Queen City Roller Girls: A roller girl comes full circle
The end of an era and the start of something new
Tabrina Shreier (no. 52 in blue) is shown playing with the Furies
Photos by Rene T. Van Ee
Two years ago, Tabrina Schreier had had enough. After eleven seasons with the Queen City Roller Girls, she’d done it all: skated in the inaugural house league, become a member of the first-ever travel team, and served as captain of that team. But she was broken.
“I’ve broken my nose, I have arthritis in my hip from falling on it repeatedly,” Schreier says. “I have an anterior shoulder injury, I’ve sprained fingers, I’ve had bruises, sprains, tendonitis in my knee, and a ton of other scrapes and bruises.”
In the summer of 2017, Schreier walked away from the league after eleven years as a top player. “It had been such a big part of my life over a decade, but physically, I was in a lot of pain. I had to take a step back. I think I was burnt out a little mentally, too,” Schreier says. So, she decided to take a year off from a sport that Buffalo has taken to heart.
Roller derby is often portrayed in television and movies as a violent underworld or some kind of predetermined spectacle á là professional wrestling. Here in Buffalo with the QCRG, it’s anything but. “Most people expect the game is just people beating each other up on the track. In reality, there is a lot of strategy, and a lot of hits are illegal in the game,” explains Lauren Pszonak, head of public relations for QCRG.
The league is designed and built like any other sports organization. There is a junior league for girls age ten to seventeen and a house league made up of three local teams of skaters who play each other from January until June, when a league champion is crowned. QCRG also features two travel teams: the Lake Effect Furies and the Subzero Sirens.
The Furies are a sanctioned D I team in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, which is an international governing body for the sport. They are ranked twenty-fifth of 358 teams around the world, and they travel, sometimes internationally, for bouts with other city’s travel teams. The Sirens are the B travel team, also traveling for tournaments but playing a schedule featuring other cities’ B squads.
QCRG plays all its home matches, as well as all of the house league matches, at Buffalo RiverWorks, which has a track designed for roller derby. It’s one of the few made exclusively for roller derby anywhere in the world—and is a big step up from Rainbow Rink in North Tonawanda, where the league began back in 2006.
A year away
It’s not surprising that Tabrina Schreier felt she needed time off. Being in the QCRG is a big-time commitment. Skaters practice two to three times a week for as many as four hours, and they’re expected to work out on their own two to three additional times per week. They also have to volunteer two hours a month for the league, covering things like taking tickets or setting up and breaking down a bout at RiverWorks.
All the skaters have jobs within the league. Pszonak, who goes by Kylau Ren on the track, is also the PR director. For travel team skaters, road trips happen once a month or so and can wipe out an entire weekend.
Schreier started her time away with dreams of finally doing non-derby things, which she tried for a few months. As it turned out, though, after more than a decade playing roller derby, most of her friends were roller derby people, and her husband, Andrew Jaworski, was still a coach in the league. The pull to return was strong.
“The burnout was real and the break helped,” Schreier says. “I came back to coach and people were so excited to learn. It made me miss being a part of the team and the friendships.”
It was inevitable: on June 30, she announced on Facebook that she was no longer going to sit on the sidelines, hashtagging her post #ONEMOREYEAR. In October, Schreier entered the house league draft and was selected by the Alley Kats, where she’ll play for the 2019 season.
The house league offers a perfect solution for Schreier. She can keep the competitive juices flowing while committing less time than during her nine years on the Furies.
Anatomy of derby
Roller derby is complex and full of strategy, so a first-time viewer can’t necessarily be expected to understand all the rules right away. The league positions ushers around the building who can answer questions and explain the finer points to spectators, and there’s also running play-by-play over the PA that helps people follow the action.
In brief: there are five skaters per side on the track at any given time, four blockers and a jammer. The jammer wears a special covering over her helmet with a star that marks her.
Each team’s jammer attempts to score points by passing and lapping the blockers and other jammer as she goes around the track. The blockers on her team attempt to open lanes for her while the opposing blockers try to stop her or knock her off the track.
Each jam is two minutes long and the jammers try to skate as many times around track as possible to score. The jammer, who is in the lead, may strategically end the jam before the two minutes are up if she chooses. The blocking is where some of the real action is. Some skaters, Schreier especially, are known for their ability to throw big hits to open space.
Seating is close to the action at RiverWorks, and a player hit with a big block can sometimes end up intimately acquainted with fans in the first row.
Most, but not all, of the skaters go by derby names—like Librawlian (who is actually a librarian in her day job), Head Huntress, and Blackrock Bruiser. The names give players fun personae and help the women keep their derby lives separate from their day jobs.
Schreier plays as herself, without the benefit of a name, though some of her new teammates have taken to calling her Infini-T. (It’s a reference to her nickname, T, and the fact that—going into a twelfth season—she’s played forever.)
Now that she’s returned to the league, Schreier feels like she’s back where she belongs. “It turns out that all of my friends are derby people,” she admits.
That’s what keeps her coming back, and that’s what binds the rest of the players of the QCRG together: the camaraderie and friendships built up over months of long practices, long car trips, and battles where they pit their skills against willing opponents.