Chickadee Wallop is a natural jammer.

She skates swiftly and nimbly through a chaos of bodies, enduring hip checks and shoulder slams from blockers while pursuing points for her team, the Calamity Janes.

When the whistles blow and she returns to the bench for a rest, she takes out her mouth guard and flashes an unadulterated smile.

“I always liked to roller-skate as a kid and I got invited to a derby bout once to watch and that was it. I said, ‘I have to do this,’ ” she said Saturday night inside Happy Wheels in Portland, which normally operates as a roller-skating rink for preteens but was transformed into a roller derby venue.

Wallop, whose real name is Marnie Williamson, has been a regular Maine Roller Derby participant since moving from Vermont. She is among the many die-hards who have helped, along with the 2009 movie “Whip It,” bring the sport back into popularity, although its appeal is still more cult than mainstream.

There are a handful of leagues – in Portland, Bangor, Rockland, even Aroostook County – and discussions about creating a youth program for Greater Portland, but the sport has run into a bit of an unexpected problem.

Under state law, roller derby is technically, well, illegal.

Not the skating around part. Just the contact. The bumping and pushing and mayhem that make roller derby its own unique spectacle.

“The police aren’t knocking down the doors, but we are outlaws presently,” said Heather Steeves, also known as Hard Dash, a Maine Roller Derby regular and the member who discovered the obscure legal quandary.

R.I.P. Tides teammates watch the action Saturday in their bout with the Calamity Janes at Happy Wheels in Portland.

R.I.P. Tides teammates watch the action Saturday in their bout with the Calamity Janes at Happy Wheels in Portland.

A law that passed in 1991 in part to limit the liability of roller rink owners and shift it to skaters says clearly that “A skater attempting to overtake other skaters shall do so in a manner that avoids collision with objects and other skaters in that skater’s field of vision.”

That’s sort of the opposite of roller derby.

Amid concerns that their lawlessness may become an issue, some members reached out to a lawmaker, state Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, who agreed to sponsor legislation that would exempt roller derby from that 24-year-old law. The bill will be heard when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

For members of Maine Roller Derby, the need for legitimacy comes at a crucial time. The organization, a recently registered nonprofit, is embarking on a $400,000 fundraising campaign to build a permanent location and launch the youth program. At the moment, the Portland-based league splits time between Happy Wheels on Warren Avenue and the Portland Exposition Building.

Judy Beedle, who plays under the name View Grind Er (she’s a photographer – get it?), said having a permanent space would be huge.

Beedle wasn’t playing Saturday’s bouts – she’s nursing a minor injury – but was milling through the audience helping spectators who had questions about the sport. She held a sign that read, “Talk derby to me.”

The sport does appear complex on first viewing, but the premise is simple. A bout consists of two 30-minute halves. Within each half, there is a series of matchups called jams. Each team has five players on the rink, one of whom is a designated jammer. The jammer scores points by lapping members of the other team. The other players, called blockers, essentially try to aid their jammer while also trying to hinder the opposing jammer. In other words, they play offense and defense simultaneously. The scores can get pretty high. The final score Saturday was 238-212; the Riptides defeated the Calamity Janes. Both teams are based in Portland.

Roller derby really doesn’t have any easy comparison. It’s like rugby on roller skates but without the ball. It’s like bumper cars without the cars. It’s like pinball, but with people. You get the picture.

The names are the best part: Chemical Restraint, Shrink Wrap, Otter Mayhem, CupQuake, Parks N. Reckless. Some names are more family-friendly than others.

The Tides’ Christina Bouras (Beth Salts) tries to stay on her feet after colliding with the Janes’ Wendy Leighton (Vigil Annie).

The Tides’ Christina Bouras (Beth Salts) tries to stay on her feet after colliding with the Janes’ Wendy Leighton (Vigil Annie).

Dennis and Roberta Bergeron were among the hundreds in the audience Saturday at Happy Wheels. They had flown home to Maine ahead of the holiday and surprised their daughter by showing up to her bout. Alyssa Bergeron – Spry Icicle on skates – has been involved for six years or so.

Dennis said he remembers watching roller derby as a boy with his dad many years ago. When his daughter invited them to see a bout and said she wanted to give it a try, his first thought was, “Oh no.”

Now, the Bergerons are superfans. Dennis records video clips on his tablet and posts them on Facebook.

“It’s been wonderful for her,” he said. “I’m so proud of what she’s found.”

Leisa and Charlie Collins were first-time spectators. They came at the invitation of a friend, Renee Rhoads, who goes by D. Tension. (Yes, she’s a teacher.)

“I told her, ‘This is a piece of Portland culture I cannot miss,’ ” Leisa said.

Saturday’s bout was the final bout of the 2015 season for Maine Roller Derby and was billed as a coming-out bout for newcomers. Several made their public debut. None were worried about the legality of what they were doing. That will sort itself out.

One of the newcomers was Heather Meehan, who chose the nickname Rugburn.

She had watched plenty of bouts prior to her debut but said her first go-round exceeded any expectation she had in her mind.

Meehan said she sought out roller derby because she was looking for an athletic activity after an injury hampered her ability to go running.

She got it, but found a quirky family, too.

“These ladies are so dynamic and powerful and strong,” she said. “All they do is build you up.”

Many other derby participants agreed that the camaraderie, even more than the bumping and pushing and shoving, is what keeps them coming back.

Said Williamson, aka Chickadee Wallop: “If I ever move, I’ll need to make sure it’s to a community that has roller derby.”


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