Caroline Nichols, back row center, with her third grade students from P.S. 41 at last month’s championship roller derby bout at Long Island University. Nichols leading the pack during the competition.
Teacher is educated in art of elbow and booty block
By Judith Stiles
The team uniform for the Manhattan Mayhem is an orange prison jumpsuit with short pants, worn with fishnet stockings, and yes, these Gotham athletes proudly wear their colors for regional and national tournaments. When Caroline Nichols meets her number-one opponents, The Queens of Pain (from Queens), whose uniforms are dominatrix style, she and her teammates are ready to block, jam and knock down the opposition in New York City’s amateur Women’s Roller Derby League.
As members of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, an international roller derby organization, the Mayhem practice and compete with other serious athletes in bouts held in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Seattle. They are self-described “troublemakers who have honed their skills on the mean city streets of the concrete jungle and are ready to unleash their ferocious appetite for kickin’ ass on wheels,” as reported somewhat tongue-in-cheek on their Web site www.gothamgirlsrollerderby.com.
Nichols, who doubles as a third grade teacher at Greenwich Village’s P.S. 41, is well known outside of the classroom by her roller derby name, Detention Deficit. She has a reputation for being a first-class blocker on the Mayhem, with a variety of tricks up her sleeve to keep her opponents from scoring points.
“I always acknowledge a good block in an opponent,” says Nichols graciously, as she goes on to describe “the can opener,” a move where she subtly holds out her elbows just enough so the opponent cannot pass. If done correctly, it is a quick maneuver that won’t earn her a foul from one of the six referees.
Detention Deficit has a huge fan base of school children who faithfully flock to her local bouts.
“She rocks! She was the best teacher I ever had and will have!” gushes Summer Stern, one of her adoring students. “School was fun because of her because she made reading my second-favorite subject next to gym,” the young Mayhem fan added.
Although Nichols does not teach roller-skating in school, she is a popular teacher known for her energy and enthusiasm and her million-dollar smile. However, don’t be fooled, because this petite dynamo has regularly landed in the penalty box of many roller derby competitions, for taking down players left and right.
“A good skater depends on strategy, but sometimes in order to prevent the other team from scoring points, I just have to foul them, and this is common,” says D.D. as if she is giving a rationed explanation for her infractions to a third grade class. “This is a real contact sport where four fouls result in one minute in the penalty box. And if you are a good blocker, well, you expect to be in the penalty box,” she adds with a twinkle in her eye. Fouls or illegal blocks include grabbing, tripping, blocking from behind, elbows in the face and fighting.
In a typical roller derby bout, two teams of five skaters race on a flat-track loop with the lead skater, called the jammer, being the only player able to score points for her team. Each team puts all five skaters on the track at once, including a pivot, who sets the pace and leads the team, and three other blockers, who stay behind guarding each other in the pack, plus the jammer. The jammers start out about 20 feet behind their packs, and when the first jammer makes it through the pack, she becomes the designated lead jammer. The jammers must skate a lap first, before sprinting through the pack to score points by passing members from the opposing team.
A jam lasts a maximum of two minutes. The blockers try to clear a path so the jammer can score points by blocking, knocking down or knocking into their opponents. According to Detention Deficit, the “booty block” is a favorite of her fellow defenders. Although the goal of the lead jammer is to score as many points as possible by passing the pack, she has the right to call off the jam by putting her hands on her waist, which halts the jam. As in ice hockey, a team will rotate different lines of skaters in a bout.
This season’s championship bout was held at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus to a sold-out crowd that took in a tidy $15 per ticket. The P.S. 41 groupies were there in full force to watch the Manhattan Mayhem duke it out against the reigning Queens of Pain in the finals. Mayhem teammates included Lil’ Miss Stuffit, Roxy Balboa, Baby Ruthless, Blue Bonnet Plague and many other toughies. Although the Mayhem fell to the ladies from Queens with a final score of 150-80, the 1,000-plus fans loved every minute of this year’s championship bout.
Nichols will take a break from competitions during the winter, when she will don her beloved roller skates just for fun, perhaps at a nearby park or along the Hudson River Park bike path. Her skates, with shooting flames painted on the sides, fit her feet like a glove after years of use. However, D.D. reluctantly admits the flaming skates have seen better days and that it’s time for a new pair. She plans to scour the stores and catalogs to find the perfect skates, and has posted her tips on shopping, on the homepage of the Gotham Girls Roller Derby Web site. So don’t be surprised during the hustle and bustle of the holidays if you see the yellow flames streaking up Sixth Ave. to get the jump on other shoppers. And watch out, there may be an elbow or two surreptitiously knocking away sugar plum fairies to clear a path for the mighty Detention Deficit.