The Bradentucky Bombers are a family, they say.
The names are the first things you notice.
Dita Von Cheats. Zombelina. Dannahbal Lecter. Margaret Scratch-her.
All four names belong to members of the Bradentucky Bombers, a roller derby team that represents Sarasota, Bradenton and Venice. They appeal to both tongue-in-cheek and tongue-ripped-out sensibilities. Roller derby is unique to the sports world, in that aliases allow competitors to become a character for a few hours, if they so choose.
Von Cheats, real name Sarah Bikos, lives in Sarasota. She used her derby name as a tribute to one of her favorite people. Bikos is a fan of the pin-up aesthetic, and Dita Von Teese is the queen of that medium.
She was working at Hot Topic when she started noticing Bombers players frequenting the store, looking to purchase sun socks and tights. After some deliberation, they persuaded her to try roller derby. Bikos and the Bombers became a perfect match for more than just athletic reasons, although the 6-foot-2 Von Cheats acclimated well to the sport.
“My mom (Jeannie Poulos) had passed away,” Bikos said. “I decided I needed to be around some strong women. I never left.”
Bikos said the Von Cheats persona shares her day-to-day attitude. Despite the name, Bikos rarely commits infractions during matches, she said, calling the two she committed April 22 against the All City Rollers “a lot for (her).”
One person who does alter her personality after strapping on the skates is Morgan Hackemer.
“I’m not a loud personality in my normal life,” Hackemer said. “I have colored hair and tattoos, but I’m a quiet person. In derby, I like to shout a lot and take the lead. I’m competitive. I enjoy being a leader here, where I’m not necessarily striving to be a leader in my personal life.”
Hackemer goes by the simple derby name “Morgan.” She likes the outlandish names, she said, but could not imagine remembering to answer to a pseudonym while trying to concentrate on both offense and defense. Hackemer did laugh and mention “Juicy Lucy” as her “go-to name” if she decided to make the switch.
Both Hackemer and Bikos said outside friends, non-Bomber friends, drifted away after a while. The team practices three times a week and plays two matches a month. When not practicing, the team will gather and watch footage of previous matches to work on strategy. The Bombers have their fun — there is free beer available after matches — but also take success seriously.
Hackemer called the team a family, and while in most cases that description comes across cliche, it fits the Bombers. They helped find one player, Deathdemonia, a job in the area so she would not be forced to move. They play trivia weekly at Darwin Brewing Co. in Bradenton. They hit the beach together. Several Bombers, including Bikos, have the team logo as a tattoo. Bikos’ is on her left shin.
The team accepts new members, called Betties, but the training is rigorous. Bikos is the head trainer, and said the process can take up to a year, starting with the basics of skating and working toward full-contact practice. People of “every shape and size” are welcome to give the sport a shot, Hackemer said. Two things Bikos and Hackemer stressed for interested parties and new fans alike: They don’t throw elbows.
“Everybody asks us that,” Bikos said. “We’re like, ‘No! That’s not allowed! It’s not legal!’”
Hackemer added that she gets asked about scripted violence often. Derby isn’t how it used to be, she said. Nothing of that sort takes place. The sport continues to move toward a mainstream audience, with some officials wanting to see it in the Olympics someday.
For anyone hesitant to join, Hackemer has one more pitch.
“I took the Myers-Briggs Personality test (recently),” Hackemer said. “It’s totally changed since when I took it when I was younger. I credit a lot of that to derby. It’s made me more outgoing. I’m so much more confident in myself, which lends to the sisterhood, having a lot of strong women and great men who volunteer as well. It’s a community of support that makes you feel like so much more.”