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NIAGARA FALLS - She packs 190 solid pounds inside her uniform. With skates on, she's more than 6 feet tall.



Lady K, as she's known, is an obstacle.

No jammer will easily slip past her tattooed shoulders. Failure can lead to sudden full-body contact with the unforgiving cement of a roller derby track.

The sight of players splayed on a cold floor is not uncommon at the Niagara Falls Conference Center this weekend - not that brute force rules roller derby in its now decade-long resurgence.

The players and coaches who are gathered here for this weekend's "Thrill ?of the Spill" - a regional competition for 10 ranked Midwestern teams - say today's roller derby is more about strategy than muscle and worthy of status as an ?Olympic sport.

A bid is in for the 2020 summer games. Teams already compete internationally. The first "Blood & Thunder World Cup" was played in Toronto in December. In sum, the sport has been wheeling steadily away from the campy nature of those roller derby matches you might have seen on television in the 1960s and early '70s .

The women, most in their 20s and 30s, squeeze in roughly 10 hours of practice and training each week with their jobs as accountants, cashiers, merchants and mothers. They risk sprained ankles and twisted knees for no pay. In fact, they buy their own skates, helmets and pads, and pay dues to their teams, which are generally player-owned nonprofits.

The reinvention began some 10 years ago, in Austin, Texas. Gone are the banked tracks which created speed and spectacle but limited the available venues. Players in today's Women's Flat Track Derby Association jockey on flat ovals with referees everywhere. There are up to seven on skates, and they communicate the penalties and scoring they see with "non-skating officials" both inside and outside the oval. When play stops for injuries that appear serious, every competitor takes a knee.

Women's roller derby still embraces elements of the past. Among the first things an uninitiated spectator notices are the "derby names." Players are known by the monikers they invent for themselves - "Shear Terror," "Candy Kickass!" and "Roxanna Hardplace." Even the refs, who practice with teams, are in on it: "Refsputin." "Shoveler." "Interrobang Yerdehd."

The players said it's a nod to the sport's early days, and it helps them adopt a special mindset for their games, or "bouts" in derby talk. Further, there are players who don't want employers to know they are active in the sport, because of its quirky past, when roller derby was more about theatrics than athletics.

The number of leagues has steadily expanded in the United States and abroad. There are efforts to draw in players at even younger ages. Now, will roller derby move up in the hierarchy of organized spectator sports?

Will it ever hit prime time?

"Ideally, if the sport is going to move on, it is going to take a major network to jump in," said "Nick of Time" - announcer Nick Lorenz, who traveled to Niagara Falls with the Cincinnati Rollergirls. He said the Rollergirls play in front of as many as 3,500 people back in Ohio, proof that roller derby can draw crowds.

"The knock against it right now is that they use fake names and they play music during the games," Lorenz said. "There is only one other sport in the world that does that - professional wrestling."

Roughly 300 to 500 people watched the early bouts Saturday, but a considerable number of those spectators were other players waiting for their events to start. Kathleen Lisborg of the local Queen City Roller Girls said about 1,000 people watched Friday night. The contests continue today.

The Queen City Roller Girls - a five-team league involving more than 100 women - are host to this weekend's tournament but don't have a team in it because they belong to a different Derby Association region. The Roller Girls play at the Rainbow Rink in North Tonawanda.

"There are a lot of things that are really appealing about it," one of Saturday's spectators, Charlie Dixon of the Town of Tonawanda, said of roller derby. "The girls are really passionate about it, and I am kind of jaded now about professional sports, with all the prima donnas. It's a contact sport,'' he added, "and you don't see that with a lot with women's sports.''

The action is fast and so is the scoring. Two teams of five women each start skating around the track in the same direction. Each team designates a "jammer" - they wear stars on their helmets - to speed ahead of the rest. Each jammer has a referee monitoring her from inside the oval.

Whenever a jammer, after the first pass, laps an opposing player, a point is scored. So the mission of the non-jammers is to block the opposing jammer from lapping them. They lock arms and obstruct the opposing jammer from breaking through, as best they can.

"You've probably seen roller derby from years ago on TV," said Laura Kersjes of Grand Rapids, Mich., who traveled to Niagara Falls to watcher her niece, "Jackie Daniels," compete with the Windy City Rollers. "It's a flat track now. They do fly around there."

While Lady K's size makes her an excellent blocker, women of any size can find a role in roller derby, she said. Lady K is otherwise known as Kelly Mikols, a bartender and a cashier at a Whole Foods store who is active in the Air National Guard.

Her team, the Chicago Outfit, lost Saturday to the Detroit Derby Girls, 174-58. It was not a catastrophe, she said, because Detroit is a good team and the Outfit still played well.

Because the sport now values strategy over big hits, a player's longevity has been increasing from between three and four years to six or seven. Mikols, now 28, says she'll keep playing "as long as my body holds up."

"You learn how to fall,""she said.





email: mspina@buffnews.com