“We’ve come so far in a year, we sometimes lose perspective of how new we are,” Hoppe said.

For her part, Bloom can’t imagine the wheels will stop turning any time soon.

“I just think it’s great, and I’m proud to be part of such a big group of amazing women,” she said. “I hope that it takes off even more.”

Reporter Victor Balta: 425-339-3455 or vbalta@

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