Inside a Brooklyn warehouse on a clear Sunday afternoon, Jonathan Dawkins, known in these parts as "Jimmy Rage," laces up his skates and straps on his helmet. There is one thing on his mind: Derby.
Each week, skaters for the New York Shock Exchange (NYSE), a men's roller derby league based in New York City, converge on this small patch of flat, circuit track -- hidden behind an industrial exterior made conspicuous only by a bright-red door -- for an intense series of drills and scrimmages.
"It's really cool," says Dawkins, 24, a Stony Brook native who works as an IT professional in Manhattan. "I dabbled in sports when I was a kid, but I had never roller skated before in my life."
Inspired by the all-women flat-track roller derby revolution, the NYSE was organized in 2006 by Jonathan Rockey, a referee and coach for the Gotham Girls, New York City's all-female roller derby league, and made its public debut in 2007. The NYSE won the first Men's Derby Coalition Championship last year. Now, it's joining forces with the Long Island Roller Rebels to play home bouts on the same nights this season -- with the men opening for the ladies.
As in women's derby, during a men's bout, teams race each other to gain points. Up to five skaters from each team are on the track at a time. These include the "jammer" (who wears a star on his helmet), the only skater who can score points for his team, and four blockers, including the "pivot" (who wears a stripe on his helmet), who controls the speed of the pack. The remaining blockers try to clear the way for their team's jammer while simultaneously stopping any advances by the opposing team's jammer.
Derby play is notoriously rough, with players jostled out of bounds or onto their knees, but is anything but rough and tumble; the league adheres to strict rules governing contact, and safety requirements are enforced on the track by seven referees and up to 10 nonskating officials.
"There's a good deal of strategy needed to be a successful team," says Joe Mihalchick (aka "Maulin Brando"), 34, an actor-writer who serves as league president. "While there are hard hits, a good player and a good team doesn't rely on them."
Perhaps one of the most distinctive factors among the 30 NYSE skaters, who range in age from mid-20s to early 40s, is not the aggressive play, but the creative monikers, which include "Atticus Flinch," "Rinkworm," "Filthy McNasty" and "Ladies Knight."
"It's one of the weird things about derby," says Mihalchick, of Park Slope. "I have teammates I've never called by their real name."
But ask the skaters themselves what makes them give up their Sundays to trudge across potholed streets and busy highways to practice, and the talk is more tender than tough.
"It's like a big family," says Jeff "Jefferee" Madonia, 26, a plumber from Westbury who has been playing for three years. "Seeing everyone you know, every week, the friendship. It's really nice and a lot of fun, just coming out and having a good time."
That's what makes derby so special, says Mihalchick, who is producing a documentary about men's roller derby titled "This Is How I Roll."
"Lawyers and doctors playing alongside construction workers playing alongside computer techs. The team aesthetic is something that most guys haven't encountered since high school," he says. "It's a wonderful feeling to be in your 30s and part of a team again."
MARCH 12 Connecticut Death Quads vs. NYSE
APRIL 9 Central Mass Maelstrom vs. NYSE
MAY 7 Utica Quadfathers vs. NYSE
SEPT. 3 Empire Skate Showdown, hosted by the LIRR, consists of 30-minute bouts among New York State teams.
OCT. 8 Opponent to be announced
OCT. 22 NYSE hosts the 2011 Men's Roller Derby Association Championships with six teams from across the country participating and several others in attendance.
When | Where: 6:30 p.m. March 12, Skate Safe America, 182 Bethpage Sweet Hollow Rd., Old Bethpage. Long Island Roller Rebels vs. Connecticut Rollergirls bout follows.
Admission: $15 ($10 advance purchase)