Irish Hills roller derby team’s first home bout of season is this Saturday. The bout is titled ‘The Thaw Down Throw Down’.
By John Hummer
Need a new type of entertainment for an evening out? Then go check out a new team formed right here in the heart of the Irish Hills – the Irish Hills Bombshells. You will be glad you did.
The Irish Hills Bombshells is a recently new roller derby team, proudly born in Onsted. The team combines seasoned derby players, life-long skaters, and newbies that empower women to have explosive fun.
“Our energy, determination, and love of the sport are a force to be reckoned with!” says a media guide about the team.
‘Babezilla’ comes smashing through two defenders in a recent bout.
The Bombshells play their first home bout of the new season this Saturday, April 6 at 6 p.m. (doors open at 5 p.m.) at the American 1 Events Center of the Jackson County Fairgrounds. The bout is titled the “Thaw-down Throw Down”. They will face the Quad County Roller Derby team based in Livonia. Some of the proceeds of the event will benefit the Jackson Interfaith Shelter.
If you can’t make it Saturday, plan ahead as the team only has two more home bouts this season: They play the Cadillac DeVillians on July 20 and the Lakeshore Roller Derby team – with both of those bouts held at the Optimist Ice Arena in Jackson. They also have two remaining road bouts. They square off against the East Lansing Broadbarians on June 22 and face the Small Town Outlaws of Kalkaska, Mich. on Aug. 24. The Bombshells won their first bout of the season on March 16, 191-82, over the Bath City Roller Girls from Shelby Township (a northern Detroit suburb).
The Bombshells are comprised of 25 to 30 female skaters as well as non-skating officials and referees (which are men) ranging in age from their early 20s to 50s. It is a diverse team of athletes, parents, grandparents, and professionals who hail from Onsted and surrounding cities including Brooklyn, Jackson, Hillsdale, Adrian, Clinton, and Tecumseh.
The team formed in June of 2017 and played their first bout in February of 2018. A typical season begins in January or February and ends in August or September. Players must pass a rigorous skills test and a written rules test before they are allowed to join the team.
“It is physically demanding – it’s a lot of work,” said Stacey (Skid) Richardson of Jackson, one of the team’s three owners and coordinator of the team. “We do have women in their 50s that are really good. It depends on your willpower because it is a lot of hard work. We practice a lot. It’s a lot of work, but it’s rewarding.” She said the team can practice and have scrimmages three to four nights a week.
This team photo of the Bombshells was taken at their first bout of the season in Shelby Township. From left: Velma, Jackson; Smaxx, Jackson; BamB Thump-her, Tecumseh; Whammy, Brooklyn; Kimmy Bang Bang, Jackson; Babezilla, Michigan Center; Mator, Adrian; Thayer the Slayer, Jerome; Stormy, Napoleon; Skid, Jackson; Feral Daryl, Jerome; Bench Coach Jake, Jackson; Coach Rob, Jackson.
Richardson, 39, has been involved in roller derby for nine years and played on three different teams from Jackson before starting the Irish Hills Bombshells. A few other Bombshell members came from the original Jackson team. There is currently no Jackson roller derby team. Richardson said she enjoys the full contact aspect of the sport and it serves as an outlet for her.
“It’s a lifestyle,” she said of the game. “All the girls on the team are like sisters – one big family.”
Tammy (Whammy) Hopp of Brooklyn, 30, is a newcomer to the sport with the Bombshells being her first roller derby team.
“I had never heard of roller derby before but my girlfriend had, my bestie,” she said. “I saw it on Facebook that it was starting up and she encouraged me to join with her. I kind of got addicted to getting better. Seeing all these other girls being really powerful on skates, and the fact that it’s a full-contact sport for women makes it very competitive. I didn’t like sports that much, but this sport has been really fun!”
A basic roller derby bout consists of two 15-skater teams that play two 30-minute periods. Each period consists of multiple “jams”. Each team fields four blockers and one jammer. Each jam is an opportunity for both teams to score points and ends after two minutes or when a lead jammer calls off the jam. Jammers earn 1 point for each opposing player they pass legally. The opposing blockers try to stop the jammer while helping their own jammer through the pack.
It is legal for a skater to block opponents with their hips, rear, and shoulders. It is not legal to block to the back, to trip, elbow, pull hair, or back talk officials.
“You have to use your shoulders or your hips, basically,” Richardson said. Players committing illegal actions are penalized 30 seconds and their team plays short for that time. (There are more technical aspects of the sport, too numerous to cover here.)
“It’s chaos, pretty much,” laughed Richardson. “It’s constantly ‘stop their jammer, get our jammer through.’”
“Offense and defense are all happening at the same time,” added Hopp. “There’s a lot of strategy and play calls.”
Richardson said a typical strategy is where women are in a three-man triangle all hooking arms, with a floater helping with offense and defense at the same time.
“It’s come a long way,” she said. “It’s constantly evolving and getting better and getting harder. When I first started playing it was a lot about big hits – you want to cream that jammer, you want to send her flying, you want to hit these blockers as hard as you possibly can. Now it’s more about positionally blocking them and holding their jammer back. You don’t have to hit her hard, just stay in front of her and keep her behind you. It’s a lot about conserving energy these days.”
Basic gear of a roller derby girl consists of special roller skates, helmet (and helmet covers called “panties”), mouth guard, and elbow, wrist, and knee pads. Some players choose to wear additional pads over their ribs or rear end. A bout takes place either on surfaces such as polished concrete or different types of wood courses, depending on the venue.
Injuries are a factor that roller derby girls often have to deal with; after all, the game is a tad rough. One of the Bombshells, Mary Effin Sunshine, broke her tail bone at the end of their first season.
“I was hit so hard it drove me into the ground and I broke my kneecap – with my kneepads on,” said Richardson. “You can get hit very hard. It’s crazy fun and aggressive, and brutal,” she added with a chuckle.
“Every bout is crazy,” Hopp said. “It’s crazy when you’re jamming – everybody is going after you, everybody is hitting you.”
Irish Hills Bombshells Tammy (Whammy) Hopp of Brooklyn and Stacey (Skid) Richardson of Jackson. Skid is a veteran of the game, while Whammy is an up-and-coming star. Whammy earned the team’s “most improved player” award after the Bombshells’ first season.
“You’re constantly bouncing around like a ping pong ball,” Richardson added about being the jammer. “You’re using your energy to try to get through that pack. You’re exhausted. A jam can last two minutes. You’re basically out there going full blast for two solid minutes. By the end of a 60-minute bout, you’re tired, you’re beat up, you’re sore.”
The Bombshells are proud to have a loyal and growing fan base. Last season over 200 fans attended each home bout. Fans can connect with the team by going to bouts and following their practices and scrimmages, and viewing their social media pages.
As part of the team’s commitment to the area, the Bombshells give of their time and resources to their communities. The last Sunday of each month team members serve lunch and help with site improvements needed at the Jackson Interfaith Shelter. At each bout, there is a charity to which the team gives half of a 50-50 drawing. They have helped local AWARE shelters, cleaned up highways in Onsted as part of Michigan’s Adopt-a-Highway program, hauled truckloads of water to Flint, support community events and festivals, and patronize local businesses.
“We are always looking for ways to give back, as volunteering is a value near and dear to our hearts,” the media guide says.
For more information on the Irish Hills Bombshells, find them on Facebook. The team is supported largely by business sponsors for equipment needs and travel expenses. For sponsorship options, contact Stacey Richardson (Skid) at 517-745-8800, firstname.lastname@example.org or Tammy Hopp (Whammy) at 574-202-7296, email@example.com.