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Palm City Punishers, Misdemeanors bringing roller derby craze back to life

By Staff | Oct 12, 2010

Representing Sanibel on the Fort Myers Derby Girls are, from left, Jaclyn Koc, Caroline Semerjian and Brie Coffman.

Sweet as sugar but tough as nails, the women of the Palm City Punishers and the Fort Myers Misdemeanors are doing their part to shed some light on a sport whose heyday may be in the past but — with a bit of a modern twist — seems to be gaining popularity here in Southwest Florida.

Back in 2007, Brie Coffman picked up a flyer that sought players to form and all-girl roller derby team based in Fort Myers.

“I heard about it through a friend of a friend,” said Coffman, a naturalist with Tarpon Bay Explorers. “A couple of us got together at a bar to talk about it, and it sounded really fun. And I didn’t even know how to roller skate at the time!”

At about the same time, Jaclyn Koc, owner of Needful Things in the Tahitian Gardens Shopping Center, ran across a few derby enthusiasts while taking part in an open skate event at Generations Skating Center. The group soon became friends and decided to create the Fort Myers Derby Girls.

“We had no idea what we were doing,” said Koc. “And we were stupid enough to think that we wouldn’t be that bad. We were fearless.”

During pre-bout warmups, Fort Myers teammates DeathRae, left, and Flyin Da' Brie engage in a little shoving match to get themselves fired up for their battle against the Jail Break Betties.

In that first season, the Palm City Punishers did not win a single bout. However, they did attract a number of thrill-seekers and sporting spectators who enjoy coming out on a Sunday evening, tailgate in the parking lot and cheer on their favorite derby gals.

With colorful names like Anita Bodybag, Jack Scratch Fever and Motley Bruze, the black and neon green-clad women of the Punishers and Misdemeanors have taken the sport to another level: hard-hitting and fast-skating athletes adorn themselves in short shirts, skin tight leggings and fishnet stockings.

While Coffman is known as Flyin Da’ Brie, Koc skates under the persona Lil’ Miss Slam Bags.

“The name doesn’t even make sense,” Koc laughed when asked for the story behind her derby moniker. “We were just joking around one night and there it was… but I’m stuck with it now.”

Another roller gal with an island connection is Caroline Semerjian, known amongst the Punishers as Klymaxx. The triathlete, who owns Effective Marketing & Creative Concepts, joined the team in their second season.

Members of the Fort Myers Derby Girls line up for the National Anthem.

“Brie and I used to work out together at the Sanibel Fitness Center,” she recalled. “She told me to come check out them at practice. As soon as I saw it, I fell in love with it. I called my dad and had him ship my roller skates down from Michigan.”

Now in their fourth season, the Fort Myers Derby Girls travel across the state to compete against other women’s flat track roller derby squads. While the Punishers are considered their “A” team, the newer and less experienced players comprise the Misdemeanors.

Both teams, which at last count numbers approximately 30 players, have improved upon their skill level dramatically from their humble beginnings.

“We look at it as a learning experience,” said Semerjian. “When you’re down by 150 points and you know there’s no way you can win, maybe you try a few new things or put in some new players. Try some new tactics.”

This season, the Misdemeanors have lost only a single home bout.

Lil' Miss Slam Bags, left, skates alongside fellow Palm City Punisher teammate Anya Dixon before their bout versus Tallahassee.

“I’m always looking forward to our next bout,” said Koc. “About a week before our game, everybody starts to get antsy during practice. It gets really intense… all of this pent-up energy.”

In recognition of the upcoming Halloween celebration, the Misdemeanors have dubbed their next bout, scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 24, as “Nightmare on Skate Street.” Their final home game of the 2010 season, which will take place at Bamboozles Skating Center (2095 Andrea Lane in Fort Myers), begins at 7 p.m.

“The week before our bout, I start eating bananas every day. The potassium helps with my energy and with my recovery afterwards,” added Koc. “By the end of the week, I don’t even want to look at a banana!”

Coffman also gives credit to their ever-growing legion of fans who attend their matches, which range in age from toddlers on up.

“I have noticed more people coming to see us,” she said. “It’s great when a kid comes up to us and tells us what a great job we’re doing. Without the support of our fans, we wouldn’t put ourselves through this.”

Lil' Miss Slam Bags, one of the team's top blockers/jammers, is all smiles during a time out.

“I sell a lot of tickets to my customers,” added Koc. “One family came in the day after a match and said that they brought their teen-aged kids to see roller derby — I guess they were getting bored of just going to the beach every day. One of them won the raffle giveaway during the bout. They came in to tell me what a wonderful time they had.”

Tickets are $8 in advance (available for purchase from members of the Fort Myers Derby Girls at at www.brownpapertickets.com) or $10 at the door.

“I’d love to see more islanders come out,” said Semerjian, who estimated that their home bouts draw more than 400 fans. “What else are you going to do on a Sunday night on Sanibel? A great cross-section of people come out, but it’s just so new that not a lot of people know about it.”

And the ladies of the Palm City Punishers and Fort Myers Misdemeanors promise one thing: once you attend a bout, you’ll be hooked on the sport for good.

“It is highly entertaining,” Semerjian added. “Definitely a sub-culture that you’ll never forget!”