Roller derby girl seeks action without injury in State College
Rough tough and fast.
No, this isn’t NASCAR, it's S.C.A.R. Those three words define roller derby according to State College Area Roller Derby player Melanie Whitehead, 26.
“We’ve played teams who were like out for blood,” said Whitehead, a Tallahassee, Fla., native.
The league’s mission statement says that it is “dedicated to empowering women to feel free to embrace their inner athlete, without fear of judgment or criticism as one may find in traditionally male sports.”
Whitehead’s inner athlete, as well as her love for sports on skates, is able to shine through playing in the league. Whitehead skated and snowboarded at a young age, but her sports career was cut short due to an ACL injury at age 24.
Whitehead was living in California at the time working for an AVEDA hair salon, and spent her free time playing indoor soccer in San Diego.
“I was running to take a shot on goal,” said Whitehead. “I took a step, heard two loud thuds, and I was on the ground screaming. I had surgery five days before we moved to PA.”
Whitehead moved to State College with her husband Craig two-and-a-half years ago, and remained active despite her injury. Whitehead’s best friend played roller derby in Rochester, N.Y., which initially sparked her interest in the sport.
“I would go watch her play roller derby out there,” said Whitehead, “and then when I got cleared for contact, State College made a team.”
The S.C.A.R. team was formed in October 2010 “for and by women,” and played its first match on February 13, 2011. The team practices at Penn Skates roller rink in State College.
Though the team is relatively new, any onlooker might guess otherwise. There are women from all walks of life who act like sisters. They hug, goof around, crack jokes and curse at each other.
But don’t be fooled with their off-the-track behavior. They take roller derby very seriously.
The sport is played with two teams, each of whom has five skaters on the track skating counterclockwise. In each short bout, there is a designated ‘jammer,’ whose goal is to lap all members of the opposing team, and the other four players are ‘blockers,’ who skate together in a pack, trying to block the opposing jammer.
There are two periods of 30 minutes in each bout. Each time a jammer laps, they earn a point.
Whitehead, or ‘Hell’s Mels,’ as she is known to her teammates, played her first actual tournament on November 19.
“Mentally preparing for that was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do,” said Whitehead. “The whole time, I was telling everybody they should probably bring me a bucket because I was ready to throw up.”
Whitehead enjoys roller derby's roughness, toughness and speed. Even after her 10-hour workday at her salon in Boalsburg, she always finds the energy and mental preparedness to practice and play.
Whitehead got her first tattoo at 17, and has since acquired six more. Her tattoos have all been done by friends, and each one represents a period of time in her life. Whitehead said she wants a roller derby tattoo, but her next piece will likely be for her grandparents.
About the Contributors
2012 Graduate / Visual Journalism
Chloe Elmer graduated in Spring 2012 with a major in visual journalism and a minor in psychology. She was the photo editor and an active staff photographer for The Daily Collegian, Penn State’s independently-run student newspaper.
She traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2012 for a class on international reporting. In the summer of 2010, she spent 10 weeks in London, where she interned at Archant, the largest independently-owned media company in the United Kingdom. These experiences helped her to gain valuable global professional experience and a more independent mindset.
Though she enjoys photographing any type of event, sports and spot news are two of her favorites. She is currently widening her skills through wedding and portrait photography