By day, Jackie Knutson is a stay-at-home San Francisco mom with two youngsters to tend to. Neither one is older than 4 years old.
But at night - and on the other side of the Bay Bridge - she is hell on wheels.
For the last four years, Knutson has skated for the Oakland Outlaws under the alias Polly Puredread, reveling in the resurgence and growing popularity of competitive flat-track roller derby.
"In the old days, it was WWF-style, where a player got hit and then acted out the fall," she said. "We actually get to lay people out."
In its heyday in the 1960s, the sport garnered national attention and rivaled the popularity of pro wrestling. The San Francisco Bay Bombers were one of the sport's most popular teams, and its legendary jammer Joanie Weston was its greatest star.
In the Bay Area, fan interest is on the rise again: The final game of the three-team Bay Area Derby Girls league schedule drew nearly 2,000 fans to Richmond's Craneway Pavilion, said Lance Miller, general manager of the facility. A new team, the Berkeley Resistance, joined the league last month.
One of the most important changes in the modern game is a page borrowed from the wrestling promoter's handbook: Children under age 21 can attend the events.
In 2009, the growing league started leasing larger venues and hiring security guards, both of which have allowed teams to offer entertainment the entire family can attend.
It's the smart move. Inviting kids to take a seat in the "suicide section" adjacent to the track will do more to promote the sport than any half-in-the-bag fan hoping for a girl fight.
Knutson grew up in Fremont and took roller-skate dance lessons as a child. Inspired as an adult by a TV show about renewed interest in the sport, she decided to take a closer look at the sport.
She found the team soon after the birth of her first child and decided to join as a way to get back in shape. "At the time, it was more like a gym membership," she said.
Whether it was simply skating again or the competitive nature of a contact sport, or both, Knutson soon ushered in a new family member: Polly Puredread was born.
Knutson is one of about 80 players in the Bay Area Derby Girls, a four-team league with clubs in Richmond, San Francisco, Oakland and now Berkeley. Teams have also been established in San Jose, Sonoma and Santa Cruz.
The Bay Area league is part of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association, which broke from the traditional banked-track sport in the 1990s.
November 16, 2010|By Chip Johnson
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