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Staffer rolls over the competition

Posted on 02.20.2013

If you bump into Grant Coordinator Jeanie Neal around campus, she probably will not knock you down. But if you meet her alter-ego, Bona Contention, on the roller derby track, the experience will probably be a less pleasant one.

“With me, putting on my skates and my gear is getting into that mindset of Bona. That’s not Jeanie, you know?” Neal said. “Jeanie wouldn’t beat the snot out of people. But Bona would.”

Neal said that she is a 12-year breast cancer survivor, which is part of how she became involved in roller derby. She volunteers for local breast cancer support groups at events such as an auction at a roller derby “bout” in February 2009.

“I was so anxious to see what it was like in person, and I went and I was totally hooked,” Neal said. “That happened to be on Valentine’s Day of that year. And five days later I went to my first practice.”

Indianapolis has two roller derby leagues: the Circle City Roller Girls and the Naptown Roller Girls. After doing some research, Neal decided to try out for the Circle City Roller Girls and eventually joined their Party Crashers team.

A “bout” takes place between two teams during two 30-minute periods. Each team has a maximum of five skaters on the track at a given time. There are three positions: the blockers who do exactly that, the jammer who scores points by lapping the other team’s blockers and the pivot who normally blocks but can switch jobs with the jammer.

Neal was named her team’s best blocker in 2012, but she is not limited to that position.

“I block.  I occasionally pivot. I jam once in a blue moon,” Neal said. “But I’m more of a type of jammer that I call a bull-in-china-shop jammer because I’m not small and compact, so I can’t fit through small holes. But I make my own holes.”

According to Neal, roller derby was such a niche event that when she started skaters could not even buy skates or other equipment in Indianapolis. The sport’s rise in popularity means that skaters  no longer have to order everything from the Internet.

“Even in the short four years since I joined, things have really changed to where you can go down to Fountain Square, walk in and buy a helmet,” she said.

Roller derby teams are usually characterized by crazy costumes, called “bout-fits,” Neal said. However, functionality is the most important factor to her team.

“Most of our girls are probably on the lesser theatrical end of the spectrum,” Neal said.

Director of Institutional Research Mary Grant goes to Neal’s roller derby bouts both to support her coworker and people-watch.

“I knew that there was another league in town, and I was aware of them, but I’d never been to a match,” Grant said. “When I was much younger, in the 70s, roller derby was around, but it was different.”

Grant said that she did not know much about the rules when she first went. However, there usually are handouts that give newcomers a crash-course in roller derby.

Neal said that the roller derby crowd is more diverse and welcoming than many may think, which makes bouts a fun time with food and drink vendors, as well as being a very family friendly environment.

“A lot of people think, you know, ‘Girls wearing fishnets and hitting each other and wearing short shorts? I don’t want to take my kids.’ But I think it’s very empowering to see a sport that’s almost exclusively women,” Neal said. “It’s nice to see such strong, athletic female role models.”

Neal’s squad, The Circle City Roller Girls,  roll into the 2013 season on April 20 at the Forum in Fishers.


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