University City

Speed Demons get a home

Having grown up as a figure skater, Jessi Alford recently found a new sport that was compatible with her background.

Starting last 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 play the 2012 season in a local facility.

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

A member of USA Roller Sports, the national governing body for roller sports, 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 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 were considering a move anyway, he said, because of First Ward's limited seating capacity.

Three of Charlotte's home games in 2011 sold out at the 600-seat recreation center. When it came time to find a different home, Bailey said, options were very limited.

"We looked around at different venues in the city," Bailey said. "Unfortunately, not a lot of venues are out there that are suitable for roller derby. Some of the larger venues would be great, but we're not quite there yet."

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

As the Speed Demons looked for something permanent, a former player spotted the Breakaway Sports building, visible from Interstate 85. She notified Bailey, who promptly made a visit and loved what he saw inside: 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.

DiPrima 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 this month. Its completion will allow the Speed Demons to take up residence for six games, March through August.

In the meantime, 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 is a softer landing for players when they crash to the floor. But the physicality of the game is what players like Jessi Alford enjoy.

"I feel it fits me a lot more (than figure skating)," she said. "I can get out a lot more energy I have built up."

A UNC Charlotte student, Alford also doesn't mind the shorter drive to Breakaway Sports for practices. Once the team starts playing its games there, she plans to invite her friends in the area to come watch her play.

Of the 24 Speed Demons, three are former UNCC students: Leslie Jenkins, Emily Rupar and Rachelle Loyear. A fifth player, Marion McClure, works in the university's Recreational Services department.

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