April 11, 2013

Lumberjills provide entertainment in North Country


---- — PLATTSBURGH — If you are looking for a rough sport with a lot of action in Plattsburgh, you don’t have to go very far to find one.

The North Country Lumber Jills are a roller derby team that practices three times a week and has meets once a month at the City Recreation Center in Plattsburgh. The sport can be violent but is extremely exciting to watch. The Lumber Jills play teams throughout the Northeast from February until November.

Erin McGill, president of the Lumber Jills, said a movie helped the members come up with the idea of starting a team.

“In February 2010 some of the original members and I went to go see the movie “Whip It,” which is a movie about roller derby,” McGill said. “We started looking online for teams that are close to Plattsburgh, and we found there was a league in Montreal and a league in Burlington, Vt. So we went to the Green Mountain Derby Dames in March 2010 and talked to the girls that were there, and that is how we started forming the Plattsburgh roller derby league.”

There aren’t many positions in roller derby, but each position is crucial. The three positions are a jammer, blocker and pivot. Ashley Lester, who joined the team March 2011, is a blocker and an occasional pivot.

“The jammer is on the line to start while the three blockers and a pivot are right behind them,” Lester said. “The jammer takes the role of scoring points for each team. The blockers try to stop the jammer from getting through the big crowd of people known as the pack, and the pivot’s job is to control the speed of the pack and be the communicator in the pack.”

Scoring in roller derby may sound a bit confusing. Jammers have 60 seconds to skate around other blockers and jammers, and the more times you skate around the blockers and jammers, the more points you get. You get a point for each skater you go around. Once the time is up, the teams must reset, and new a jam time starts. To stop the scoring, you must get out of the group from the opposing team and put your hands on your hips for the time to stop.

The team members have a strong connection with one another. They are always hanging out together, not just when practice is going on but outside of it as well.

Kate Bourgeois, who joined the team in October 2011 and is a blocker, feels that the bonding brings the team that much closer than other teams.

“We hang out a lot outside of the team,” Bourgeois said. “We go out in the summer; we do activities together outside of derby, and it creates a strong bond. We are able to skate with each other all the time, and that creates a strong connection. Also with the trips we take to Long Island, Albany and all the traveling we do, it helps us bond.”

This sport appears to involve a lot of violence and anger towards each person, but Gretchen Dean-Lefevre, a jammer and blocker who joined the team in February 2011, feels the sport relieves tension that lasts throughout a tough work week and helps with letting anger out, too.

“It’s definitely a great stress relief and helps if you have things bottled up,” Dean-Lefevre said. “It helps when you can just get away from everything in your life and to just have a little bit of fun.”

Dean-Lefevre said that it’s amazing to know how popular this sport has become in the North Country, since it seemed like the sport was dead for some time. Not many people really heard about the sport until the Lumber Jills were created.

Bourgeois loves the fact that the fans usually pack the arena. The players are always overjoyed with the reception they get. Bourgeois said that fans of all ages watch. Lefevre loves the support the team gets and said the team thrives off of it.

“Fans really come and support us, and we are thankful for that,” Lefevre said. “For a sport that wasn’t that popular anymore and the fact we have people as young as seven to elders come and see what the sport is about is nice, and we support them right back.”

The fact that men can’t join the team doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t help the team. Men can help out with being officials and skating as well — just not doing any of the hitting the ladies get to do. Bourgeois said that people in the community who want to feel part of the team can come and skate with them.

“When we advertise, we have a Fresh Meat Night, which is recruiting skaters, but we also include members of the community who can become a nonskating official,” Bourgeios said. “They basically keep score, penalty box and timing, which are cool because I always try to get my guy friends to get involved.”

With the sport being rough, injuries are bound to happen. With skaters always falling to the ground or getting pushed down, it’s tough to stay healthy. Lester actually is just getting over an injury she had last year.

“I have gotten injured,” Lester said. “I just had surgery actually on both my legs in July 2012, which was horrible. But I started skating again in October and love the sport still.”

The team next has a meet against Ottawa at home on April 27, and the team is having a pancake breakfast from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 20 at Conroy’s Organics in Chazy. The cost is $5 for two pancakes.