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Derby Brats learn how to be tough in the rink -- and in the world

Soccer moms?

Sure.

Hockey moms.

You betcha.

Roller derby moms?

Most definitely.

For their rink bouts, the women of the Bradentucky Bombers adopt adorably menacing sobriquets such as Gigi Ramoan, Alley Capone, Areal Nightmare and Bruisy Lawless.

But many also answer to “Mom.”

And their spunky, little spawn enjoy risking bumps and bruises as well, with even more youngsters lacing up for derby whose mothers don’t compete on skates.

“She has been driving me crazy for the past year to start a league,” said Bradentucky Bombers Coach Andrea McKnight, aka Vixen Da Crusher. Ten-year-old daughter Miranda Marino (Miranda Mayhem) stood nearby, in skates and equipment, looking up at her mom sheepishly.

The Bradenton Derby Brats formed in September. It’s a not-for-profit, separate organization from the Bombers. McKnight coaches both squads.

“It’s fun having her as my coach,” said Marino, a fifth grader at the Manatee School of Arts and Sciences. “That way she can help me.”

The modern version of roller derby has little in common with the theatrical version -- think professional wrestling -- that captivated television viewers throughout the 1960s and ’70s. The tracks are flat rather than banked. Fighting, tripping, kicking and hair-pulling are discouraged and severely penalized.

Basically, it’s a real sport these days.

One that can be enjoyed by women of all ages.

The Bradenton Derby Brats, which has registration pending with the Junior Roller Derby Association, is forming teams for ages 6-8, 9-12 and 13-17. In all, there are about 20 members so far.

“They play by the same rules as the adults,” McKnight said on a recent Monday evening. “There is just less contact.”

The Brats also practice Saturday mornings. Both sessions take place at the newly named and remodeled Astro Skate and Family Fun Center (formerly Florida Wheels) in Bradenton. Same place the Bombers’ 2011 season opens Feb. 13 with a bout against Fort Myers.

Excelling at roller derby first requires participants to be in good physical shape. Practices are filled with sprinting drills. Next, the skater must master the art of maneuvering.

“The reason I wanted to do derby is because it’s not a common sport,” said Geri Metz (Burn N Blaze), a fifth-grader at Kinnan Elementary School. “It’s fun, but it’s definitely not easy. It’s difficult, but you just can’t give up.”

Teams consist of five players. Each jam (race) lasts up to two minutes. Jammers get one point for each opposing player they pass in-bounds during each lap, once the initial lap is complete. If a jammer laps the opposing jammer, two points are awarded. Penalties can be given for skating or blocking illegally.

“The hardest part is teaching them what is and isn’t a penalty,” McKnight said.

The plucky youngsters play hard.

A helmet, elbow pads, knee pads and mouth guard are required gear.

Hip pads are recommended.

“The kids pick it up quickly because they are not afraid to fall,” McKnight said. “The adults get real nervous about falling.”

The Brats are about having fun while empowering girls and training them to be leaders, explained Amanda Jesse, aka Prosehack of the Bombers.

Her daughter, Harriet Thompson, agreed.

“I’ve been wanting to do this ever since I started watching Mom,” said the fifth grader at Ballard Elementary School, who goes by Coconut Smackaroon in the rink. “But it’s not just about hitting people. We’re also learning to be self-confident, exercising and making friends.”

For more information on Bradenton Derby Brats call (941) 803-8237 or visit www.bradentonderbybrats.org.

Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057 and follow him on twitter @accentbradenton. Visit his blog, Buzz Worthy, at bradenton.com/blogs.

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