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Roller Girls Recover in Championship Style

How the Jersey Shore Roller Girls fought back from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy to help the region and each other get back on track.

Must the show go on?

There’s a saying in the entertainment business that “the show must go on,” but it’s not always true.

For the Jersey Shore Roller Girls, the region's all-female flat-track roller derby league, the decision whether or not to cancel its 2012 championship bout after Hurricane Sandy was a tough one.

The bout had been scheduled to follow the Asbury Park tree lighting ceremony at Convention Hall on November 24, but the venue wasn’t cleared for use until a week before the event date and there was no time to advertise. Worse still, at least nine of the league’s seventy skaters suffered serious damage to their homes, said JSRG board member Bash N. Onya.

“We’ve done this after-Thanksgiving game since 2008 and it’s quickly become a tradition to follow the tree lighting,” said Bash N. Onya.

Although she didn’t suffer any damage to her Beachwood home and only lost power for two days, much of her community was without power for nearly two weeks. 

There were serious questions to ask about whether or not anyone was ready for a return to roller derby. Questions like: “Are people going to want to come? Are they going to think that we’re pushing it and doing it too soon? Are they looking for the sense of normalcy? What do they want from us?”

The JSRG board wrestled with these issues for about a day, then decided to go forward despite the considerable financial risk involved, Bash N. Onya said.

Team co-owner A.C. Skater lives in Ventnor, outside Atlantic City. Like four other members of the JSRG community that Patch interviewed, she suffered serious flood damage to the first floor of her home.

Skater will be displaced for at least a month, she said, but looked beyond her own needs when considering what to do.

“Here I don’t have a house. I haven’t skated in almost a month. So I want to do the thing that is logical, you know, push it off, have it another time,” said Skater. But, she said, “We worked so hard at this weekend. Asbury wanted to come back and have a night of normalcy and that includes us. It wasn’t about what’s right in my life. It’s more about what’s right for the community, because the community has been so accepting of us.

Coming back after the storm

Right Coast Rollers Dezdemona Lott, Stache Her, and Young EmC all suffered serious flood damage from the storm, but were energized by the decision to get back on the track.

Stache Her lives in Belford and retrieved her skates from the trunk of her car as she tried (and failed) to move it to higher ground when floodwater surged into her neighborhood.

“You can get skates anywhere, but these have been broken in,” she said. “They’re mine. They’ve been through a lot with me. So it was really great that I remembered that and I didn’t have to get a new pair.”

Stache Her’s dad is disabled, so family and friends quickly offered help gutting and repairing their home. The derby community was there for her too.

“The camaraderie with the girls is amazing. I can call on any of these girls any day, any time and they would be right there for me, just like my family. … They were the first on the scene to call and see if I was okay,” Stache said.

“Coming back to a community of people that you know are there for you and that you know are going to help you on the track and off the track … it’s like getting back to normal and reminding me that it’s okay and we can keep going,” said Young EmC. This skater has has been staying at a friend’s Asbury Park summer rental on weekdays and couch surfing on weekends ever since the storm destroyed the first floor of her family’s Manasquan home.

Dezdemona Lott, of Ortley Beach, was evacuated from the barrier island with her husband and 11-year-old son before the hurricane and wasn’t able to return for more than two weeks afterward. By then, mold had compounded the destruction to their first-floor apartment, but she was able to retrieve her derby gear.

Lott and her family are still displaced, as is her son's school, which is temporarily meeting at Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church in Toms River.

He hasn’t shown a lot of emotion about what has happened, his mother said, but during the first week after the storm, when the family was staying in a hotel, he told her, “I wish tomorrow I’d wake up and be able to go to school and come home, have my snack, and do my normal everyday routine.”

Lot never played sports growing up, she said, but was eager to win her first championship since joining the Right Coast Rollers in 2009.

“This is a big deal for us as a team,” she said, “But for me, I guess more so with all we’ve been through this past month.” After her team did triumph over Murder Beach Militia, Lot reiterated these thoughts, saying, “I'm so excited. ... It’s nice to have a win on top of all the bad things going on."

Show the world "Jersey Strong"

Although the first floor of announcer Verbal Tease’s three-story Atlantic Highlands’ home was destroyed by flooding, he and his family were not displaced and left for a cruise soon afterwards.

“We wound up, after we gutted our house, getting on a ship and taking a vacation on the same ocean that devastated our town,” Tease said. “We tried to make the best of it and have a good time, because it was already paid for, but it was hard not to think of our family and friends here.”

Tease prepared opening remarks for the championship bout because he didn’t think it would be right to begin without acknowledging what the community had been through and what it took to get to that moment. He thanked everyone for coming out—not just the audience, but the skaters, referees, volunteers, emergency service workers, and repair crews.

“Tonight is being made possible by a great many people lending their time, their money, their energy to the cause of restoring what’s been destroyed or damaged. So thank you all for helping the Jersey Shore take yet another step towards full recovery. Please give yourself and each other a big round of applause,” Tease told the obliging crowd.

“We gather to see who wins the coveted gold skate and the title of champion for 2012 Jersey Shore Roller Girls season, but we are also showing the world that we can get back up when we’re knocked down. We’re willing to rise to any challenge. We’re coming back stronger than before and we as a community will continue to improve because each of us is willing to do our part. We’re making it known right here and now that we are Jersey strong and, no matter what, we are still here,” he said.

We're still here. Together.

A cynical view of that old show-biz cliche might say it’s all about ticket sales. There may be truth in that, but sometimes, perhaps even more often than not, the “show” going on is about a whole lot more. 

*Note: All sources for this story requested league name attribution.

Richard J. Thomas December 06, 2012 at 12:01 PM
Love the roller girls !
Big E from Brick December 06, 2012 at 02:56 PM
It was a good decision to have the championship. We in the "bleachers" knew the devastation we locals went through it too in various degrees. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are still recovering. Visiting family members and other spectators that came that night were as boistrous as we were! I had the pleasure of sitting near some in-town-for-Thanksgiving ladies, and explained to them what was going on as they had never been to roller derby before. So yes, the decision to go ahead was absolutely the right one. Verbal Tease was right on the money with his lead-in that night. Thank You to the Roller Girls for putting on their normal excellent, all-out, performance. i know my friend and I who try to make every bout were very happy that the girls could roll that night. Thank you too to Asbury Park for making it possible. Thanks ladies!! Your championship, as always, was icing on the cake for Thanksgiving!


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