IN THE BEGINNING....
Penn Jersey Roller Derby is proud to be first roller derby league on the east coast to offer both banked and flat track roller derby action. We were founded in February, 2005 by Ken Sikes and Greg Spencer, both long term derby fans who wanted to revive the spirit of one of America’s most beloved sports. At the time of our founding, there were no other leagues in the region and only 22 roller derby leagues worldwide. When PJRD started, there was no standardized set of rules for flat-track roller derby, so we started playing by our own set of rules, derived from old-school banked track rules. In 2007, Ken Sikes founded the Old School Derby Association (OSDA), a formal alternative to the WFTDA rule set.
To help guide the team to its fullest potential, the late Judy “The Polish Ace” Sowinski and Arnold “Skip” Schoen hit the rink as coaches. Judy skated for the LA T-Birds, the Eastern Warriors and the NY bombers between the late 50’s and early ‘80’s. Skip also skated with the Eastern Warriors in the ‘70’s and can still give our best jammers a run for their money. Both coaches have skated right along beside us from the get-go and have passed down their skills of blocks, whips, turns, falls and jumps so we’ll be able to play to the best of our ability in every game. Also on deck are another former Warrior, “Little” Richard Brown, as well as “Big John,” a champion speed skating advisor.
PJRD started out as the Penn Jersey She Devils, a flat-track league that featured two women’s teams, the Fallen Angels and the Sadistic Sweethearts. As our league grew, we added the Dishonor Roll in 2007, and the Trauma Queens in 2010. In 2007, PJRD added one of the first male teams in the country, the Hooligans. In 2010 the league changed its name from the Penn Jersey She Devils to Penn Jersey Roller Derby, and kept the She Devils as the travel team name that has continued to feature the Penn Jersey She Devils logo, designed for us by Dave Glass, a famous punk-rock artist.
In October 2010, we hosted the newest inductees into the National Roller Derby Hall Of Fame. That same year, we happily unveiled our very own banked track in our old warehouse located on 17th and Indiana in Philadelphia. We currently play flat track games in Philadelphia, as well as banked track games in our warehouse. Today, PJRD is a skater-owned and operated league. We hail from all walks of life and professions including nurses, chefs, freelance writers, tattoo artists, and students. We are moms, dads, singles, and couples, but we all know how to throw and take a bruise-inducing block.
Judy “The Polish Ace” Sowinski
Chicago native roller derby legend Judy Sowinski inspired and mentored OSDA’s Penn Jersey Roller Derby (PJRD) league from 2005 through 2011. Sowinski began her roller derby career in 1959 with the San Francisco Bay Bombers, where she was Rookie-of-the-Year in 1960. She left Roller Derby in 1961 for National Skating Derby (or Roller Games) and skated with the Los Angeles Thunderbirds, New York Bombers, and the Philadelphia Warriors from 1961 until the early 1980s. Sowinski also appeared as a skater in the movie Kansas City Bomber in 1972. Sowinski, or the “Polish Ace,” was a repeat MVP and captain of the New York Bombers.
Arnold “Skip” Schoen, current PJRD coach, says his best memory of her as a professional skater is her legendary Indian Death strap match race against “Pretty” Judy Arnold, where she earned her other title: the Queen of Mean. Schoen “never wanted to get into the huddle for fear of missing out on what she was going to do next.” Another fellow skater and Roller Derby legend Judy Arnold remembers being “very impressed with her skating style and aspired to skate like her some day. She was a great competitor and because of her abilities, I became a better skater. She challenged me every time we skated against each other” (Liberty Sports, November 2, 2011). One of Sowinski’s best remembered lines as PJRD coach is “What do you think this is, tiddlywinks?!?”
Sowinski joined PJRD as coach at the request of Ken Sikes, founder of PJRD and OSDA. In 2004, she was inducted into the National Roller Derby Hall of Fame class along with Annabelle “Slugger” Kealey, Julie “Ace” Patrick, Joan Weston, and “Pretty” Judy Arnold. She died on July 27, 2011, much beloved by fans and PJRD skaters. On November 19, 2011, PJRD dedicated its banked track to Judy Sowinski. Her memory lives on in the passion she inspired for roller derby in PJRD skaters and fans alike.
Arnold “Skip” Schoen
Arnold “Skip” Schoen joined Judy Sowinski as coach for PJRD in 2005. In 1968, Schoen started training and skating with the Warriors. Until 1983, Schoen skated professionally with the Detroit Devils, Northern Hawks, the New York Bombers, Canadian Braves, and the Philadelphia Warriors. According to Schoen, some of the highlights of his career included skating to a sold out crowd at the Spectrum with over 17,000 fans, skating at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and traveling to both Puerto Rico and Hawaii for matches. In both 1976 and 1981, Schoen skated on the Warriors All-Stars. In 1992 in Solesbury, Maryland, both Arnold “Skip” Schoen and Judy Sowinski skated their last professional game.
Schoen teaches the original foundations and techniques of the game to PJRD skaters, skating alongside us at every practice, challenging us to push ourselves and give our fans the most exciting games we can. He finds it incredibly rewarding “seeing the skaters enjoying skating in a game close to the game [he] skated, even more so now that PJRD has a banked track.” He knows he is giving back to the sport he loved when he sees “the excitement come over the skaters when they start [a] game, knowing that [he] helped them experience that moment.”