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Roller Derby at the class of 1923 ice rink Credit: Jennifer Liao

By day, these women are professionals, teachers and bartenders.

By night, they go by Ida Banger, Miss Fortune, Legz Bennedict and R2-DCup.

And on Saturday night — clad in the unofficial uniform of two parts body art with one part clothing — they descended upon a converted Class of 1923 Arena to open the 2010 Philly Roller Girls roller derby season.

Think speed skating meets rugby, with decidedly amateur athletes. Each team’s “jammer” tries to skate through the “pack,” which consists of four blockers per squad. After clearing the pack once, the jammer speeds around and attempts to pass through the pack again, earning one point for every subsequent opposing blocker she passes.

Each period, or “jam” lasts no more than two minutes. Then they reset and start all over again.

The track is small — roughly 45 meters long and four meters wide — and the participants are big, so frequent flops and multi-women pileups are just par for the course. Elbowing, tripping and blocks from behind are prohibited. Other than that, pretty much anything goes.

“It’s not just about looking pretty and skating. It’s full contact,” said Vanessa “Euro Thrash” Jackson, co-captain of the Heavy Metal Hookers. “Whatever your expectations — whether they’re fishnets and sexy, tattooed women — you watched a real sporting event with amazingly talented athletes. Who are tattooed and are sexy.”

The fishnets and tattoos are indisputable; the sexy, well, that’s a matter of taste.

So too, perhaps, is this niche sport. But it seems to be thriving, especially considering that the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association is just five years old but has 77 member leagues within the United States, including four in Pennsylvania.

And the Philly Roller Girls league, which finished second in the WFTDA Eastern Division last year, was able to sell roughly 1,500 advance tickets for Saturday’s doubleheader. Add in a substantial walk-up crowd, and the 2,900-seat arena was packed with fans, not to mention “Let’s go Hookers!” chants and cries of “Go get that bitch!”

“I like to think I’m paving the way so my great-great-granddaughter gets paid to do roller derby,” said Jackson, a Center City bartender. “But for now, I’m still making margaritas in my spare time.”

Of course, the roller girls, who doubled as ushers, ticket sellers and merchandisers, are hardly celebrities.

Just don’t tell Jimmy DeStefano that.

A middle-aged man with closely cropped gray hair, DeStefano has become a fan extraordinaire, asking every skater he can find to sign the neon shirt he was given as a volunteer security guard. He’s already completed his Philly-based collection, so on Saturday he was working over the London Brawling.

“I thought I’d get a new shirt. They told me no, I have to wear that every week,” he said. “It’s become a little hobby. Collect as many as I can get.”

He doesn’t collect anything else. So why this?

“I’m a lover of women,” he said.

Meanwhile, members of the Brawling — who, yes, left the land of tea and crumpets for 14 days of East Coast roller derby — were impressed by Saturday’s attendance and quality of play. Undefeated within Europe, the Brawling could not hold a four-point lead in the final seconds and lost to the Philthy Britches, 103-102.

Two weeks stateside required fundraising, sponsorship (14 free round-trip flights on British Airways) and explanations to colleagues.

“Co-workers would say, ‘Don’t break anything,” said Louise “Grievous Bodily Charm” Grieve. “Kind of like, ‘You really are mental. Why are you doing this?’”

For a lot of these women, the answer is “why not?” Many had not skated since middle school, if ever. They learned of roller derby from colleagues and magazines, and once they saw one bout, they were hooked.

“I’m grateful they took me with no background,” Jackson said. “I looked like a baby giraffe.”

It’s that blend of an easygoing hobby with serious competition that helps make the spectacle so unique. The Heavy Metal Hookers, for instance, practice four times per week. But beneath the sweat-soaked, skimpy outfits and innuendo-laden names — even the refs went by “Duncan Disorderly,” “Ballistic Whistle” and “Uncle Slam” — are people with relatively normal lives.

That’s why “Grievous Bodily Charm” wears number 1984: Not, as some might suspect, for her birth year, but because it’s her favorite book.

That’s also why Amanda “Mandawar” Steoner, who’s studying at Rutgers to become a high school teacher, is quiet about her after-hours sport.

“I don’t think I’m going to tell my students,” Steoner said. “I don’t want to get fired.”

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