South Charlotte

Speed Demons rolling onto new track

Jessi Alford recently found a new sport compatible with her background as a figure skater.

Starting in July, she began training with the Speed Demons, Charlotte's flat-track roller derby team.

The new pastime makes even more sense for Alford, a University City resident, now that the Speed Demons will be playing the 2012 season in a local facility.

Though their only February home bout will be at an alternate venue, in March the Speed Demons will host bouts at Breakaway Sports, a new indoor sports facility off Graham Street.

A member of USA Roller Sports - roller sports' national governing body - the Speed Demons opened their second full season in Columbia on Jan. 29. Last season, Charlotte played its home games at the First Ward Recreation Center in uptown.

Craig Bailey, president of Race City Roller Derby (which operates the Speed Demons), said First Ward is no longer available because it's undergoing renovations. The Speed Demons already were considering a move, he said, because of First Ward's limited seating capacity. Three of Charlotte's home bouts in 2011 sold out at the 600-seat recreation center.

When it came time to find a different home, Bailey said, options were limited. "We looked around at different venues in the city," said Bailey. "Unfortunately, not a lot of venues are out there that are suitable for roller derby."

Charlotte practiced at First Ward through November. In December, the team practiced at a public skating rink in Gastonia.

A former player spotted the Breakaway Sports building, visible from Interstate 85. She notified Bailey, who promptly visited and loved what he saw: a full-length roller-hockey rink with bleacher seating.

The facility, which already hosts leagues for in-line hockey and indoor lacrosse, opened in December. Owner Keith DiPrima has big plans for the building over the next few months. He said five indoor mechanical baseball and softball batting cages, a restaurant/bar and a fitness center will be finished this spring.

A second 180-by-75-foot roller hockey rink will be finished by the end of the month and will allow the Speed Demons to take up residence for six games in March through August. The team will play its home opener Feb. 25 at the Metrolina Tradeshow Expo on Statesville Road.

Bailey and a staff of volunteers will spend about five hours setting up the room at Metrolina. The group will mark off the 53-by-88-foot roller derby track, bring in the team's sound system and scoreboard and set up 600 to 800 folding chairs.

Metrolina has a polished concrete floor, a fast skating surface. The "sport court" at Breakaway Sports, however, provides an easier grip for the skates and a softer landing for players.

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