Unique sports seize the spotlight

Senior+Chloe+Sittig+skates+around+the+corner+of+the+Atlanta+Roller+Girls+roller+derby+track+during+a+home+game%2C+which+is+located+in+the+gym+of+Yaraab+Temple+on+Ponce+de+Leon+Avenue.+Sittig+is+the+jammer+for+this+part+of+her+roller+derby+bout%2C+signified+by+the+black+star+on+her+white+helmet+cover.

Baylen Altizer

Senior Chloe Sittig skates around the corner of the Atlanta Roller Girls roller derby track during a home game, which is located in the gym of Yaraab Temple on Ponce de Leon Avenue. Sittig is the jammer for this part of her roller derby bout, signified by the black star on her white helmet cover.

Roller Derby

After roller derby’s resurgence in the early 2000s, Angela Ward founded The Atlanta Rollergirls in 2004. It quickly gained status as one of the best leagues in the state of Georgia. Now, their top adult team, the Dirty South Derby Girls, is ranked 15th in the world.

In 2010, the ARG founded their junior league to offer roller derby to a younger crowd. The junior league has a competitive travel team and plays games at home, with teams made from the players.

The rules are complex but revolve around one skater from each team, called the jammer. The jammer tries to lap the opposing skaters. The jammer scores a point each for lapping members on the opposing team. The players who aren’t jammers are called blockers, and their job is to slow down the other team’s jammer while they help their team’s jammer score points.

There are two 30 minute halves and each half is divided into two-minute rounds, called jams.

Learning roller derby takes time, especially for newbies. Senior Chloe Sittig has come a long way since starting derby in 2011. Now, she’s the captain of the Atlanta Rollergirls’ junior team.

“Derby has helped me evolve so much, but the first year was so hard,” Sittig said. “For anyone who sticks with the sport, the first year sucks. You’re learning everything. You’re falling. You’re getting embarrassed.”

Sophomore Mia Branum-Martin agrees that derby isn’t for the faint-hearted. At first, she didn’t even want to play.

“I was forced to join the sport,” Branum-Martin said. “My mom signed me up without my consent, without me knowing. The next thing I knew, we were at Powerhouse Skates and I was saying, ‘I don’t want to do this.’”

At the first practice, she felt frustrated. She had never roller skated before, so she fell down over and over.

“I was like ‘I suck. I’m falling down. Mom, I hate you,’” Branum-Martin said. “The second practice I was like, ‘Ok, this is ok,’ and here I am, three years later, and it’s my life.”

Sophomore Alexis Robinson, co-captain of the junior team, has been playing longer than Branum-Martin. Robinson’s mom thought she wouldn’t want to play roller derby, so she helped her daughter become a referee.

“My sister and my mom were playing and I was like ‘Ooh, I don’t want to do this,’” Robinson said.

After watching a popular roller derby movie, “Whip It,” she decided playing derby could be fun.

As one of the youth league’s first beginner skaters, Robinson felt it was easy because she already knew how to skate. When she moved up to the next level, Robinson realized the sport was more than just skating, she said.

She had to learn a lot, like how to block and utilize her petite body size to her advantage.

Although she struggled some, Robinson thinks that it is normal for roller derby.

“If you’re dedicated and love it enough, [the struggles] won’t really matter,” she said.

In stark contrast to the tough, hard hitting side of roller derby, fun traditions bring the players together, Sittig said.

One way the skaters create deeper bonds is by having a derby wife.

“It’s the person who’s your best friend in derby,” Sittig said.

“It’s your best friend but you’re kind of claiming them, you’re putting your title on them, Branum-Martin said. “You’re literally saying this is mine and no one can be closer to her then I am.

She and her derby wife even have rings, a common tradition.

“My name is etched into it, actually her name is etched into it and mine is on her” she said.

“[Having Derby Wives is] something fun that really adds to the sport. Its someone you can always count on and you’re proud to watch play. Like my derby wife is now on the Atlanta Roller Girls and I love watching her play. I’ll scream ‘that’s my wife’ and it’s just really fun.” Robinson said.

Another derby tradition is the evolution of each player’s skates. Most derby girls start with basic skates then develop opinions about which brand they like best, Sittig said.

“[Some people] have super crappy skates that cost like a hundred dollars and they’ll have plastic light up wheels,” Sittig said.

Robinson vividly remembers her first pair of skates.

“I got blisters all the time,” she said. “I got this one that everybody called the blister from hell because I tore through like four layers of skin. And then I had these huge knee pads, and I’m a tiny person, so – ”

“You couldn’t even [turn properly],” Sittig said.

“I couldn’t. It was horrible,” Robinson said.

Some derby girls, like Robinson, start out with hand-me-down knee pads and skates. Others seek certain brand names. Sittig, for example, uses a specific skate company that is losing support.

“I love Riedell’s, which is sort of a dying company,” Sittig said. “Bont’s are really popular because of the accessibility of them. You can mold them to your feet.”

“And [Bont’s] are light,” Robinson added.

“Apparently they’re super light,” Sittig said. “I love my Riedell’s, but whatever.”

No matter what brand of skate they wear, Robinson, Sittig and Branum-Martin all agree that way they feel on the track is the best part of roller derby.

“Whoever you are and however you come to the sport, you are going to feel empowered one way or another,” Branum-Martin said. “Whether you knock someone down and feel strong, or get knocked down and say, ‘hey look, I can take a hit,’ it’s a great thing, and I think more people should be exposed to it.”

On a Roll: How to play roller derby from The DEC on Vimeo.

Dodgeball

Usually, only kids play dodgeball.

Jessica Mayer and Shannon Arenas flip that paradigm on its head.

The pair of Decatur teachers have played adult dodgeball in a local Atlanta league for the past two years. The league is part of a parent organization called Go Kickball, which provides “Atlanta’s premier co-ed adult sports,” according to its website.

The two were on different teams during their first season, but they played together a few times.

“One time I subbed on her team, [and] one time she subbed on mine,” Arenas said.

Mayer decided to return the next season, but switched teams to be with Arenas.

“My friends didn’t want to do it again because they were bad and lost a lot of games, but I wanted to do it again because it was fun,” she said. “I made Ms. Arenas tell me when she was signing up so I could sign up with her team.”                                    

The only other person on the team that Mayer knew was Arenas’ husband.

The rules are similar to those seen in movies such as “Dodgeball”, Mayer said. The game takes place on half of a basketball court. Both teams line up on either side of the court and have to run to the middle to grab balls when the game begins. Once the game starts, the teams throw balls and hit opposing team members to get them out.

Another key rule is that when a player catches a ball, the person who threw it is out, and the person who caught it gets an extra player added back to their team.

“It’s all about the catches,” Arenas said. “It’s a good strategy to win.”

Sometimes, though, players don’t obey the rules, Mayer said.

“They don’t go out when they get hit,” Arenas said.

“Right, so they get hit and just stay in because they know the ref didn’t see them,” Mayer said. “It’s really lame.”

When this happens, the situation can devolve. Sometimes players get into heated yelling matches with the ref.

“Last season with my friends, we almost had a guy on our team get kicked out because he was mouthing off,” Mayer said.

Arenas noticed a trend in how cheating led to yelling, usually directed at referees.

“The other team cheats so you get pissed off so you start saying stuff to the ref,” she said.”It gets heated.”

Mayer and Arenas combat the competition with strategy.

“We try to have strategy like everyone throwing at once, depending on how many people are on the court,” Mayer said.

Mayer is also the team’s secret weapon, Arenas said.

“I’m sneaky,” Mayer said

“Yeah, she’s the sneak attack person,” Arenas said.

“There was one guy who was asking for me to throw it at him because I was sneaking up, and he was like ‘throw it at me,’ so I did,’” Mayer said.

After games filled with sneak attacks and yelling, the team goes out to dinner together.

The restaurant they go to has trivia night on the same night as their dodgeball games, so sometimes they stay for trivia, Arenas said.

Dodgeball is stereotypically played in middle school gyms where unathletic kids cry and jocks reign supreme. In adult dodgeball, though, looks can be deceiving.

“People who are good at dodgeball are sometimes deceptively unathletic looking,” Mayer said. “You walk up on a team and you’re like, ‘oh, they’re not going to be good,’ because they don’t look athletic. Then they are somehow really good at dodgeball.”

Dodgeball’s inherent competitiveness fires Mayers up. She says she’s “really competitive with anything.”

“But that’s what makes sports fun,” Arenas said.

“Yeah, it always frustrates me when people are like, ‘we’re just having fun’ but [our team is] losing,” Mayer said. “We would be having more fun if we were winning.”

Competition is great, but some newcomers need to relax, Mayer said.

“I think if you’ve never played dodgeball before you shouldn’t take yourself that seriously,” she said.

Arenas agrees, and thinks the sport is an interesting, social activity for adults.

“It’s almost like in college, how they have intramural sports,” she said. “The different dorms or fraternities or sororities play each other, and it’s just an activity that gets people together.

Both Arenas and Mayer agree that it was a “great” experience, but wish to continue playing new sports in the future.

“Maybe we’ll try soccer next,” Mayer said.

Aerial dance

Freshman Renee Gonzalez and junior Lydia Booth are aerial dancers. Aerial dance is a subgenre of modern dance that incorporates hanging equipment like hoops and silk scarves. Booth started aerial dance as a way to stay in shape after quitting tennis in 2012.

“Over the summer I went to a circus camp where I was introduced to some of the basics, and I kind of fell in love,” Booth said. “I did some research and found the studio that I’m at now.”

Gonzalez also started aerial dance through a summer camp, then decided to pursue it further. Both girls dance at the same studio. Their studio, D’AIR, is a nonprofit and helps “keep teens in tough situations out of trouble,” Booth said.

The classes are free, but come with responsibilities. In return, the teens mentor younger dancers and clean up the practice space afterward.

The studio has two main shows each year, one in the winter and end of year show in the summer, Renee said. Booth thinks practicing all year for only two main shows is worth it because she loves performing.

“One of my favorite things is performing and hearing the audience gasp and go crazy about all the moves you’re doing,” she said. “It’s cool because you get so used to doing those things in practice and you almost forget how amazing they are, so getting that reaction from the audience is really rewarding.”

Gonzalez also enjoys the visible progress and appreciates the atmosphere of D’AIR. One of D’AIR’s core values is collaborative learning, where everyone is both a teacher and a student. Gonzalez likes that everyone can learn from each other.

Freshman Renee Gonzalez’s favorite move right now is a straddle drop on aerial silks. It is performed by wrapping the silks around her legs and then dropping through the air, allowing the silks to catch her fall. “It’s the one I’ve learned most recently so it’s the most exciting right now,” she said.
Blanche Francheterre
Freshman Renee Gonzalez’s favorite move right now is a straddle drop on aerial silks. It is performed by wrapping the silks around her legs and then dropping through the air, allowing the silks to catch her fall. “It’s the one I’ve learned most recently so it’s the most exciting right now,” she said.

Booth agrees, and thinks this the whole aerial community shares this value.

“Typically, aerialists want to support and learn from other aerialists,” Booth said. “Every once in a while, Cirque Du Soleil will send the teen group free tickets and we get to go to their shows, which are super inspiring.”

Gonzalez and Booth agree that the attitudes in aerial dance are often based off the attitudes of a dancer’s specific studio. To them, D’AIR fosters a sense of connectedness. At the end of each practice, the group listens to announcements, then makes a D’AIR heart.

“[A D’AIR heart] is when we make our hand into half of a heart and connect it with another person’s hand so it’s a circle of connecting hearts,” Gonzalez said.

Another D’AIR tradition is “passing the squeeze.” The whole group holds hands, then one person squeezes another’s hand and the squeeze travels all around the circle. The warmup connects the dancers before the show.

The group also completes traditions after they perform – like munching on sweets. After each performance, a generous fan brings cupcakes to celebrate.

“This man that we call Mr. Cupcake brings us cupcakes for after the show,” Booth said.

Traditions and all, Booth appreciates every part of aerial dancing at D’AIR. To her, it’s this combination of experiences that makes aerial uniquely satisfying.

“I love so much about aerial,” Booth said. “It is such a beautiful art.”