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      Roller derby becoming more popular

      Roller derby is the fastest growing women's sport in the country, and four leagues have formed in the U.P. in the last two years. Roller Derby isn't for the faint of heart. You have to force your way through the pack to earn points.

      "It's full contact. There's hitting involved, like hockey-style checking, shoulder checks, hip checks, as well as the endurance of the skating and the balance of being on the wheels. It's not like anything else out there," said Jessica Shull, a.k.a. Ms. Adventure, of the Dead River Derby.

      Each team has a roster of 14 women. Five are on the track at a time: four blockers and one jammer. The jammer is the one that scores points by breaking through the pack and lapping the other team.

      "Their blockers are trying to assist them getting through the pack, and the other team's blockers are trying to hold them back," said volunteer referee, Jason Schneider, a.k.a. Soni K Boom.

      Games are one hour and held on a flat track. The sport has changed a lot over the last several decades. Each referee and player still have their own derby name, but in recent years, there has been a greater focus on athleticism over showmanship.

      "It's much more about the points and about strategy than it is about knocking people over and being a spectacle, although being a spectacle, as you can see by some of the costumes, is definitely a part of the game," Schneider said.

      Each league in the U.P. donates their proceeds to local charities. The Dead River Derby out of Marquette donates their money to the Women's Center.

      On Facebook, Jennifer Audette Johnson, said, "Any sport or organization that increases women's physical and mental wellbeing and donates to local charities with time and money should be applauded and encouraged."

      Sonia Stucko, or Pepper Pillywinks, says she's never been very athletic, but she could roller derby seven days a week.

      "It's a labor of love really. It's a lot of practice and a lot of working out, but it's fun. It's something that you want to do. It's something where you take your skates off and it almost makes you want to cry because you want to keep them on a while longer," said Stucko.

      The Dead River Derby is trying to create a Junior Roller Derby league for the Marquette area for ages 7 to 17. They have an interest meeting on March 7. They encourage all skill levels to join or learn more. Team membership is $30 a month, and you are required to buy your own skates and safety equipment.

      The other three U.P. leagues are the Keweenaw Roller Girls, the Kingsford Krush, and the Escanaba Rollin' Hellcats.